Thursday, September 27, 2001

Then and now: Race relations

        In February, The Cincinnati Enquirer convened a group of local leaders to discuss race relations in Cincinnati. Here's what some of them said then and on Wednesday, the day the verdict was announced in the case of Officer Stephen Roach. The white officer was acquitted of charges in the April 7 death of Timothy Thomas, an African-American.

Clifford Bailey, chairman of Downtown Cincinnati Inc.:

        February: “I see Cincinnati as being in denial that it has a race problem. With regard to police and the African-American community, racial tensions are very high. There is a lack of trust, and there is a high level of fear that African-American males are a target.”

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        Wednesday: “Today, it's clearly obvious, isn't it? It's out now. It is out that our city is not as progressive as others. We're not accepting, we're intolerant, and we're viewed as being disrespectful. What can make a difference is if we start demonstrating that we're not what we used to be.”

Clyde Gray, WCPO-TV news anchor:

       February: “There's obviously the problem, or at least the perceived problem, between the police and the African-American community. As long as it's viewed as an "us and them' situation, and the "them' live in the urban core of Cincinnati, then that urban core will continue to deteriorate.”

        Wednesday: “We've had a spasm of unity brought by the World Trade Center attacks that even managed for a while to mute some of the disagreements in the community. But it's clear today that those disputes were never resolved and still linger. I think we've made some minimal progress. But I've sensed — even since a week after the riots — that this community was tired of this discussion and just wanted to move on. I think (Wednesday's verdict) will expose the rift that has been there for a while and has yet to be closed.”

Cheryl Nunez, director of affirmative action and multicultural affairs at Northern Kentucky University:

        February: “I'd like to see white people become more vocal in protesting and eradicating racism. I think it's important. It's not a matter of blame to one or another, but we do need to be joined in the effort to eradicate racism.”

        Wednesday: “I wouldn't expect to see measureable improvements in six months. There are white people and organizations that are white-led that are interested in social justice issues. I'm well aware that there are some folks who think it's only the rabble-rousers who are looking for racism. Some of that is born in the need to deny that we live in a society so unjust. We cling to the myths of equality and fairness. Most of us can agree those are noble ideas to pursue, so it's just a matter of educating people.”

Linda Bates Parker, director of the Career Development Center at the University of Cincinnati:

        February: “Many whites are suffering from race fatigue or denial: "Let's just stop talking about it, and things might get better.' It won't happen.”

        Wednesday: “The fatigue continues. People want it to go away and get better. Given our national tragic events, the racial profiling that another group of Americans is experiencing, the near riots being provoked, the verdict today, and what's going on at City Council, I am both hopeful and bewildered — and angry. My hope and my optimism lies in the fact that I know there are genuine efforts being undertaken. My frustration is the fact they get overshadowed and even undermined by some of the events that happen in very public forums like city council.”

Rob Portman, member, U.S. House of Representatives:

        February: “If we don't address it, deal with it, it can polarize our community and drive us further apart. And ultimately it affects the quality of life everywhere.”

        Wednesday: “The shooting and events that have followed have been a difficult and trying experience for our city. I know that there are people in Cincinnati who feel strongly on both sides of this case. But in the end, I think this ordeal and the improved dialogue that has resulted between residents, local officials, law enforcement and the business community, can bring us closer together. These are solvable problems, in my mind, and we need to pull together to address them.”

Sharon Zealey, former U.S. Attorney:

        February: “I don't see any more pressing issue in the area of civil rights than the disparity in criminal justice that manifests itself on a daily basis. Tied with that is the poor relationship between the police and the African-American community.”

        Wednesday: “I think the Cincinnati CAN Commission has made great inroads. I don't think anybody expected the problem to be solved overnight, and it definitely won't be. The effort to improve race relations is a long-term proposition. Anything worth doing is worth being in it for the long haul. You can't change a person's mind or a person's heart, but you can change a person's behavior.”

Compiled by Gregory Korte

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