"Fuck Fangman" is scribbled graffiti-style on an Auto Mart circular box on Ninth Street downtown. A hand-drawn sticker depicting a bitten donut with the words "Less beatin more eatin, stop police brutality" is stuck to the side of a public pay telephone on Vine Street.
Anti-police sentiments, once only perceived and rarely spoken in mixed company, are now obvious and pervasive around town.
District 1 Sgt. Andre Smith knows this. He knows not only because he's a 14-year veteran of the Cincinnati Police Division, but also because he's felt estrangement within the department for being outspoken against inter-departmental racism, lackluster leadership, shoddy police practices and substandard police/community relations.
Smith, who's black, has a reputation. He's been called names. He's a whistleblower.
"I've been called many things," he says. "I've had more bumps and bruises with the police force 'cause I was battling other people's issues that had nothing to do with me. I'm an emotional person who sometimes acts with emotion.
I have a need to see people treated right. We, as cops, have a responsibility to see people treated right, and we abuse it."
Smith also wants to be "treated right." He's not a martyr. He's not passive-aggressive. If he feels slighted, he makes it known.
When his career ends, his deeds as an officer might be overshadowed by his actions as a man.
His supervisors might know Smith as dependable, arrogant and professional, and even as a troublemaker. To the general public, he's that black cop who gained infamy and status when he accused Chief Thomas Streicher last year of calling him a nigger during a training session. In April, disgruntled by racism in the department, Smith and several other black cops seceded from the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
Despite popular belief, Smith's and Streicher's tango didn't begin or end at the allegations. Their relationship goes back to Smith's days as a new recruit when Streicher was a District 4 lieutenant.
"Streicher likes to tell this story," Smith recalls, " 'When I first met Andre, I told him he could go as far as he wanted.' I say the first time I saw Streicher, common sense said stay the fuck away from him. It wasn't fear or intimidation. It was just his presence. When Streicher was lieutenant, the role call room was so racist, white cops sat on one side and black cops on the other."
That palpable racism within the department spills into the communities the police are hired to protect and serve, Smith says. Like an evil boomerang, it returns to the department, landing squarely on officers' shoulders.
"A lot of officers are scared," Smith says of police morale. "(FOP President Keith) Fangman and the FOP have done a good job of scaring officers."
Because he's been so boisterous in publicly recounting police activities, Smith has felt the cold shoulder of ostracization.
"A lot of white cops think I'm a racist," he says. "But when they get to know me ... you either like me or you hate me. I treat people like I want to be treated."
That's the truth and an oversimplification. Smith is equally bound by two responsibilities: his blackness and his uniform. It's not always clean or easy. But there's honor in the attempt.
He's shed the frustration of the training incident with Streicher. As a black man, Smith says his first inclination was to settle the incident old-school, Southside Chicago-style. But a cop has channels to follow.
Beneath that tug-of-war beats the heart of a cop.
"I don't have anything personal against him," Smith says of Streicher. "I'm a sergeant. I wrote the chief up for rule violations. When the city tried to shut me up, I screamed as loud as I could. I did what I thought was right, and it's not my problem anymore. If the man gave me an order right now, I'd follow it. I see him, I salute him.
"I gave him a lesson in racial diversity he'll never forget. I trained the whole police department with that shit."
Sound arrogant? Actually, set aside the drama swirling around Smith, and at bedrock is his lifelong desire to be a cop.
"It was always a yearning," he says. "I couldn't tell you why, especially with my experiences with police officers. Maybe I should've listened to my philosophy teacher, who told me I wouldn't make a good cop. He said my frame of mind was not that 'of the system.'
"Actually, I think there's room for everyone. I think we're all committed to the truth and there's room for everybody."
Even Officer Stephen Roach?
"It all depends on what really happened," Smith says. "I don't think a cop should necessarily be fired, because he caused somebody to die. If he made a mistake, then no. If he called him a name and point-blank shot him, I think (Roach) should die. We need to look at the issues."
Those issues aren't limited to doling out responsibility, but that's the crux of it, Smith says.
"I don't know Timothy Thomas. Did he have some responsibility?" Smith asks. "Yes, he did. He shouldn't have run. Did he have to die? No, he didn't. Timothy Thomas should've accepted his responsibility and he'd still be alive. This whole thing is just a big pot of irresponsibility."
Many would agree. Many more would place responsibility on one person or group of people. Smith, love him or hate him, maintains his responsibility to the truth — as a man, a black man, a cop and a black cop.
Smith says he'd still encourage a black person — especially a black man — to join the department with the hushed truth of three words: "We need you."