Police drew a line along Central Parkway to keep protesters out of the downtown business district in April. Now the business community is inviting Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) to explain what's been going on north of that line.
Formed by Mayor Charlie Luken after the April riots, CAN is still in the stages of organizing itself. At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon July 20, the three co-chairs of CAN said a comprehensive plan is due in early fall, but some initiatives will come even before the full plan is finished.
Three months after Luken launched the new task force on race relations, many are skeptical the group will ever lead to action.
Co-chair Tom Cody of Federated Department Stores said a Chamber member sent an e-mail asking why the CAN meeting should interest him: "Why would I want to spend the 20 bucks to listen to those guys?"
One reason, according to CAN co-chair Rev. Damon Lynch III, is that conflict in inner-city neighborhoods affects residents of more affluent neighborhoods.
"If there's unrest in Over-the-Rhine and Avondale, there's unease in Hyde Park," Lynch said.
Cody cast the issue in economic terms. Problems in the city will eventually alienate businesses from wanting to relocate here and people from wanting to work here.
The effect, he said, will spread beyond the city limits.
"At some point the region will suffer the same as the core," Cody said.
CAN co-chair Ross Love, president of Blue Chip Broadcasting, said only one-third of African Americans entering Cincinnati Public Schools leave with a diploma.
"How would you feel about your community if only one out of three children were graduating from high school?" Love said.
He spoke of neighborhoods with unemployment rates in the teens and where health care is hard to get.
"These and dozens of other factors impacting the quality of life in the inner city are dramatically below the norm that you and I are used to," Love said.
Love spoke of neighborhoods where police stops are frequent and citizens are treated belligerently, with more force used and more aggression shown.
"(It's) one that lacks the smiles and common courtesies that we are used to in Hyde Park," he said.
What is Cincinnati CAN doing to change this? So far, it has formed six "action teams" to discuss social and economic issues. The action teams, according to the co-chairs, are setting goals, developing timetables and identifying needs. But soon, Love promised, action will result from the action teams.
"Our teams are chartered to get things done," he said.
Love said much of what Cincinnati needs can be accomplished by expanding and upgrading programs already in place. He said CAN also needs to explore successful models in other cities and encourage public input.
Over-the-Rhine is no Saks
Lynch is pastor of the New Prospect Baptist Church and spokesman for the Black United Front (BUF), one of several groups organizing a boycott of the city. He discussed the apparent conflict between his roles with CAN and BUF.
"The question is raised, 'Is he a peacemaker or a protester?" Lynch said, "and the answer is both. There's a growing sense that Cincinnati quickly wants to get back to business as usual," he said. "Business as usual is fine if business as usual for you is comfortable."
The causes of the unrest in April have to be fixed, Lynch said. He pointed to the huge disparity between investment south of Central Parkway and investment north of it. The dividing line is significant; police lined Central Parkway to keep demonstrators out of downtown during the unrest.
Lynch said he often hears about $3 million given to Over-the-Rhine, spread between the 30 or more social service agencies in the neighborhood. He contrasted that investment with plans for The Banks, an upscale neighborhood and entertainment district planned for the Ohio Riverfront.
"The reality is if it takes $600 million to build a brand new community on the river — where nobody lives — to be a place of fun," Lynch said, it will probably take that much to fix up Over-the-Rhine.
A high-end department store has asked the city for $6.6 million to refurbish its facilities. Lynch compared that request to investment in Over-the-Rhine.
"Saks Fifth Avenue needs money to stay, to spruce up," he said. "While Saks is seen as not expendable, communities are."
While supporting CAN, Lynch said the city also needs pressure, and he plans to exert it. Protests and economic sanctions, he said, are the community's only bargaining power.
"We can't say, 'Build us a stadium or we're leaving,' " Lynch said. ©