Thursday, October 10, 2002

Shooting scene wall to come down

Ceremony notes memories of Thomas' death

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Timothy Thomas' body rests in Section 22 of the Baltimore Pike Cemetery in Westwood, but his spirit remains in a dark alley off Republic Street.

It's where, 18 months ago, he was shot and killed in a foot chase with a Cincinnati police officer, sparking four days of rioting.

[photo] Angela Leisure, mother of police shooting victim Timothy Thomas, stands Wednesday at the wall that stands as a memorial to her son.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
| ZOOM |
A makeshift memorial marking that spot will come down today, as work crews tear down the wall at the back of the alley. They're rebuilding the backs of two Vine Street buildings for low-income housing.

Wednesday night, college students, civil rights activists and Republic Street residents held candles in the dark alley, praying, singing and remembering the spot one last time before the alley that changed the city changes forever.

“We didn't think the wall should just come down unceremoniously,” said the Rev. Damon Lynch III of New Prospect Baptist Church, who led the vigil. “We think this wall represents the struggle we've been fighting in Cincinnati for a long time.”

The shooting led to riots, which led to calls for reform. Since then, the U.S. Justice Department has mandated changes to the Cincinnati Police Department's use-of-force policy, and the city has agreed to an out-of-court settlement on alleged racial profiling.

But the Rev. Mr. Lynch and others continue to call for a boycott of the city.

On the street, “RIP” is written in spray paint on nearly every building. People still leave flowers, bibles, letters, scripture verses — even basketballs.

“This is an ugly place, and it gives me ugly feelings,” said Angela Leisure, Mr. Thomas' mother, outside the alley. “This is the last place my son saw before he died. So I have to look at this as a blessing in a way. I take comfort that something better is coming.”

That something better is low-income housing from the Race Street Tenant Organization Cooperative, or ReStoc, which is using city and federal grants to rehab the two vacant buildings into nine apartments to rent for $285 to $405.

“In light of what's happened with the riots, and issues with the police, it's even more important that development in our community continues to happen,” said ReStoc coordinator Jennifer Summers. “But we wanted to do it with respect.”

The wall will some day be replaced by a permanent memorial, but those plans are sketchy.

Mrs. Leisure disclosed publicly for the first time where her son is buried.

“I have no problems with sharing that anymore,” she said. “The cemetery is open. I'd rather see you walk in than be carried in.”

One man protested the demolition.

Berta Lambert, a 20-year Over-the-Rhine resident who marched with activist Buddy Gray before his death, stood alone across the street from the vigil. He held a sign with a single word: “Shame.”

“It's a politically insensitive thing to do in this community. What they should be doing is rehabbing that building, keeping the wall and renaming it the Timothy Thomas Building,” he said. “That's what Buddy would do.”

Councilman Jim Tarbell, a Re-Stoc critic who still defends Officer Stephen Roach's actions that night, conceded that the ReStoc development is a small step in the right direction.

“I don't think that monument is too important for too many people. I wouldn't want to overstate its significance,” he said.

“But it is a good step forward that we're talking about the good things in the future rather than the bad things that happened in the past.”


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