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| posted on 4/7/2011 at 09:10 PM|
|Hard to believe that it has been ten years since the Cincinnati Riots. Looking back, the was a lot of reasons that led up to the three hard days of riots followed by the mayor eventually calling in Ohio State Trooper back ups and declaring a city-wide curfew.|
There were 15 killings by the Cincinnati Police that were in question during this period. At the time, my opinion was that 8 out of the 15 were not justified. Trigger happy and boneheaded policing that was costing lives. When you look a the drop of police killings plus the successful changes in community-police relations now ten years later, it is obvious that ten years ago the cops were wack. There is a difference now because it was different from back then.
And, things like 13 of the best downtown restaurants downtown choosing to close instead of serve the patrons of the yearly Jazz Festival at the stadium didn't help matters either.
The police killing of Roger Owensby Jr set the stage;
Owensby is the father of Roger Owensby Jr., a 29-year-old man who was killed in a confrontation with police in November 2000. The younger Owensby, who had no criminal record, allegedly was stopped because he was suspected of being a drug dealer, although the reasons given changed over time. He was cooperative until police tried to handcuff him, which resulted in an altercation. He died in the back of a police cruiser, which the coroner said was possibly due to a chokehold gone bad. Officers were found to have violated police procedures, but were acquitted of criminal charges. The elder Owensby now lives in North Carolina with his family.
"I have been asked to put to words how I felt about the unrest or riots some 10 years ago, and what — if any — changes have come about since 2001.
It is hard to think about those days of riots and destruction of a city I grew up in and fought for in the military. To think I served my country and my city for 22 years in the United States Army, and my son, Roger Jr., served eight years, a fact many tried their utmost to cover up.
On March 27, Roger Owensby Jr. would have turned 40 years old. Above my head, as I write, is a photo of Roger Jr. and me in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with our arms around each other’s shoulders and smiles on our faces. And I think to myself: “What if, and why?”
The riots and unrest started way before the death of my son due to some unjust killings, beatings and mistreatment of blacks by the city police. Let me make this very clear: Not all the police. But just like other groups, there are bad apples that make the other 99.9 percent look bad. The problem is the protection of the bad police by the good police, “the thin blue line” and the corruption of the then-county prosecutor, Mike Allen.
Through the years of mistrust and mistreatment of blacks, the woodpile got higher and higher. The last log on the pile was the death of Roger Jr. The death of Timothy Thomas was the match that lit the fire.
Has there been a change in the city I was born in and lived in for most of my life? I do not know. There has been a change of leadership from the Mayor’s Office to the Prosecutor’s Office, and now I read that Chief Streicher is retiring. I think very highly of the chief, his hands were tied by the contract the police has with the city. He did fire them, but they were rehired. Why? The contract that the FOP has with the city.(How's that for your public sector police union!!)
In October of last year, I lost my mother, Essie Owensby. While back in Cincinnati, my wife and I were driving on the Cross County Highway and were stopped by the police. I looked down at my speedometer and I was doing 65 in a 55 mph zone. As I pulled over, I kept my hands on the wheel and waited for the officer. The officer said, ‘Sir, do you know why I stopped you?” Surprised, I replied I thought I was going too fast. He asked for my proof of insurance, driver’s license and registration, then walked away.
The officer came back a few minutes later, looked at me and my wife and said, “Are you the Roger Owensby that lost his son a few years back?” I said yes. “We use your case in the police academy for training,” he said. Training to do what, I replied. He did not say for what but he did say he had just joined the police force when my son was killed, he was sorry for what happened and called it wrong. I thanked him and he told me to slow down and have a nice day. My wife and I sat there for a moment, looked each other in the eyes and had no words to say.
On the other hand, after the police killing of Roger Owensby Jr, which was ridiculous, and after Timothy Thomas was shot dead, after the cop lied about how it went down, the so-called 'activists' and preachers barged into the Cincinnati city council meeting and at one point refused to let the council members leave, blocking the door and basically holding them hostage. The council amazingly let them get away with it and then City Hall itself was vandalized as the crowd filed out, broken windows, whatever could be trashed was trashed. And, while the cops were out of hand, during the same time that the 15 police killings happened, over 250 Black folk were shot down by other Black folk. Unacceptable.
I was doing some work as a courier then and was all over downtown as word of the riots began to spread. A large group formed north of Central Parkway in Over The Rhine and then came south looking to vandalize and wreak havoc where all of downtown business was taking place. After work I went to Over The Rhine to try and find some friends of mine but couldn't find them. Both the cops and the rioters were grouping up and as dark approached I could tell what was about to go down and get out of there. That night the sh*t hit the fan.
The next day, no other driver at the courier office or on the street would take a run into Over The Rhine except myself. To me, this was my city as well and understood what was up and had friends in that neighborhood anyway. But, while driving into Over The Rhine were three different groups of folks, two on the curb and one on a bike passing by my car window, talking about, "You better get out the Hood, man." "I wouldn't be here if I was you." I just said **** it and told them, 'I'm with you, man," which a big part of me was. If I could talk to them, then it was cool. But otherwise, I was just a white boy with a uniform on driving into the damn Hood with tensions high on the edge. And, by that time, the cops had plain clothes officers and informants and everything walking around a d filming evewryhing from their vans, trying to be slick, hoping to get a pulse of what was going on. But they were obvious and easily spotted. Still, Folk didn't know who to trust.
So, I get a call to deliver two boxes of printed envelopes (believe me, the irony of possibly getting rung up because of a couple of boxes of envelopes had me shaking my head) to the projects off of Linn Street. I parked my car, got out and walked in and walked past a window where the security guard saw me and promptly stopped me in my tracks. But, he was cool. He did it to help me out as he knew I shouldn't go any farther into the projects. So, he signed for the envelopes and I went on to another call on Over The Rhine.
Then, in the afternoon, there was a standoff between the rioters and the cops on Central Parkway, the demarcation between downtown and Over The Rhine, and I made my delivery nearby and then find myself talking to a group of folks who were off to the side watching what was about to go down.
Today I searched my computer and found three files from ten years ago written in real time, later that night, while answering the calls and emails and IMs from family and friends around the country who were watching the riots on national television by this point;
" Today, wednesday, I had a call for a pickup on Central Parkway and race street, right about 5 pm. when the crowd of at least 300-400 tried to make abreak thru police lines into downtown proper, my car was surrounded on three sides by police that swooped in to cut off the streets, I got out and talked to some people and got some pictures, when the group, mostly led by the Panthers tried to make a run to go down Vine street to get to Fountain Square, police horses and riot police cut them off, then a group of Black ministers held hands in front of the police to keep the mob from pushing their luck, the crowd backed down , as of 7 pm the crowd is uptown , I am out of there and home, so we shall see what the night brings."
Later that night, TV was live, but Urban Black Radio station and the police scanners were where the action was for those not in the middle of it. The city went nuts, and the police scanner was where the craziness of the night was being described as it happened. Here is what I wrote to my cousin Judith in LaGrange, Georgia in an AOL IM that I saved;
"... a call of a police substation now on fire, a 9 years old kid got hit by a cop's beanbag gun, hit in head, all fire trucks, ALLL, are out with police escort, someone shot with purpatrator walking up street holding pistol in his hand with 15 men following him, all govt buildings shut down, shots fired everywhere, someone tried to escape cops and jumped out window with the cops only finding pool of blood on ground, School for the Creative and Performing Arts is on fire.."
The third night was the most destructive - a firefighter shot in the neck while trying to put out a fire, a cop shot damn near at point blank but the bullet amazingly hit his belt buckle, and so on. The third night was obviously more organized as rioters came in from the outer neighborhoods and from other cities. A group of Black Panthers from Detroit came in and even the anarchists were in the mix. As a result, the riots were more planned and out of hand. The mayor had no choice but to declare a city-wide curfew.
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| posted on 4/7/2011 at 09:10 PM|
| In the file I saved from ten years ago, there are some real time pictures taken by the Cincinnati Enquirer and the links still amazingly work after all of this time;|
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| posted on 4/7/2011 at 10:15 PM|
CINCINNATI — When Timothy Thomas was shot by a Cincinnati police officer in April 2001, sparking riots in the city's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, officers only knew from a dispatcher that Thomas had more than a dozen warrants.
By Glenn Hartong/The Cincinnati Enquirer
Today, they would know that the warrants were for minor infractions, things such as failure to wear a seat belt.
Also today, they could call for help from an officer specially trained in handling people with mental health problems. They carry Tasers to use as an alternative option to their guns. And they're reminded of a new police department culture that stresses customer service as much as it does catching bad guys.
In the rioting that followed Thomas' death, fires were set around Over-the-Rhine, a police officer was shot but unhurt when the bullet hit his belt buckle, and a citywide curfew was imposed — the first in more than 30 years.
The changes since Thomas' death and the ensuing riots are many. The results have been dramatic.
In the six years before the riots, 15 men — all African-American — died in confrontations with police. In the last 10 years? Eight, six of them black.
Cincinnati officers have been involved in fewer police shootings since 2004 than their counterparts in the larger cities of Cleveland and Columbus as well as Dayton, Toledo and Akron.
The reasons for that decline include everything from technology and training to luck.
Cops are still cops, as Chief Tom Streicher said just before he retired in March. They're adrenaline junkies who have to think fast in dangerous situations.
But the 1,068 working in Cincinnati now, he said, are better trained, more carefully watched and more mindful of the power they wield and the effect it can have on people.
"There's no one single thing you can point to," Streicher said. "There's an improved approach to how we conduct business and it starts with training. We've continued to ask ourselves: Even if an action is right, is there a better way to do business?"
Christopher Smitherman, president of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP, said the department's foremost change was that it began to understand that "cultural competency" —the ability to interact with people of different cultures — is key.
"You have to start there," he said. "They acknowledged that it's important, that it's not just political correctness."
Tension pre-dated riots
The April 2001 riots often are viewed by many as the beginning of the poor relationship between Cincinnati's black community and the police department. But the tension pre-dated the riots by years, as did a call for police reform.
Harvey Price was the first in a list of what would grow to 15 black men — some of them unarmed — killed in confrontations with police in six years leading up to the riots.
He was shot to death in February 1995 after he killed a 15-year-old girl with an ax and held police at bay for hours. Two months later, the arrest of Pharon Crosby, 18, would exacerbate tensions. Caught on video, it prompted complaints that officers used excessive force.
Police commanders knew distrust was brewing. They started talking about some problems, including racial profiling. In March 2001, Streicher acknowledged that some officers did practice biased policing.
That admission was momentous, a signal that department leadership was willing to listen, said ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood.
The department in 2002 lifted its requirement that recruits be under 35, with officials saying they wanted to diversify the force and boost its maturity.
The riots neither initiated the racial tension nor the police reforms, but accelerated both.
There were several incidents after the riots, too, that fanned the flames, including the 2002 forced retirement of the department's highest-ranking black officer, after he lied about an accident in his city-owned car.
About 30% of Cincinnati officers are African-American now, just slightly more than in 2001. The force's makeup has changed in other ways, though: New hires are encouraged to have college degrees. The 2004 recruit class of 50 included 25 with some post-high school education. In the 2006 class of 50 recruits, 42 had attended college. There have been no recruits since 2008 because of budget cuts.
Change didn't come easily
In March 2001, a month before the riots, the ACLU and local groups joined a 1999 lawsuit filed by Bomani Tyehimba, claiming police had discriminated against black people in Cincinnati for decades.
That lawsuit led to the Collaborative Agreement in 2002 between the ACLU, Cincinnati Black United Front, city and police union, which required police to adopt community-oriented policing as a strategy. A Memorandum of Understanding, a deal signed with the U.S. Department of Justice, required many more concrete reforms, including in the way uses of force are recorded and tracked. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott appointed a federal monitor who oversaw compliance for the next six years.
Though lauded now, the reforms got off to a rough start.
Police leadership felt federal officials were cramming reforms down their throats.
But changes came anyway. Among them:
• Training officers in low-light situations, like the alley where Thomas died, and in dealing with suspects with mental health issues
• Training in how to recognize possible mental health issues in suspects and to better handle mentally ill people.
• Computers in officers' cruisers to give them access to a person's detailed criminal record, complete .
• Foot pursuit policy changed to require that officers assess whether a pursuit is appropriate, taking into consideration the seriousness of the offense, whether the suspect is armed and their ability to apprehend at a later date.
• In late 2003 the city bought updated Tasers for all officers after the death of Nathaniel Jones, an African-American man with drugs in his system. Officers hit him repeatedly with their batons.
• Officers are now required to fill out "contact cards" when they stop vehicles. The cards include details about those in the car, including their race. The cards grew out of allegations that Cincinnati officers stopped more minority drivers than whites.
• The Citizens Complaint Authority was created in 2002 to do independent reviews of all serious uses of force by police officers.
Officers balked at the CCA, insisting the department's internal reviews were enough and that the agency would be just another way their actions could be misunderstood and used against them.
But it seems to have had the opposite effect. CCA data show improvement in the number of investigations against officers and a reduction in the number of complaints sustained against officers. In 2004, the first year the CCA started keeping data, it investigated 193 complaints, some with multiple allegations of misconduct. The CCA sustained 92 allegations, or almost half, exonerating officers in 119 allegations. Last year, 83 were investigated, with 17% sustained and 51% exonerated.
With a new police chief coming in and continuing budget deficits, maintaining the reforms might be a challenge.
Saul Green, the court-ordered federal monitor who oversaw Cincinnati's police reforms for six years, was "greatly impressed" with the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence, started in 2007 to identify groups committing crimes and target them. But City Council cut CIRV's budget for this year, and the streetworkers — who walked neighborhoods talking to people after incidents to promote calm — were cut. The complaint authority was merged last year with the city's internal audit department to save money on support staff. Despite the cuts, city officials say they remain committed to reform.
The advertisement for a new chief to replace Streicher who retired on March 26, written by City Manager Milton Dohoney's office, specifies that the city is seeking someone who will keep the improvements and strive for more.
"They're clearly a lot better," the Rev. Damon Lynch III said of Cincinnati officers. He was former president of the Black United Front and led calls for a boycott of downtown Cincinnati after the riots.
"I think they've given it a good try," Lynch said. "I think they've made a good faith effort. It's important that the new chief buys into the collaborative and moves it even further down the road."
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