Norwood hasn’t been the same since the General Motors Assembly Plant, built in 1925 on farmland once owned by Norwood settler Joseph Langdon, closed in mid-1988 after GM announced its devastating closing in early November 1986, making Norwood one of 11 such plants across Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Illinois to go dark and leaving 29,000 people unemployed between the four states.
The Norwood shutdown displaced 4,300 workers alone (1,000 of whom lived within Norwood city limits), eradicating one-third of the city’s operating budget and one-fifth of the city’s money for its schools.
Citing record employee absenteeism, poor quality control and record low output, GM spared its Van Nuys, Calif., plant by throwing Norwood’s under the bus.
The tsunami-like effect of the Norwood closing went like this: Norwood Mayor Joseph E. Sanker immediately slashed fire and police rosters and services and then-Cincinnati City Councilman Steve Chabot suggested annexing Norwood to Cincinnati, but then-Mayor Charles Luken wouldn’t hear of it.
In 1986, 26,000 people lived in Norwood; barely more than 19,000 people lived there in 2010, according to the U.S. Census.
Though Norwood is merely five miles north of downtown’s city center, it may as well be smack dab in another time and another place with its barely-there lane lines, its shameful-but-glaring classism and racism for a city its size and its perpetually broke and broke-down demeanor since GM abandoned its aging and trouble-ridden plant there.
Norwood has struggled and limped along all these years but should have gotten resuscitated by all the tax revenue to its limp-wristed operating budget when Rookwood Commons was built in 1997 — in Norwood, by the way, and not Hyde Park — and all the land around it cleared through eminent domain to make way for the ever-expanding commercial sites off the I-71 exits belonging to Norwood.
However, part of the living genealogy of the plant’s closing is the behavior of Norwood’s police department.
Perhaps still threadbare of staff, its officers are behaving like racist, brutish rogues.
Where do they come from?
Worse still and just as stupefying, they are behaving as though lobby cameras aren’t in place and recording their every shove, slam, kick and merciless takedown of citizens.
Of course, if an economic downturn is no reason or excuse for police brutality, then what is?
Ask the victims.
Thirty-year-old Denise Diallo, a black woman from Lexington, Ky., came into the Norwood Police Department last Aug. 11 to inquire about some property from another case, and when she was told “nothing could be done,” she slammed the lobby phone against the wall. Burly, no-neck, 16-year veteran Officer Robert Ward, built like a retired linebacker with his buzz-cut hair and his head the size of a hormone-infused honey dew melon, entered the lobby and tried to place Diallo under arrest. Diallo tried to run away and was taken down by Ward and another officer. Diallo kicked and scratched at them and was taken to a holding room where Ward threw Diallo — handcuffed — into a wall, breaking her arm in full view of a camera.
After a special prosecutor reviewed the case, Ward pleaded no contest, resigned and was sentenced last November to a 180-day suspended sentence, 60 days on house arrest and one year of probation.
Trespassing and resisting arrest charges against Diallo were dropped, but her lawsuit is pending.
And the hits just keep on coming.
Yet another case of Ward’s brand of excessive force under the camera’s glare has come to light.
Ward picked up Claude Henderson, a dreadlocked black man, while Ward was still a Norwood police officer.
Henderson was walking near Surrey Square in pre-dawn darkness and Ward stopped and arrested him and took him to the Norwood Police Department only to issue him a citation for disorderly conduct.
As Henderson was leaving, he checked his wallet and noticed $10 was missing. When he returned to inquire about his missing money, Ward, flying into a rage, emerged from a side door and ran after Henderson, a man of average build.
Ward grabbed Henderson from behind by the shoulders and slammed him forward into the partially metal counter of the lobby’s desk. Then, Ward turned Henderson around and threw him to the ground, landing on top of him as another officer showed up to assist.
Henderson is right in being shocked by the blatant brutality caught on camera. What if, he wondered, this had happened on a side street, dark alley ... with no witnesses.
“I could’ve been beaten, Tased or shot to death,” Henderson told a news reporter.
The numbers don’t match up.
Sixteen years on the force for Ward and only two such instances of excessive force resulting in criminal charges and lawsuits?
I am left wondering how many more people have survived a shove or a slam to the ground in Norwood but were too afraid to speak up, and if they lived in Norwood they may have been intimidated or bullied or threatened into keeping quiet.
There are now two lawsuits against Ward, an unemployed rageaholic, and the city of Norwood — always bellyaching about its empty purses — will probably be named as co-defendant.
As it should be.
No police department in America has in its ranks an officer like Ward and isn’t aware of that officer’s problems in the streets and the potential liability he brings with him.
A sure way Norwood can cure its image problems and keep from going broke in one fell swoop is to stop “training,” hiring and retaining officers like Ward; get in front of what is already a hellish situation by not dodging reporters’ calls and, finally, end the nepotism running rampant within its borders.
The Police’s PR man is Tom Williams, Jr.
The mayor is Tom Williams, Sr.
They’re not talking publicly about Ward, the suits against him or the further stain he’s leaving on an already blemished and hardscrabble city.
But maybe they can talk about it over dinner, father-to-son.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON : [email protected]