Saturday, April 13, 2002

Baptist group leaves coalition

Vote takes clergy off boycott list

By Kevin Aldridge,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The city's most visible and influential group of African-American clergy says it no longer wants to be listed as a supporter of a boycott against downtown Cincinnati.

        The Baptist Ministers Conference of Cincinnati voted Tuesday to withdraw as a member of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, one of the major boycott groups. The clergy group, which represents nearly all Baptist preachers in the region, was one of the most established and politically powerful organizations affiliated with the coalition.

        “The decision is not about being anti-this or anti-that. It's about our group being free to choose our own position and speak for ourselves on issues,” said the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, pastor of Greater New Light Baptist Church in Avondale. “I fully support the position of being independent until the group as a whole can decide what to do.”

        The Rev. Mr. Shuttlesworth said there has long been a splintering of personal opinion among the Baptist ministers when it comes to the boycott.

        “Some are for it and some are not,” he said. “Many feel that the hiring of a new city manager and signing of this agreement by the city and Justice Department are big steps forward.”

        News of the ministers' withdrawal spread the same day U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft signed an agreement between the Justice Department and the city of Cincinnati to reform the police department.

        The Rev. Stephen Scott, vice chairman of the coalition and member of the Baptist Ministers Conference, downplayed the significance of the withdrawal. He said the boycott will continue.

        “They are not not supporting the boycott,” the Rev. Mr. Scott said. “They merely don't want to be listed as a member of the coalition.

        “I don't have a problem with it at all,” he said of the clergy's decision. “They wanted to be considered their own individual entity and I respect that.”

        The Rev. Mr. Scott said one reason the group pulled out was because it was starting to interact with City Hall more and could even play a role in mediating talks between boycotters and city leaders should they ever take place. The Rev. Mr. Scott said the Baptist Ministers Conference also expressed some concern about becoming involved in potentially costly litigation filed against boycotters.

        The Rev. Calvin Harper, president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.

        The Baptist Ministers Conference has been involved in civic issues for many years and regularly endorses political candidates and issues. It was among the groups calling for a federal investigation of the choking death of Roger Owensby Jr. during a police arrest and a charter amendment to allow the city to hire its police chief from outside the department.

        Some city leaders said Friday the Baptist Ministers Conference's withdrawal could signal the beginning of the end for the boycott.

        “It won't end the boycott overnight, but it is part of a process that will ultimately help put this thing behind us,” Councilman Pat DeWine said.

        William Kirkland, president of the African-American Cultural Commission, a coalition member, said the Baptist ministers' withdrawal will have virtually no impact on the boycott.

        “I could care less because we aren't calling off the boycott until our demands are met,” Mr. Kirkland said. “If people want to continue to believe the Baptist Ministers Conference is the only legitimate group involved in this boycott, go ahead. But all you have to do is look at how much success the boycott has had with these so-called "illegitimate' groups running it.”


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