Sunday, April 27, 2003

Better race relations explored



By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two years after Cincinnati's worst riots in decades, civic leaders are urging a steady, diligent course toward improving race relations.

Addressing an audience of about 100 people Saturday morning, six men and women delivered an optimistic message while participating in "Creating Hope in Cincinnati: Two Years After April 2001," a panel discussion at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.

Yet they cautioned the crowd to ready themselves for the occasional misstep if they are serious about achieving greater harmony among blacks, whites and other polarized groups.

The job, they said, is difficult.

O'dell Owens, president of RISE Learning Solutions Inc., stressed the need for action at the discussion sponsored by Citizens for Civic Renewal.

"We talk the talk in Cincinnati but we're not a very good community," Owens said. He conceded that following through with solutions can be uncomfortable.

He and other panelists touched on the fallout from the April 2001 riots sparked when a Cincinnati police officer fatally shot an African-American man in Over-the-Rhine during a foot chase.

Al Gerhardstein, an attorney involved in the city's collaborative agreement on police reform, agreed that mistakes were made in the months that followed.

"This has not been an easy road," said Gerhardstein. "Some of the plaintiffs have withdrawn. The city has tried to withdraw. The FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) might try to withdraw - all of it in the name of, 'You're doing it wrong. I know the right way. Since you won't do it my way, we just won't tackle it.'

"(But) if we just stick with it," he added, "we'll get through this."

Education is part of the equation, said the Rev. Duane Holm, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. If Cincinnatians are serious about improving race relations, they will support the $480 million bond issue on the May 6 ballot to rebuild schools. "It would be one of the successes that we badly need in this community in which blacks and whites can work together," he said.

Other panelists were Anthony Simms-Howell of the Ohio Commission of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, Maureen Sullivan of the Urban Appalachian Council and moderator Dan Hurley.

E-mail svela@enquirer.com




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