"I don't know what they want from me. It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see."
— "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems," Notorious B.I.G.
Mayor Charlie Luken waited to cross Race Street on July 16. He was on his way to duck into and out of the Unity Rally — aka the Courtis Fuller Show — on Fountain Square.
Two black people flanked him. The black lady on his left talked to him and as she did he looked, well, bothered.
I yelled "Luken!" from my open car window in that scary boom like my daddy used to when he caught me sneaking Ho-Ho's off the kitchen counter. The mayor looked, well, startled, like he'd been asleep and slapped awake.
I was trying to wake him up. And the way to do that is to hit this tired city in its fat collective wallet.
People will suffer, others will bitch and still more will question why an economic boycott of Cincinnati has been called by local protest groups. The answer in two words?
His shooting death by Officer Stephen Roach didn't start this sore to festering. We've been infected for decades. And pissed-off Negroes in April picked that sore to bleeding.
But Thomas should not or cannot simply be relegated to dead martyrdom or elevated to a cause celebre. Al Sharpton's come and gone, and Jesse Jackson never came. This is our problem now.
Thomas was a flashpoint, the starting line for change — real change.
Likewise, Luken cannot or should not get off so easily as to be allowed to keep portraying Cincinnati as a place where vendors will want to bring their wares. The mayor isn't this city's ambassador. Change is our ambassador.
The only way out-of-touch law enforcement, politically ineffective City Council members and Luken — strong mayor wannabe himself — will take seriously any of these rallies, prayer fests, marches, meetings and forums is if we back that thang up with a show of hands — in our pockets during an all-out economic boycott.
Rah-rah folks might think, "Aw, it'll hurt the city. We won't be 'big league.' " Yeah, it will hurt the city — and that's the point.
We will remain "bush league" as long as we keep killing one another and ignoring the reasons why. Just forget about ever hosting the Olympics. We're afraid to even talk about a light rail system. Why should we when Metro buses don't even run on time?
Cincinnati needs a good, old-fashioned time out. We need to be left alone, sent to our rooms without dinner and sat down facing the corner, so we can think about what we've done. We need to emerge with a mouthful of apologies and acting on our best behavior.
Black folks might balk at a boycott. We'll be wondering, "But, what about the Coors Light Festival? I already bought my outfit."
To that I say this: We pretty much stayed home when Luken trotted out James Brown for the dog-and-pony show that was the (Dis)Taste of Cincinnati, so stay home this weekend and listen to CDs. Besides, Frankie Beverly hasn't released a new album in almost 20 years. How exciting could it be to sweat through a silk short set to his tired act?
Let the out-of-towners — those detached from the emotional heft of our mess — come here and hopefully leave feeling embarrassed and unwelcomed by the doors of downtown merchants historically closed during this hysterical time. Let them walk the streets left vacant by us.
Let the performers play to near-empty seats. Let their canned rhetorical question — "How y'all doin', Cincinnati?" — resound and hang in the air like the pall of our own fatigue and confusion. Maybe, through the silence, the answer will come back: "Not so good."
By keeping our hands in our pockets and by telling performers and conventioneers to bypass us, Luken will see that the result of his ineffectiveness is an economically emaciated city.
I know it appears harsh to personalize this thing. I've got nothing against Luken; but I've got nothing for Luken, the mayor who calls boycotts "destructive nonsense." Well, mayor, so are racism, police misconduct and general apathy.
Such a flippant response to a progressive idea is telling of the mayor's frustration. Further, it makes his lack of ideas stick out like me at a Klan rally.
Wanna be strong mayor? First, you gotta be strong. You gotta work.
Continued economic flourishes signal maintenance of the status quo, and that ain't working for everybody. And this is what happens when tired people turn serious and aggressive.
Now I know none of this will happen. I know black folks won't stay home this weekend. Buildings will go up, conventioneers will convene and Luken, looking at turns bothered and startled, will keep telling us to ignore the rebels and just maintain.
Hopefully, we won't be listening to his bad advice much longer. In the meantime, keep your hands where I can't see 'em.