"We're just here to ensure that all you law-abiding citizens don't do anything illegal," said Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Richard Janke.
He was speaking to a small number of journalists and one or two protesters who were the first to arrive at Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park on June 2.
"Because if you were to do something illegal," Janke said, "then we just want to be clear that we are prepared to whack you and take you out if necessary."
Whack? Who did he think he was, Tony Soprano?
As if sensing his poor choice of words, Janke rephrased.
"If you do anything illegal, we will arrest you," he said.
"Whack me?" said David Mitchell, a reporter for Streetvibes, Cincinnati's homeless newspaper. "Did you just tell me you were going to whack me, Janke?"
Then came nearly five minutes of tense exchange, at the end of which Janke denied saying the word "whack."
Challenged further, he stopped listening to Mitchell, looking first to the street, then speaking to a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter as Mitchell continued talking. After a moment, Mitchell grew quiet, smiled bitterly and asked for a cigarette.
Mitchell was the first of nine arrested within the next hour when about 45 police hemmed in about 40 marchers in Mount Adams. Janke pointed to Mitchell and sent two officers to grab him. After being sprayed with Mace, Mitchell was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Was there anything surprising to this? Mitchell had marked himself as a lighting rod from the beginning of the day's activities.
Moreover, Janke had fueled concern police would brutalize demonstrators. A week before the March for Justice, Janke issued a press release detailing the list of weapons officers have for use in handling protesters, including beanbag missiles, rubber bullets, tear gas and, in certain circumstances, lethal force.
Janke's press release prompted an unsuccessful effort by attorney Robert Newman to obtain a court order from a federal judge to protect nonviolent protesters. In a hearing on that motion, Janke testified police would not fire beanbag missiles — which injured several of Newman's clients in earlier demonstrations — in the event of such minor offenses as jaywalking and misdemeanor disorderly conduct (See "Will Police Again Fire on Peaceful Protesters?" issue of May 31-June 6).
At the time of his arrest, Mitchell was doing precisely what a speaker on Fountain Square had suggested earlier that day. Sgt. DeLacy Davis, a leader of the group Black Cops Against Police Brutality, had said he "took his hat off to all the young brothers who'd gotten the media's attention."
Davis vowed to "bring all the soldiers from across the nation to raise hell in Cincinnati" if the march's demand for equality isn't met.
But this was Mount Adams on a Saturday night, not the March for Justice. That march had ended in a park full of sunshine, free food and music.
This was a "black bloc" party. Their purpose was, as the police were well aware, to march without a permit through Mount Adams. With most wearing bandannas around their faces or sealing themselves within haz-mat suits, the picture was much different from that of a woman pushing her child in a stroller through the streets, chanting for equality. This, in Mount Adams, was militancy unsatisfied by walking to a picnic in Laurel Park.
"Power concedes nothing without demand," Davis had said.
The goal of the Mount Adams action was to draw attention to special treatment allegedly given white neighborhoods during April's citywide curfew. Some bars in Mount Adams had stayed open, and residents traveled freely between their homes and the pubs.
Entirely assembled, the Mount Adams bloc numbered 60 or 70 at most — a stark contrast to the more than 1,000 in the March for Justice downtown. Sgt. Davis, who had spoken such strong words, wasn't here. Nor was the publisher of the Revolutionary Newsletter, who'd said on Fountain Square, "The righteous rebellion will take to the streets and stand up for what they believe in."
People were taking to the streets in Mount Adams. Where was he?
After the arrests, three protesters talked with a pair of business owners. John Applebee, owner of Mt. Adams' Mushroom Wine Shop, questioned the protest's method.
"I'm a little more practical than I used to be," he said, "but my whole question is, 'How are you changing minds?' "
The protesters, who declined to be identified, spoke in turn.
"Most people around here don't understand the reality of what happens on a daily basis in Over-the-Rhine," said one.
"This action was specifically to draw attention to the curfew problem," another said. "Our main point is to get it into the media and into the papers."
Doreen LaRue, co-owner of Visionary Art in Cincinnati, seemed to indicate some agreement with the protesters but suggested they belonged elsewhere.
"People on the hill have also boycotted the places that broke curfew," LaRue says. "They are concerned for their community. ... You're not going to be able to make a difference for the people in Over-the-Rhine by protesting here." ©