Saturday, April 06, 2002

CAN gathering ebullient

Fountain Square rally honors racial progress

By Kevin Aldridge,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        With a historic agreement to reform the city's police department looming, a crowd on Fountain Square Friday expressed optimism about Cincinnati's future.

        More than 150 people gathered on the square at lunchtime for a ceremony to reflect on events of the past year and encourage residents to become personally involved in making Cincinnati a better place for everyone.

[photo] The hands of the Rev. Jenette Shegog (left) and Mayor Charlie Luken are linked Friday during a gathering for reflection on Fountain Square.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        The “Together We Can” event was organized by the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) and Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), the mayor's race relations panel.

        “We recognize that Cincinnati has real issues to face, but we believe we're making real progress every day,” said Ross Love, co-chairman of Cincinnati CAN, which unveiled a plan Wednesday to improve police-community relations.

        Some in the audience praised Mayor Charlie Luken and city leaders for taking steps to ease tensions, such as hiring a new city manager, putting police chief selection reform on the November 2001 ballot and participating in mediation talks to settle a racial profiling lawsuit against the city.

        Others blasted boycott organizers, saying the call for economic sanctions was “divisive” and “destructive.” They also criticized the groups for ignoring obvious signs of progress.

        “We don't need all that negativity and big-mouth stuff. The hate-mongers need to go away,” said John Kinney, 42, who lives downtown. “For the past year, we've been hearing too much of the negative. I think now with everything that's going on with the racial profiling settlement, that the positive things happening are starting to push the negatives to the side.”

        Fountain Square is often the site chosen by city and community leaders for prayer services, celebrations and rallies to trumpet accomplishments.

        On Sunday the square will serve as a pulpit for protesters marching in remembrance of Timothy Thomas, the unarmed 19-year-old black man who was shot and killed while fleeing police in Over-the-Rhine last April. Mr. Thomas' death touched off three days of sometimes violent unrest. The groups marching on Sunday are expected to criticize the city for its lack of meaningful change since the April riots.

        But at Friday's gathering, the message was exactly the opposite. The ceremony drew city council members, ministers, activists and business people downtown to pray for new beginnings and racial healing.

        Representatives from local organizations such as the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Cincinnati Youth Collaborative set up information booths on the square. Officials from the Hamilton County Board of Elections registered as many as 30 voters.

        Suburbanites like James Ellis, 44, of Mason, came to show his support for the city and enjoy entertainment from Blessid Union of Souls and the Bucket Boyz.

        “I'm one of the few people in the suburbs who realize that if the city of Cincinnati goes down, the suburbs go down with it,” said Mr. Ellis, who still has family living in Cincinnati. “I think the city has bent over backward the past several months to show that they do want to move forward and that they are serious about change.”

        Jonathan Harris, 19, of Walnut Hills, said hope and prayer are the two things that can help Cincinnati overcome its racial problems.

        “I don't know how to feel about the climate in the city right now, other than it has gotten better since last April,” Mr. Harris said. “People are at least trying to get together and make a difference. Cincinnati is far from perfect, but we are trying.”

        But even as hope and optimism emanated from the crowd, there were still some with doubts.

        “Some things have been done, but I don't see any real changes on the streets,” said Larry Clayton, 23, of Evanston. “I'm skeptical about a lot of things right now because every time the city has made promises in the past, they never come through in the end. I think the only way things will change is if we keep fighting for it.”

        Ken Horn, 60, of White Oak, added: “Boycotting is not the way. I think Rev. (Damon) Lynch (III) could do a lot more for blacks in this city by volunteering his time to a worthwhile cause than raising hell.”

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