Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Profiling: All parties agree to keep talking

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        City officials, Fraternal Order of Police members, the ACLU, black activists and others reaffirmed their commitment Monday to try to settle a racial profiling lawsuit against the city of Cincinnati.

        In a three-hour meeting called by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott, 22 people signed a report that expressed their intention to move forward with mediation.

        It was an effort to show Cincinnati residents that negotiations continue despite escalating rhetoric over activists' call for a boycott of the city and an FOP lawsuit challenging Issue 5, which allows the city to hire outside police and fire chiefs.

        “Issue 5 and the boycott are not on the table,” Judge Dlott said. “What we're negotiating is police-community relations.

        “I had a concern that the community wasn't aware everybody here was totally committed to this.”

        The mediation effort attempts to settle a lawsuit alleging decades of discrimination against African-Americans in Cincinnati.

        Monday's report reads:

        “There are issues that have generated much debate and division among the parties to the collaborative and the public, but these issues have not derailed the collaborative process.”

        Scott Greenwood, general counsel for Ohio's ACLU chapter, characterized the Monday meeting as “serious” and “necessary.”

        “All parties understood we are at a make-or-break juncture,” he said. “Either we negotiate or we don't.

        “The community has expectations for us.”

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III heads the Cincinnati Black United Front, which is leading boycott efforts. After Monday's meeting, he said this:

        “Today was simply a reaffirmation of our commitment to working collaboratively and in good faith. From the beginning we have been committed to this effort.

        “By April 5, I believe we will have something substantive to put on the table in terms of dealing with police-community relations,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said.

        Settlement talks are the culmination of months of work by Aria Group — a Yellow Springs conflict resolution firm leading negotiations — to create an agreement that will bind all parties to the lawsuit to specific policies aimed at improving mutual respect and accountability between the police and community.

        But recent media attention has focused on the success of black activists' nationwide efforts to get entertainers, convention-goers and others to boycott Cincinnati because of perceived racist actions.

        And in recent weeks, the FOP claimed in a lawsuit that Issue 5, approved by voters in November, violates its contract with the city by stripping appeal rights from assistant chiefs.

        Issue 5 also took many of the city's neighborhood services and development officials out of civil service.

        The mediation evolved after the American Civil Liberties Union and a group of black activists last year asked to widen the scope of a racial-profiling lawsuit already in Judge Dlott's court. In that suit, businessman Bomani Tyehimba charged that police illegally ordered him out of his car at gunpoint.

        The ACLU asked that the 2-year-old lawsuit be turned into a class-action case, meaning it would cover all African-Americans who claim they've been wrongly detained by police.

        As part of the mediation, dozens of meetings and suggestions from 3,500 citizens helped mold five goals, which have become the foundation of the proposed settlement.

        If an agreement is reached, the unprecedented process could take on new importance in solving race relations problems — not only in Cincinnati but nationwide.

        Talks will end April 5 with either a signed settlement or a decision to head back to court.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said city officials and the plaintiffs were kept in separate rooms most of the time during Monday's meeting, and the only thing they agreed on was to keep talking.

        “If the question is, did we negotiate details, we did not,” Mr. Luken said. “I was hopeful that the boycott could be suspended, but that didn't come up. I just pointed out the difficulty of negotiating in good faith with a group that has a boycott against the city. That was the problem I tried to point out today.”

        Jay Rothman, Aria Group president, said Judge Dlott scheduled the meeting after she got a call that city lawyers were concerned that everyone wasn't on the same page.

        “There was a lack of dialogue about how close we are and the noise around us was deafening and we needed to quiet it,” Mr. Rothman said.

        Vice Mayor Alicia Reece said the city remains committed to bringing about changes in police-community relations.

        “But it's not going to happen overnight,” she said. “It is important that all parties involved understand that.”

       Kevin Aldridge and Gregory Korte contributed to this report.


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