Few changes a year after Cincinnati riots

Police reform, settlement with activists get first OK

April 07, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

CINCINNATI - In a grocery store parking lot at Vine and West 15th streets, Run D.M.C.'s banging 1984 song "It's Like That" blasts from a beat-up van.

Nearby, two boys hanging around a gas station pounce on every car that pulls up to a pump. "Can I pump your gas?" asks a 12-year-old with the face of a hard-working man. "I'm trying to hustle up on $5 so I can get me a sandwich."

This is Over-the-Rhine, one year after it exploded in violent protests after white Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach fatally shot Timothy Thomas, 19, black and unarmed, in an alley here during a foot chase. Many believed the looting, arsons, assaults on white motorists, peaceful demonstrations and street confrontations were an eruption of some blacks' long-simmering frustrations with poverty and antagonistic encounters with police.

Thomas, whom Roach was pursuing on 14 open misdemeanor arrest warrants - two for fleeing police, a dozen for outstanding traffic tickets - was the 15th of 17 black men to die at the hands of police since 1995, a period during which one white was killed by police.

"The shooting of Timothy Thomas and the civil unrest that followed shook every institution and every social structure in the city," said Gene Beaupre, who teaches political science at Xavier University. "The tremors are still shaking."

A year later, the city is split over whether the tremors brought about any meaningful, fundamental changes.

On Friday the City Council approved 9-0 a tentative settlement with black activists and the American Civil Liberties Union in a federal racial profiling lawsuit as well as recommendations for police reforms from the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed lawsuit agreement, if approved by the respective parties, could bring sweeping changes to the 1,000-member department.

"I'm sure if you talk to most people in Over-the Rhine, they will say their lives are essentially unchanged," Mayor Charlie Luken said recently in an interview at City Hall. "But the foundations I think have been laid for important improvements."

Leaders of the 9-month-old boycott of downtown businesses are still demanding discipline for the six officers who fired beanbags into a crowd of mourners after Thomas's funeral.

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