News: It's Right to Rebel

But then comes the hard work of creating change

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Protest. Scream from the rooftops. Cuss.Then, when you've got their attention, take action and get things done. Some have called what happened April 9-14 in Cincinnati a riot. Others have called it a rebellion. Working to make sure the upheaval proves to be more than a one-week ruckus are Karen Murphy-Smith and other organizers.

A civil rights activist from Milwaukee, Murphy-Smith is co-founder of the Angela Davis Cop Watch program. She recently visited Cincinnati to lend her expertise to people concerned about police violence, and she's coming back in a month to help some more. Since the early 1980s, Murphy-Smith has worked on quality of life and equity issues, especially as they pertain to women, children, students and the poor.

"We believe in police accountability," Murphy-Smith says.

"We do a lot of research and analysis."

She came to Cincinnati, gathered members of the community and found out what their concerns are. Then she went one step further, the step that seemed to be missing in recent visits from some out-of-town activists. She showed how to get things done.

Murphy-Smith encourages people to seek out political candidates in their community who are concerned about civil rights. She hopes Cincinnati will take that same advice.

During an Empowerment Session at a Cincinnati church, Murphy-Smith brainstormed with participants on actions they would like to take. Two that stood out were voter registration and finding a candidate for mayor who would stand up for the rights of African Americans.

"One who would be a strong mayor and who would have their vested interest at heart," Murphy-Smith says.

Participants also called for an ordinance requiring police to notify family members when a relative is killed by an officer.

City Councilman Paul Booth agrees on that point. Booth has proposed reviewing a policy, already in effect, on notifying relatives. He says he has heard from a woman who says she learned from TV news about her son's death in a police confrontation. Angela Leisure, mother of Timothy Thomas, says she found out about her son's death, in a police shooting, from hospital personnel.

Booth says police claim they were unable to notify Thomas' mother earlier because they were waiting for a clergy member to accompany them.

"We need to make sure there's a team in place — in case one is not there, someone is available," he says.

Booth remembers his father, Rev. L. Venchael Booth, being present when people were notified that their sons had been killed in the Vietnam War.

"Although that's a different situation, the city needs to be cognizant of the fact that when a person is shot and killed as a result of police action, there is still a family involved and that family is due proper notification," Booth says. "The policy is already in place. We just need to follow it."

While she was in Cincinnati, Murphy-Smith also talked with mothers whose sons had been killed by police. She was surprised to hear one woman learned from a son that her son had died and another woman heard of her child's death by watching the news on television.

Notification by an official source, Murphy-Smith says, "is only just respect."

Murphy-Smith plans to deliver to Leisure a booklet containing approximately 200 e-mail threads from Cincinnati and many others around the nation. Her goal is to show Leisure that "Timothy made a tremendous impact all over the country."

Murphy-Smith also says educational programs are needed in Over-the-Rhine.

"A city, just like a country, can be judged on who is at the lowest rung," she says. "We are not a Third World country. Our citizens should have some basic education."

AMOS in the right direction
An organization known as AMOS takes its name from a Bible passage, but its mission is completely contemporary.

Amos 5:24 says, "Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream." For the 26 religious congregations that make up AMOS, that means task forces on crime, drugs, youth, education and affordable housing.

AMOS' crime and drug task force takes direct action to combat drug abuse, identifying drug activity and working with police to help stop it. The congregations submitting addresses to police are primarily in Walnut Hills and Over-the-Rhine, but members come from all over Greater Cincinnati.

"If it's affecting one of us, it's affecting our whole community," says Robyn Bancroft, lead organizer for AMOS. "We're a faith-based organization, and we fight for social-justice issues in our region."

Bancroft says AMOS members started to track problem spots for drug activity and wanted to see it stopped.

"How the relationship with the police department started was our approaching the police department and building a relationship," she says. "It was both a neighborhood effort as well as a congregation effort."

AMOS wants members to feel safe in their communities. Bancroft heard of a woman who was afraid to walk one block from her home in Walnut Hills to evening church meetings. Those are the stories that keep the task force motivated to make changes.

The changes are starting to show.

"I would say that the whole safety level of the neighborhood has been improved," Bancroft says. "Ninety percent of the drug dealing activity we've reported currently show no drug dealing activity."

Instead of focusing on a single issue or a single community, AMOS tries to take a broader approach to social problems.

"We are looking at more regional issues such as urban sprawl and urban revitalization issues," Bancroft says.

Let's see some Impact
Ken Toney, executive director of Impact Over-the-Rhine, has been working in the neighborhood for 12 years.

Impact Over-the-Rhine employs inner-city adults and high-risk youth to cut grass, clean alleys, paint and plant gardens to improve the appearance of Over-the-Rhine.

Impact's goal is to get individuals to take pride in the neighborhood by improving its appearance, according to Toney. About 20 youth currently work in the program.

The program's efforts extend beyond teaching work habits.

"We try to develop the whole individual through a positive work experience," Toney says.

Impact takes children on outings to the opera, ball games, theme parks, canoeing and horseback riding. By participating in life's pleasures rather than just reading about them or seeing them on television, children develop into adults with hope and goals, Toney says.

"It gives them the desire to do better," he says.

Jennifer Hamer, co-chair of the Black Radical Congress (BRC), hopes to see an organizing committee for the group in Cincinnati soon.

BRC is a national group that has organizing committees in 20 major cities throughout the United States. Among its goals are to "promote dialogue among African-American activists and scholars on the left and to discuss critical issues on the national and international scene that pertain to the black community."

Although she believes the riots unfortunate, Hamer notes they opened the door for groups such as BRC.

"That allows us to go in and build a local organization in response to that," she says. "When things like the Cincinnati (riots) happen, that just sort of bolsters the work that we do."

Hamer says since the beginning of the year, the BRC has been putting together a petition in an effort to make police brutality and misconduct a federal crime. She says the effort has the endorsement of the National Lawyers' Guild and the Green Party, and she is convinced others will come forward to help the effort.

"This is something we have just started kicking off," Hamer says. "We'll definitely get more support." ©

Get Involved:
For more information about Angela Davis Cop Watch, visit www.againstthewalls.org. Karen Murphy-Smith accepts collect calls at 414-228-9962 and can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

For more information about Impact Over-the-Rhine, call 513-241-8934.

For more information about the Black Radical Congress, call 212-969-0348.

AMOS can be reached at 513-751-2222 or by email at [email protected].

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