Friday, September 28, 2001

Mass stupidity

City still divided in Roach case

        Some people in Cincinnati haven't learned a thing from what's happening in New York City.

        The news apparently hasn't penetrated their thick skulls that when the World Trade Center came down, that city came together.

        In Cincinnati, when trouble strikes, we fall apart.

        As soon as Police Officer Stephen Roach was acquitted of charges surrounding the fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas — whose death triggered the April riots — the bickering and street strife began.

        We didn't come together. We came apart at the seams.

        Once more, Cincinnati is paying the price for failing to deal decisively and cohesively with a serious problem.

Try cooperating

        Any verdict in Officer Roach's closely watched case could have provoked outrage. Yet there were few — if any — signs of a citywide outpouring of teamwork to deal with potential problems.

        When trouble came again to this river city, there was — instead — an outbreak of mass stupidity.

        Between late Wednesday night and Thursday morning, a curfew was in place, two cars were torched and 14 people had been arrested.

        Dumpsters and garbage cans were set on fire.

        Roving thugs had tossed rocks and bottles. Some of their targets: Firefighters risking their lives to douse flames. Nice way to treat the heroes wearing Cincinnati FD badges.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, his ranks swelled by current events, took his nightly walk through Over-the-Rhine. His evening constitutional is ostensibly designed to calm neighborhood tensions. This night, he took a walk and ran into charges of fanning the flames of discord.

        Suddenly, many Cincinnatians turned blind eyes to a message outside churches and on highway billboards:

        United we stand. Divided we fall.

Go east

        The mass stupidity extended — by no great surprise — to City Hall. Once more, City Council earned its reputation as the gang that can't think straight.

        Less than three hours after the verdicts were handed down, council held its regularly scheduled meeting.

        No problem holding meetings. Life goes on. The city's business can't wait forever.

        But it can wait a while.

        Accommodations were made for people in the gallery to speak. Venting about the verdicts in the Roach case was permitted. But first, council attended to its set agenda.

        While council did not keep the crowd waiting long, tempers had a chance to flare. And they did.

        Voices were raised. Fingers pointed. City Council listened.

        A more prudent decision would have let the crowd vent; defuse a potential emotional time bomb. Then take care of the rest of the city's official business.

        But first, even before the venting, the members of Council should have made a show of unity by issuing a joint resolution. Condemn anyone even contemplating violence in response to the Roach case. Stress the need to work together.

        If Council's members needed any pointers on how to cooperate, no one had to form a commission. Or add more work to Cincinnati CAN's agenda.

        There's a great example to follow.

        The people of New York City.


        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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