By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Poverty, homeownership and unemployment rates among African-Americans in Cincinnati will be used to illustrate why economic opportunities for blacks need to be improved nationwide, a group of national religious and civil rights leaders said Thursday.
National church leaders convened for a "by invitation only" meeting with the Cincinnati Black United Front and other local groups at Zion Baptist Church in Avondale to discuss "economic apartheid," police brutality, community revitalization and the boycott.
Church leaders called for a national campaign to promote social justice and economic programs to help black people. They also said they would urge their congregations to support the city's 19-month-old boycott and indicated they may "turn up the heat" by calling for a national boycott of corporations based in Cincinnati.
In addition, the three boycott groups - BUF, Coalition for a Just Cincinnati and Concerned Citizens for Justice - issued a consolidated list of demands that included a call for a federal investigation of the city and county prosecutor's office and a city council resolution seeking federal prosecution of officers "who have killed unarmed African-American citizens."
"Cincinnati is the Birmingham of 2003," said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Cincinnati Black United Front. "It has become the center for the 21st Century civil rights movement."
Among the groups that attended the summit were the NAACP, Progressive National Baptist Convention, United Church of Christ and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, which has 140,000 congregations nationwide.
"The pain of Cincinnati has brought us together. The possibilities of resolution have brought us together," said the Rev. Otis Moss Jr., chairman of the civil rights commission for the Progressive Baptists, which canceled a convention last year in Cincinnati because of the boycott.
Lynch said black ministers from Cincinnati want to launch a "Freedom Summer" project April 4 - the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination - that would bring African-Americans together so they can discuss areas in which blacks should press for greater opportunity.
The boycott groups also unveiled a three-page, consolidated list of demands that covered economic, political, health, education and criminal justice issues. Gone from the list of demands was the call for Cincinnati Police Chief Tom Streicher's resignation. But other demands remained, such as those for $208 million in city funds for the Empowerment Zone and the settlement of lawsuits of families whose children died in altercations with police.
Newer demands included establishment of a community development bank that would provide funding and investment capital to support revitalization for poor, deteriorated neighborhoods. They also are asking for a task force to investigate the "outside forces" conducting large-scale gun and drug trafficking in black neighborhoods.
Councilman David Pepper called it unfair to target Cincinnati-based corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Federated Department Stores Inc., that have "gone out of their way" to contribute to job and educational initiatives designed to improve the lives of African-Americans. Pepper tried to get into the meeting to explain to national leaders what actions city officials are taking toward progress, but boycott organizers turned him away at the door.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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