News: Editorial

Cincinnati Must Own, Then Overcome, April's Events

There's a scene in The Laramie Project, recently performed by the Playhouse's intern company, that perfectly captures prevailing attitudes in post-riot Cincinnati.

In the play, residents of Laramie, Wyo., discuss how Matthew Shepard's murder by two local men impacted their pristine, proud hometown. A young woman describes a candlelight vigil she attended:

"And it was so good to be with people who felt like shit. I kept feeling like I don't deserve to feel this bad, you know? (The president of the University of Wyoming) basically said, 'C'mon guys, let's show the world that Laramie is not this kind of a town.'

"But it is that kind of a town. If it wasn't this kind of a town, why did this happen here? I mean, you know what I mean, like, that's a lie. Because it happened here. And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens.

There's a scene in The Laramie Project, recently performed by the Playhouse's intern company, that perfectly captures prevailing attitudes in post-riot Cincinnati.

In the play, residents of Laramie, Wyo., discuss how Matthew Shepard's murder by two local men impacted their pristine, proud hometown. A young woman describes a candlelight vigil she attended:

"And it was so good to be with people who felt like shit. I kept feeling like I don't deserve to feel this bad, you know? ... (The president of the University of Wyoming) basically said, 'C'mon guys, let's show the world that Laramie is not this kind of a town.'

"But it is that kind of a town. If it wasn't this kind of a town, why did this happen here? I mean, you know what I mean, like, that's a lie. Because it happened here. ... And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime, I feel. Everyone needs to own it.

"We are like this. We are like this. We are like this."

It's amazing how quickly Cincinnatians have tried to distance themselves from Timothy Thomas' death and the civil unrest in April. Too many whites say the problem is between blacks and cops. Too many suburbanites say it's a downtown problem. Too many business people say everything will improve once customers return to stores and restaurants.

Too many politicians deny there's a fundamental problem and have rededicated themselves to the status quo. And, worst of all, too many of us seem content to let the politicians twiddle their thumbs.

Over the past two months, Cincinnati has hosted dozens of versions of the play's candlelight vigil — marches, protests, teach-ins and rallies where people have tried to come to grips with how bad they feel. The last two were probably the best: the peaceful protests during Taste of Cincinnati and the June 2 March for Justice. At both, particularly the march, people of various races, ages, occupations and political leanings bonded as Cincinnatians rarely do.

But "protest fatigue" has finally set in. Everyone, including protest leaders, are tired of all the marching, speechmaking and praying. The main goal has been accomplished — grabbing the public's attention — and now it's time for action.

Lest anyone forget where that action must be focused, it's toward fixing the Cincinnati Police Division's systemic flaws. Never mind black-on-black crime, repairing riot-damaged businesses or financing redevelopment in Over-the-Rhine — valiant causes all — but the April unrest was, is and will always be about a police department many Cincinnatians have lost faith in.

Shootings of unarmed African Americans are the hot buttons for much of the anti-police rage here, but let's face it: Shootings are rare (thankfully). Much more plentiful — and in some ways more insidious — are the everyday ways the police seem out of control.

In just the past seven months in Cincinnati, 52 people were arrested for protesting the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) conference, and not one arrest that was challenged in court has stuck; the city entered into mediation to resolve lawsuits over racial profiling by the police; two children were among those injured by nonlethal ammunition in what's been called a "drive-by" shooting by cops after Thomas' funeral; an officer was videotaped by Channel 19 pumping his arm and whooping it up after shooting protesters with "beanbags"; a high-ranking officer told March for Justice participants that police would "whack" them and "take you out" if they misbehaved; and that same officer, after being challenged by a StreetVibes reporter over his choice of words, directed cops to arrest the reporter during later protests in Mount Adams.

This type of behavior represents more of a problem pattern than the ballyhooed 15 police shootings in recent years — many of which reasonable people would call justified. These everyday displays of boorish, harassing and potentially illegal tactics have gone unnoticed and unpunished by police supervisors and their civilian overseers.

As far as I can tell, none of the cops in the above scenarios has been disciplined or even investigated by their bosses. The top cop, Chief Thomas Streicher, remains in his job. His boss, Safety Director Kent Ryan, resigned shortly after the riots for health reasons. His boss, City Manager John Shirey, is a lame duck who officially gets the boot on Dec. 1. His boss, Cincinnati City Council, hasn't called for any investigation into police tactics or actions.

Like his council mates, Mayor Charlie Luken seems content to let federal prosecutors sort out the department's problems. His main solution for our community crisis, the "Cincinnati C.A.N." panel, still is naming its members. Yet he tells CityBeat, "Things are radically going to change here and expectations are going to be raised" (see "Resigned to Wait," page 21).

The marchers have marched. The problems have been identified. The solutions are out there. Why wait any longer?

Contact john fox: [email protected]