City officials won't come out and say it, but all signs indicate they don't want a mass demonstration next month in Over-the-Rhine.
Plans for the Midwest Rally Against Racism call for up to 1,000 protesters to converge Aug. 9 in Washington Park. But organizers say they've been trying for nearly three months to obtain a permit from the Cincinnati Park Board.
About a dozen groups are collaborating for the demonstration, including the University of Cincinnati Women's Center, Students Together Against Racism, the African Student Union at Northern Kentucky University, the Black Men's Organization at NKU, White Women Against Racism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the UC Anti-War Committee and the Coalition for Peace With Iraq.
Patrick Dyer, an ISO member, says he began applying for a permit in April. The permit would allow protesters to use sound equipment and in effect reserve the park.
After repeatedly being told an application would be mailed but never receiving one, Dyer says he went to the park board office June 11 and completed an application in person.
"Maybe one could get lost in the mail, but they told me three separate times they mailed one," Dyer says. "We've experienced a lot of what seems to be foot-dragging or incompetence by the city."
Sayrah Namaste, an organizer with the Coalition for Peace With Iraq, says city officials have given varying excuses for the delay in processing the permit application.
"They said it had been forwarded to the Cincinnati Police Department for approval because we said there would be vendors, and exchanging money in Washington Park would be a problem," Namaste says.
In order to expedite the permit process, organizers dropped plans for vendors to sell T-shirts and buttons at the rally. But still no permit arrived.
"We redid the application and took out vendors," Namaste says. "They sent it to the police again and this time told us (police approval) was standard for anyone reserving Washington Park. That was June 11, and we've not heard anything from the police since."
Park officials repeatedly said they have been waiting for police to make a recommendation, according to Dyer. But Sgt. Brent McCurley of the police department's special event unit says he first received the application from the park board July 7 — the same day reporters inquired about the delay.
"It's just been sent to me today for review," he said.
McCurley says he will make his recommendation on the permit application by Friday.
"The actual use of the park is granted or denied by the park board," he says.
There has been no effort to stall the application, according to Angela Parker, events coordinator for the park board.
"It's not that we were trying to put them off," she says. "So many applications come in, and we try to do them as quickly as possible."
Sending the application to the police is standard procedure, Parker says.
"Any time we do a permit anywhere, we give it to the police," she says.
Organizers of the Rally Against Racism chose Washington Park because it's in Over-the-Rhine, the site of infamous civil rights violations, according to Dyer.
"Washington Park seems to be an epicenter for issues of racism in this city," he says. "It's a center of poverty. There have been a number of cases of police brutality in that area. It's where Timothy Thomas was shot."
In 2001, the police killing of Thomas — an unarmed teen wanted on traffic warrants — near the park triggered a week of mostly nonviolent daytime protests followed by nights of arson and looting. During a demonstration in Washington Park, TV cameras showed police officers yelling war whoops as they fired beanbag rounds at protesters.
The city has tried to keep large demonstrations out of Washington Park on at least one other occasion. In 2000, three days of protests greeted a downtown meeting of the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue. The Coalition for a Humane Economy (CHE), chief organizer of the protests, agreed to a police request to start their march from Sawyer Point instead of Washington Park, as originally planned. CHE's accommodation of the police request angered some of the more radical anti-globalization protesters, who said the decision was disrespectful of the poor and unemployed in Over-the-Rhine.
While waiting for a decision on the park permit, organizers are planning to apply for a parade permit. They want to lead a march from Washington Park, past the site of Thomas' death and then around police headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive.
One of the most poignant events in the 2001 uprising was a march around police headquarters seven times, an imitation of the ancient Israelites' march around the walls of Jericho.
Protesters need a parade permit to march through the streets. But if they can't get one, they'll use sidewalks, Dyer says.
"We'd like to get the permits, but we'll make do," he says. ©