Monday, December 03, 2001

Mayor: Lynch's letter is last straw




By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The effort to settle a racial profiling lawsuit against the city out of court is jeopardized, police and city leaders say, because of a letter written by the Cincinnati Black United Front that goes too far.

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        Mayor Charlie Luken and Keith Fangman, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Sunday that the letter, which is meant to bolster an economic boycott of Cincinnati and refers to officers as rapists and murderers, is the final straw.

        The undated letter is signed by three BUF members, including its leader, the Rev. Damon Lynch III. The Rev. Mr. Lynch is a co-chair of Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), a panel that the mayor established after April's riots to address race relations in the city.

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        “Rev. Lynch, by his behavior, is jeopardizing the collaborative that so many of us have worked so hard on,” Mr. Luken said. “He is alienating the police and the city. Pastor Lynch should look in the mirror.

        “He has been counseled time and time again to cooperate for some good results and he throws it all away because he seems unable to resist name calling.”

        Mr. Fangman went further, saying the collaborative effort to settle the lawsuit is “probably finished” because it will be “near impossible” for officers to sit at a bar gaining table with the Rev. Mr. Lynch now.

        The American Civil Liberties Union and local black activists, including BUF, sued the city in March, alleging decades of discrimination. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott suggested the parties try mediation first.

        Focus groups made up of city, police and community leaders have developed six goals aimed at settling the federal racial-profiling lawsuit out of court.

        The city, police division, ACLU and community activists involved in settling the lawsuit are expected to negotiate toward an agreement this month. That settlement should be submitted to federal court for approval in January or February.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch, who returned to Cincinnati Saturday night after attending a convention in Atlanta, did not respond to repeated requests for comment Sunday on the letter, which urges an economic boycott of the city.

        A BUF representative said the group would try to issue a prepared statement soon.

        The letter, sent in November to groups planning conventions here, asks them to cancel any events in Cincinnati — and warns that BUF will protest and picket events that go on as planned.

        “Police are killing, raping, planting false evidence, and along with the prosecutor and the courts, are destroying the general self-respect for black citizens,” reads the letter.

        Two Cincinnati police officers, Kevin Walker and Patrick Knight, have been convicted in cases of having oral sex with women while on duty in return for not arresting them since 1996, court records show. Both were fired after their felony convictions, Mr. Fangman said.

        “To send out a letter that our officers are raping women based on that is very inflammatory,” Mr. Fangman said Sunday. “If this is the way he feels, it certainly doesn't speak well for negotiating anything. This certainly gives the appearance that the collaborative mediation process is, for all practical purposes, in the garbage can. I am very disappointed.”

        Mr. Luken met Friday with other race panel members and issued an ultimatum declaring that either the Rev. Mr. Lynch goes or he goes. Mr. Fangman said Sunday the FOP and officers applaud that move.

        Mr. Luken also has said the Rev. Mr. Lynch must apologize to the city and the police division.

        “There are 200 people involved in CAN, and I want to respect them,” Mr. Luken said Sunday when asked if he would throw the Rev. Mr. Lynch off the panel if members do not.

        But Tom Cody, a CAN co-chair and an executive with Federated Department Stores Inc., said Sunday CAN members do not have any rights or privileges to ask other members to leave.

        “I think the decision is up to the mayor and the Rev. Lynch,” Mr. Cody said. He declined to comment on the letter because he hasn't read it.

        In addition to the Rev. Mr. Lynch, the letter is signed by Juleana Frierson, BUF chief of staff, and Dwight Patton, BUF vice president.

        While Mr. Patton said he did not want to speak for the BUF, he defended the letter, which he says was mailed shortly after the November acquittal of Officer Patrick Caton on an assault charge stemming from the suffocation of Roger Owensby Jr. in November 2000.

        “The letter is the truth. We are sorry if the mayor is upset, but he should worry about solving some of the problems in this city and have a few less parties,” Mr. Patton said.

        “He can seek retribution against Damon Lynch all he wants. Damon Lynch is above that brand of retribution. He can get accomplished what he wants to accomplish whether he is on the CAN commission or not.”

        Mr. Patton declined to say where and to whom the letters have been mailed or what response they have received.

        Meanwhile, some city and neighborhood leaders cautioned that booting the Rev. Mr. Lynch from the race relations panel would further incense the African-American community.

        “Don't throw Lynch off,” said Cecil Thomas, executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission. “We've come too far to turn back now. You will create more problems than you will solve and alienate the African-American community."

        “It will cause a wider rift between black folks in this city and the mayor's office,” said Jim Clingman, a BUF member. “Damon is not trying to rip this city apart, but he is a moral person who will stand up and call out when he sees racial injustice.”

        Other residents said the Rev. Mr. Lynch should leave the panel because they don't think it has been productive.

        “He should get off of it anyway,” said Douglas Springs, 52, of Mount Auburn. “I heard a lot of talk but I haven't seen anything. So far it's just a waste of time.”

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