Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Mistakes weren't repeated after fatal shooting

Any time Cincinnati police are involved in a fatal shooting, some headline-seeker feels the need to shoot off her mouth.

This time the headline-seeker's comments had the firepower of a squirt gun.

That's because, following Sunday's fatal shooting in Northside of Andre Sherrer by Officer Michael Schulte, the system worked. And offered hope. Cincinnati's racial wounds might be healing.

City officials did the right thing after Sherrer was fatally wounded. He allegedly robbed a store, ran from police, grabbed Officer Schulte's police baton and whacked him in the head.

After the 4:10 a.m. shooting, city officials swiftly came forward with what they knew. They calmed the neighborhood. And showed some compassion.

Follow the guidelines

Within hours of the shooting, members of the city's Human Relations Commission were walking the streets of Northside. They gauged the mood of the community and discussed the shooting with residents.

Police officials met with Sherrer's mother and sister.

Mayor Charlie Luken spoke with Officer Schulte's loved ones. (As well as Sherrer's.) The mayor gave the policeman a vote of confidence and a show of appreciation for putting his life on the line.

Mayor Luken's comments scored points with the thin blue line. Ever since the riots of 2001, following the fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas by Officer Stephen Roach, beat cops have had the distinct impression that the mayor is not a card-carrying member of the back-the-blue club.

By almost all accounts, the way the city handled Sunday's shooting showed it has learned its lesson. The collaborative agreement, designed to improve the police force while ending racial profiling, provided guidelines on how the city should respond in such situations.

The city followed those guidelines. But that won't silence all the naysayers.

Juleana Frierson of the Black United Front, one of the parties in the collaborative agreement, made TV news headlines rattling off a list of questions about the shooting.

She wondered how Sherrer "allegedly" came into possession of the nightstick, why the officer pursued him without backup onto a darkened sidewalk between two buildings.

She did not ask why Sherrer took it upon himself to beat the policeman in the head with his own nightstick.

The mayor defended the officer's actions.

"He's entitled," Luken said, "to use reasonable force to protect himself."

On the scene

In the words of neighborhood activist Stefanie Sunderland, Monday's mood in Northside was "anxious" and "tense." But, "hopeful."

No one, so far, has come to her taking serious issue with the city's response to the shooting.

Her neighbors are taking a "wait and see" approach. They want to see the city's investigation of the fatal shooting take its course.

No one is jumping to conclusions.

And hope is in the air.

"People see hope in the city's efforts that stem from the collaborative process,'' she said.

"The proactive police, the members of the Human Relations Commission walking the street are doing what people want to see happen. They are serious about making this work."

The city's response has implications that reach far beyond Northside. They touch every neighborhood in town.

This is a tragic shooting. A man's life was lost. Another man's life was changed forever.

As long as this shooting and its aftermath are handled by the book, a much-needed sense of trust will be restored throughout the city.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.

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