Thursday, September 27, 2001

Lynch: Ruling 'sets us back'

Race relations in city hurt, he says

By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Stunned, the Rev. Damon Lynch III sat in the basement of his New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine on Wednesday, staring blankly at the small television in front of him.

        Hamilton County Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler had just finished reading his acquittal of Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach, who fatally shot an unarmed black man fleeing police.

        Each word of Judge Winkler's decision sent the Rev. Mr. Lynch slumping deeper into his chair. With every explanation, he dropped his head a little lower. Each “not guilty” prompted a sigh.

[photo] Rev. Damon Lynch walks up Elm street outside the New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-The-Rhine Wednesday night.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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        The judge's decision, he said, has crippled the city's healing process.

        “We've just taken 10 steps backward to that measure of rebuilding Cincinnati,” said the Rev. Mr. Lynch, one of three mayor-appointed chairmen of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CincinnatiCAN), one of the city's efforts to improve race relations.

        “This sets us back before April,” he said. “I'm just totally fed up. All this talk of healing and all that, it's rhetoric. ... There is no serious effort to heal. This community proves it day in and day out.”

        Surrounding the Rev. Mr. Lynch, more than a dozen church members and members of the Cincinnati Black United Front seemed to agree. Several people were visibly shaken; some cried and others consoled.

        The scene was calmer earlier Wednesday.

        In the morning, the 41-year-old minister arrived at his church to meditate and pray alone. He had scheduled a normal day of activities, a housing meeting at noon and other church business later.

        Watching the judge on TV, the Rev. Mr. Lynch was speechless. A TV news reporter put a microphone near his face and asked him how he was feeling.

        He sat silent, unmoving, for about three minutes.

        Then he said calmly, but clearly aggravated, “It's another case in the annals of American injustice.

        “You just add this one on the shelf to Medgar Evers and so many other black men who have lost their lives and not received justice. It's ridiculous.”

        And yet, the Rev. Mr. Lynch said, he is surprised by the verdict.

        “I was hoping for better,” he said. “So once again this goes to show that black life has no value in Cincinnati.”

        He said does not expect guilty verdicts in the trials of Officers Robert Jorg and Patrick Caton, who face criminal charges in the asphyxiation death of Roger Owensby Jr.

        Ignoring his schedule, the Rev. Mr. Lynch rounded up several followers and hurried to the Hamilton County courthouse.

        He was quickly swarmed by reporters and protesters, and was heckled by a few in the crowd.

        He didn't respond, but said later: “See how quickly we turn on each other?”

        Then the Rev. Mr. Lynch went to City Hall and addressed City Council, urging them to respond to the verdict and not merely return to business as usual.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said that for racial healing, the city can't just “move forward.”

        “We've got to continue this struggle,” he said. “We've taken a hit, but our resolve to continue to fight for justice has to be even greater now.

        “We don't get (justice) in the courts. We don't seem to get it in the streets. We've got to continue the struggle so that somehow justice is served in Cincinnati.”

        Judge Winkler's final words in the courtroom may haunt the Rev. Mr. Lynch the longest.

        “You are free to go,” the judge told Officer Roach. The Rev. Mr. Lynch repeated the phrase, shaking his head in disbelief.

Curfew to remain through Friday
Roach not guilty; city under curfew
Acquittals based on self-defense
Anger, fear, sadness felt on streets after verdict
Anger is there, but chaos isn't
Experts' opinions sealed verdict
- Lynch: Ruling 'sets us back'
PULFER: Turmoil of April finally over - or is it?
Q & A
Text of Judge Winkler verdict
Then and now: Race relations
Victim's point of view part of justice, too

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