Thursday, April 04, 2002

Over-the-Rhine waits for reality

Doubts surround deal's promise to change treatment

By Howard Wilkinson,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        To many in Over-the-Rhine, it will take more than 60 printed pages hammered out by lawyers and politicians to make decades of daily clashes between police and people on the streets disappear.

Chester Beeks
        “Nothing has changed,” said Chester Beeks, standing among the racks of CDs and hip-hop clothes of the Next Millennium store he runs with his brother in the 1200 block of Vine Street.

        “The only thing that is going to change for the time being is that the city has the federal government off its case.”

        The back door of Mr. Beeks' business on Vine Street empties directly into the alleyway off Republic Street where, nearly a year ago, Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach met 19-year-old Timothy Thomas after a lengthy chase and shot him dead.

        In a city where anger was rising over a string of police shootings of young black men, it was the moment that sparked the rage that led to three nights of rioting in April.

        Early Wednesday morning, civil rights activists, city officials, the police and federal officials came to a settlement that many hope will lead to sweeping reforms in the police department, an end to racial profiling and less tension between police and black Cincinnatians.

        Mr. Beeks and others in Over-the-Rhine, the scene of the worst violence in last April's rioting, have their doubts.

        “I know a lot of police as friends, black and white,” Mr. Beeks said. “They are good and fair. There are some who will judge you just on the color of your skin.

        “If you are going to change that, you have to change people's hearts,” Mr. Beeks said. “I don't know how an agreement does that.”

        For African-Americans in Cincinnati — particularly young black men — racial profiling by police is a fact of life, he said.

        Mr. Beeks said his 17-year-old son — a straight-A student, a high school football player — was stopped recently while driving by a white police officer. The reason: “Just because he looked like some drug dealer they were looking for.”

        “They had him there with his hands up against the wall,” Mr. Beeks said. “This is a hard thing for a young boy to understand, that he is going to be judged by some people just because of the color of his skin. But it's the reality.”

        Down the block from the Next Millennium, Phillip Miller of Over-the-Rhine was taking a break from his job shoring up an abandoned building.

        He said he has not been following the discussions over the racial profiling lawsuit and has never personally been the victim of racial profiling, but he said he knows it exists. And he doubts any document signed by politicians can stop it.

        “That ain't going to happen,” Mr. Miller said of the idea that racial profiling would end in Cincinnati. “They're dreaming.”

        Down Vine Street at Smitty's Boys and Mens Wear, manager Larry Ashford said he feared that the agreement would inhibit police from chasing criminals in the crime-ridden neighborhood.

        “It won't work,” Mr. Ashford said of the agreement. “You ever heard of a dog that won't bite?”

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