Friday, April 12, 2002

What were they thinking?

Those caught on camera relive events

By Sheila McLaughlin,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A year ago, these were the images from Cincinnati: anger, confrontations, mourning, looting, violence, prayers. A country watched as a week of chaos erupted in an unsuspecting city. Enquirer photographers captured hundreds of those moments. Now, one year later, we revisit the people in some of those poignant, sometimes terrifying scenes. We asked what were they thinking at that moment — and to share their thoughts today.

April 5, 2001

        Cincinnati City Council chambers:

[photo] (Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Ronnie Stallworth was one of hundreds who crowded into Cincinnati City Hall on April 9, demanding answers from council's Law and Public Safety Committee two days after the shooting death of Timothy Thomas.

        Mr. Stallworth, left, approached Police Chief Tom Streicher and angrily fired questions his way.

        “Answer the damn lady's questions,” Mr. Stallworth shouted at Chief Streicher.

        Standing between the chief and Mr. Stallworth was Sgt. Emmett Gladden, a Cincinnati officer assigned to City Hall.

        Mr. Stallworth then: The 20-year-old from Westwood says he became frustrated that city officials weren't answering Angela Leisure's questions about her son's death.

        “Everybody was pushing it off to somebody that wasn't there. They would say, "This is somebody else's job,' and they'd have to call that person in. It was getting confusing and frustrating. There was never a straight answer coming out. I wanted to hear the answer. I thought it's got to be a good one.”

        Sgt. Gladden then: “Chaos. Total chaos. Things were out of control at that point. What I saw was this young man getting closer and closer, and I thought, "If he gets close enough to accidentally poke the chief, there will be all-out war in here.' ”

        What Mr. Stallworth says today: “It's a little bit better now that Streicher said publicly that they discovered that the officer (Stephen Roach, who shot Mr. Thomas) was in the wrong. But it's a little too late also to be saying that. People wanted to know about that back in April of last year.”

        What Sgt. Gladden says today: “I've given it a lot of thought, and I feel that from that moment, we've come a long way. Let's face it. We used to have a Safety Department. We don't any more. We've made the police chief directly accountable to the city manager. Not everything that people would like to see done has been done, but at least we're making progress.”

April 8, 2001

        Republic Street alley:

[photo] (Michael E. Keating photo)
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        What was he thinking:
A day after the Thomas shooting, Jerome Manigan of Avondale, the son and brother of retired Cincinnati police officers, visited where Mr. Thomas died.

        There, he lit a candle for the dead man's family. It was a symbolic gesture, he says, “that light would shed on the situation ... and the truth would be made known.

        “We had just come through the November (2000) Roger Owensby Jr. killing. So, my first thought was one of disbelief. How could this happen again?

        “My second was, "I hope the script is changed,' meaning I did not want to hear the same story. It is as if it has been memorized: "We thought he had a weapon. He reached for something.' I was hoping that the script would be different, that someone would tell the truth.”

        What he says today: Cincinnati's struggle with race relations continues, despite the public outcry following Mr. Thomas' shooting.

        “I make my comment based upon the ridiculous episode we just went through with the cow (that escaped a Camp Washington slaughterhouse, eluded captors for 10 days and then was shipped to New York).

        “It said to me (police) do in fact know how to subdue without lethal force. I don't really know that the city understood it was presenting a case study in how to apprehend without murder,” he says.

        Mr. Manigan said he was stunned that the errant cow earned so much attention from city leaders.

        “I was very insulted that with the city in such a turmoil, our highest leader would offer a key to the city and a proclamation to this cow. It said to me ... the life of a cow was more valuable than the lives of 15 black men (who had died in police custody between 1995 and April 2001).”

April 9, 2001

        Cincinnati City Council chambers:

[photo] (Glenn Hartong photo)
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        What was he thinking: Chris Monzel was a member of Cincinnati City Council barely more than a month when an angry crowd jammed council chambers April 9, two days after the Thomas shooting.

        Ms. Leisure, mother of the dead man, and others demanded information about the shooting. City leaders offered few answers. Tempers flared. At one point, Mr. Monzel, flabbergasted and frustrated by the mob scene, searched for an escape, he says.

        “It was totally surreal. I felt like I was on a movie set. People were getting up on the window sills, standing on tables, shouting, screaming, the signs, getting elbows to the head. I was wondering if I would ever get out of there,” he says. “I just was frustrated with the disrespect on both sides. I thought the whole process just fell apart and it shouldn't have come to this.”

        Rioting erupted the next day.

        What he says today: “The police should have been allowed to do their job. I think we stood in the way of that with the looting and the rioting,” he says. “The small businesses that didn't have anything to do with this got trashed, and that's unacceptable. I think we failed as a city government to protect those citizens and those businesses that should have been protected.”

April 11, 2001

        Over-the-Rhine protest:

[photo] (Brandi Stafford photo)
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What was she thinking: On April 11, Casita McCrary joined hundreds for what she thought would be a peaceful protest through her Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

        The crowd became unruly. Police, in riot gear, fired foam bullets and bean bags into the crowd in the Kroger parking lot on Vine Street.

        “I was so angry because you live in America. You don't think that the people that are supposed to protect you would be out to hurt you. There wasn't any type of threat toward any of the officers or anything, and they just opened fire on us like we were a different nation at war with them,” says the 36-year-old mother and grandmother. She has spent her life in Over-the-Rhine.

        “I just looked around and I seen little kids crying. I seen people falling, and I was just wondering, "How can you ever get an understanding with somebody if you don't take time to listen to them?' ”

        What she says today: City leaders and the public wrongly identified race as the issue that sparked the unrest in Cincinnati last year, she says. She blames it on a small group of police officers who she said disrespect everyone.

        “This is where I think the whole thing got turned around. Instead of saying the Cincinnati Police Department is against black people, they should have said the Cincinnati Police Department was against the people of Cincinnati,” Mrs. McCrary says. “It ain't just black people who are getting harassed. It happens a lot downtown, but it happens in other communities, too.”

        She suggests that Cincinnati officers receive diversity training that includes all cultures, not just African-Americans.

        “We need to understand them. They need to understand us,” Ms. McCrary says of police. “Until we do that, we ain't going to get nowhere.”

April 11, 2001

        Streets of Over-the-Rhine:

[photo] (Michael E. Keating photo)
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        What was he thinking: As he walked Over-the-Rhine with other ministers last April trying to quell the unrest, the Rev. Calvin Harper flashed back to Cincinnati's 1968 riots.

        “I lived right there on Rockdale Avenue at that time. My mind flashed back that it was the same thing that happened there, that our own community was destroyed or defaced,” says the Rev. Mr. Harper, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Walnut Hills.

        “I was feeling a little bit of frustration and concern about how we can turn our energies into some more constructive things that would build up our community rather than destroy it.”

        What he says today: “I don't have a solution in my pocket,” the Rev. Mr. Harper says. “But I think if we can sit down and talk about it, bring together our several resources and our thoughts, we can come up with something.”

April 13, 2001

        Mayor Luken press conference:

[photo] (Glenn Hartong photo)
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        What was he thinking: On April 13, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken and law enforcement authorities met in a news conference that was broadcast live. They updated reporters about the first night of the citywide curfew.

        “I was always mad about that picture. It's way too close,” says the mayor, who won re-election in November.

        “I don't look happy. You know, it was a difficult time. The whole year was difficult. That expression pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole year.”

        What he says today: “You can't look at what's happening today and say that this city hasn't come a long way in the last year. The problem is, we have so many people who are just interested in winning the argument.”

April 14, 2001

        Prayer at Washington Park:

[photo] (Jeff Swinger photo)
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        What was she thinking: On April 14, the day Mr. Thomas was buried, Sydney Stricker of Northside was among hundreds of ministers, church members, protesters and citizens who snaked through Over-the-Rhine in a march that ended with prayer in Washington Park.

        As the procession passed the spot in the Republic Street alley where Mr. Thomas died, Mrs. Stricker compared her own life to what she saw around her.

        “Across the street is an apartment building. There was a girl about 3 or 4 years old standing there watching it all. I'm thinking "How long will that stay with her? Probably forever.'

        “And, so you just look around down there and you think, we're fortunate. We just don't know it,” she says.

        In Washington Park, Mrs. Stricker said a simple prayer, asking God for help. “Lord, whatever you can do to fix this mess, please fix it.”

        What she says today: More work must be done to restore police-community relations and for racial differences to be bridged, Mrs. Stricker says.

        “I don't have a judgment whether it was a wrongful shooting or not. But I know that mothers are losing their sons, mothers and fathers are losing their children, and they are losing them to the streets. And, prayer is the only answer. Bottom line.”
       Greg Korte of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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