Asking the beautiful, shiny revelers occupying the part of Vine Street comprising Gateway Quarter to recall and meditate on the April 2001 riots, curfews and economic boycotts that erupted after then-police officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas on Republic Street is impossible.
And particularly improbable in a non-anniversary/off year when exact dates make marking atrocities more palatable.
This is, as they say, for the choir.
April 7, 2001, fell on a Saturday.
So did 19-year-old Thomas after Roach gave chase through the very streets where some of the city’s most expansive and name-branded redevelopment of businesses, condos and lofts sprang up.
The itchy irony is a subtext of Dan P. Moore’s ’zine-like graphic comic book Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnati Riots, a 92-page paean he calls “journalism as narrative” that chronicles, in back-and-forth time travel mixing memoir, first-person narrative and interviews, the week preceding Thomas’ shooting death.
MTWR is as much Moore’s coming-of-age story as it is Cincinnati’s and OTR’s. Moore, 28, was raised in North Avondale and now lives in Minneapolis working in economic justice. In his book he treats the subjects of police brutality and the overlooked validity of community justice rising up in poor black neighborhoods with as much unswerving truth as he treats the bubble he was living in as a self-involved, well-intended white teenager back in 2001.
And in choosing to depict such a complicated tale with comics, Moore could effectively reach that same demographic quickly bored by messages longer than a tweet.
“Growing up I was never really interested in comic books,” Moore says by phone. “I didn’t start getting interested in graphic novels until I started learning Spanish. I started getting interested in graphic novels as a form of popular education. It’s the whole idea of thinking of different ways to educate ourselves.”
Initially intended for release on the 10th anniversary of the riots, Moore started MTWR in earnest during summer 2010 as “a project to work on over the winter time” but didn’t get it “all mapped out” until last winter.
The book benefits from the extra time.
Moore, a self-taught visual artist, is attentive to OTR’s urban geography and does a decent enough job rendering social justice and civil rights workers so that they’re easily recognizable.
Unintentional or not, black characters aren’t darkened; rather, they’re given pen-and-ink lines to suggest shades.
Interviews of neighborhood residents and key players like the Rev. Damon Lynch III give MTWR a sense of reportage and balance.
He was also mindful to include women’s voices, something the civil rights movement did a poor job of in its halcyon days when martyrs became Black History Month idols and all its well-documented heroes were men.
Moore says his degree in community development from Portland State University and his experience in community organizing came in handy during the interviewing and writing.
“As a community organizer, a lot of what you do is make sure people have the opportunity to tell their stories,” he says. “Technological advances aside, people still have to tell their stories.”
Besides, Moore says all the uber-development along the Vine Street corridor is confusing enough — he doesn’t know how to feel about it — and plenteous blatant cultural appropriation has already occurred.
There’s no need to hijack people’s stories, too.
“As a white guy from North Avondale, I certainly don’t own the story … it’s not about me. I wanted to make sure that the stories from the African-American community weren’t being retold by me.
“They were being retold by themselves.”
Moore is in town, his first time back in a year, for a friend’s wedding and to promote MTWR. When we first spoke he answered his cell as he was walking through Gateway Quarter. I reminded him of that during our subsequent conversation so I could ask his impression of the street of dreams.
“I have mixed feelings,” he says. “It’s pretty,” he says quickly in a way that seems to surprise even him.
“It definitely is a different neighborhood. There is a space for everybody there but that doesn’t seem to be the goal.
(3CDC) has done a good job at historic renovation, but anybody who says there’s a social justice mission to what’s going on in OTR is lying to themselves. The people being lifted up have already been lifted.”
And this is where race clashes with class in Cincinnati generally and OTR specifically.
This, then, means OTR is Cincinnati writ large.
Further, there’s direct lineage — urban DNA — linking the eateries, boutiques, bars, safe surface parking lots and the strip mall branding of all things touched by 3CDC to the diminished presence of poor blacks below the secret dividing line somewhere just south of Kroger (and continuing northward) and the ghost-like presence of the indigent until after a certain bewitching hour happening long after “last call.”
None of this was directly mandated by the Collaborative Agreement; however, the largely white-owned and -frequented bustle of Gateway Quarter is a direct descendant of the 15 black men who died in police custody whose deaths culminated in rioting.
It won’t line up on Ancestry.com, but it’s related.
Moore knows the etsy generation, the newly wealthy and the new OTR condo owners might not — or might not want to — understand the relationship.
Doesn’t mean it’s not worth documenting.
“The people just coming to the community now don’t have that experience,” he says of the disconnect.
“People don’t remember that daily there were spontaneous marches by some of the most disenfranchised people,” he says. “That week people took power and said, ‘You’ve gotta pay attention to us.’ It wasn’t just random. It was people saying, for this week, it’s gonna be a break from what’s normal.
“It should be a chapter — not the only chapter — and it seems like 3CDC is trying to whitewash the situation.”
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]
Dan P. Moore launches MARK TWAIN WAS RIGHT 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15 at Rake’s End, 2141 Central Ave., Brighton, and 6:30 p.m. Friday at Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, 1235 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine.