Friday, June 07, 2002

Both sides wary of profiling settlement

Distrust revealed in fairness hearing

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The settlement of Cincinnati's racial profiling lawsuit was praised in federal court Thursday as “historic,” “groundbreaking” and a model for the rest of the country.

        But even as they spoke glowingly of the settlement, city officials and community activists questioned one another's commitment to making the deal work.

        The tension was evident throughout the day as witnesses testified about the settlement at a fairness hearing in U.S. District Court.

        The hearing was the last chance for the parties involved in the settlement to speak their minds before Judge Susan Dlott decides whether to approve the agreement.

        Although that decision is expected soon, the testimony Thursday made it clear the settlement alone will not ease the anger and mistrust that has plagued Cincinnati since before last year's riots.

        The contentious hearing also showed how difficult it will be for the parties involved to work together to implement the settlement, which calls for sweeping reforms of the police department.

        The settlement was signed in April after days of intense negotiations between groups as disparate as the Fraternal Order of Police, the Black United Front and City Council.

        Several people who testified Thursday warned that the deal may not work unless members of those groups set aside their longstanding differences.

        “I believe one day in this city we will get past calling each other names,” Mayor Charlie Luken said during his testimony. “We are nowhere near that now.”

        The courtroom crowd underscored the mayor's point by frequently interrupting his testimony — and that of other witnesses — with cheers, jeers and loud applause.

        At one point, the city's attorney, William “Billy” Martin, asked Judge Dlott to quiet the crowd.

        “I think a hearing like this is healthy,” the judge responded. “I would like it if everyone said everything is wonderful, but we all know it isn't.”

        That sentiment was echoed throughout the hearing as witnesses for both sides professed their commitment to the settlement while warning that its success was uncertain.

        They said everyone must be willing to work together because the settlement makes police, citizens and city leaders “stakeholders” in every major reform of the police department.

        Police must explain how and why they are changing tactics and policies, while community groups must meet regularly with police to voice concerns and discuss the needs of their neighborhoods.

        A federal monitor will make sure everyone is complying with the terms of the settlement.

        “It is absolutely an historic and model agreement,” said Jay Rothman, who mediated the settlement negotiations.

        Nearly every witness agreed. But several also challenged their longtime adversaries to follow through on promises they made when they signed the settlement.

        “The agreement is only as good as the integrity of those who are going to work on the agreement,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Black United Front.

        Mr. Martin questioned whether Rev. Lynch's recent criticism of some city officials was in “the spirit of collaboration.” He also noted that members of the Black United Front recently tore up a copy of the settlement at a City Council meeting after a dispute with city leaders.

        “Do you agree that the only hope for success is if we are able to look forward, not back?” Mr. Martin asked.

        “I agree with moving forward,” Rev. Lynch said, “but I think our past is relevant.”

        The relevance of the past came up again when a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union played three videos showing what he described as police misconduct.

        Mr. Martin objected to showing the videos, but Judge Dlott allowed it. One video showed officers striking a man with batons after he attempted to flee; another showed a police cruiser hitting a young black man during a chase.

        The ACLU lawyer, Scott Greenwood, said the videos show the kind of police behavior that the settlement is designed to change.

        Mr. Martin said the videos proved nothing except that some critics of the police seem unwilling to let go of the past.

        “We're going to try to make (the settlement) a new way of doing business,” Mr. Martin said. “The hard work now is for the community and members of the police department to implement the agreement.”

        Roger Conner, a representative of Search for Common Ground, said he wasn't surprised to see so much tension at Thursday's hearing.

        He said his group, which specializes in international conflict resolution, understands that people in conflict are not likely to “stand around in a circle, holding hands and singing Kumbaya.”

        Mr. Conner said the settlement may actually create more tension, at least temporarily, because expectations have been raised.

        “The agreement doesn't wipe out history. It doesn't transform people,” he said. “The only way to build trust is to work together.”


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