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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 65/No.17April 30, 2001

 
Come to public meeting in New York City, Sunday, May 20
In Defense of Leninism: Expanding Opportunities for Communists Today

Cincinnati protesters say:
'Try the cops for murder'
(lead article)
Photo - see caption below
Militant/Val Libby
Demonstrators hold signs during April 14 NAACP meeting in Cincinnati protesting the cop killing of Black youth Timothy Thomas.
 
BY OSBORNE HART  
CINCINNATI--Working people and youth in this city's Black community, along with other opponents of police brutality and racism, have mobilized on a nearly daily basis for more than a week to protest the April 7 cop killing of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas. Protests have demanded prosecution of the cop who killed Thomas, highlighted other police killings and longstanding victimization of African Americans, and exposed to the entire country the deep-seated discrimination in all aspects of life that persists here.

Demonstrators have stood up to a state of emergency and dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed by the city government, along with police attacks and arrests.

The April 14 funeral of Thomas drew several thousand people who paid tribute to the unarmed Black man. He was the fourth African American killed by the police in the city since November. To the 400 people gathered inside the New Prospect Baptist church in the heart of the Over-the-Rhine community, and many more outside who could not fit into the church, the funeral served as a continued protest of Thomas's killing and against police violence.

More than 2,500 mourners filed past the casket, laying mementos on the body as two musicians played. The viewing line stretched several blocks from the church. An elderly Black man stood at the entrance holding a placard reading, "Over-the-Rhine mourns Timothy Thomas."

NAACP youth members and other community groups monitored the crowd gathered in the block around the church. But the sound of the police helicopter flying above, and the sight of city cops and state troopers in riot gear and on horses, visible two blocks away, were constant reminders of the city's state of emergency.

Throughout the crowd outside young people held signs or wore bumper stickers stating, "Danger, Police in Area."

Many paying their respects, particularly the young people, wore bandannas and T-shirts bearing Thomas's photo and the words "R.I.P. [Rest in Peace] Tim" on them. A young Black woman told the Militant that Thomas was wearing such a bandanna when he was shot. The spot where he was killed has been transformed into a memorial adorned by flowers, messages, and bandannas. The wall is spray painted in red and black letters that spell, "R.I.P. Tim."

"Try the cops for murder," Byron Johnson said in an interview as he stood outside the church. "Prayer is not getting it done," said the unemployed Black construction worker, who is in his 30s. Johnson said the Thomas killing and the other murders only reflect the deeper problem of discrimination in the city. With all the construction here, Black "construction workers like myself can't get jobs," he said.

James Williams of the Hyde Park neighborhood explained why people rebelled: "What happened here is going to start a trend. It's been boiling for a long time. It's a deep pot boiling. In the 60s, it was for civil rights," Williams said. "Now it's for life or death. We won't go back to normal."

"It's uncalled for. Traffic tickets are no call for killing," Vinson Carr said. Carr was referring to Thomas's traffic violations, cited by the cops as justification for their chase of the young man before he was shot. As Carr displayed one of the metal-filled bean bags that cops have been firing at crowds during the past several days, he said, "What's next? What kind of answers are we going to get from police officers? What will happen after the funeral is over?"

Carr's questions were answered shortly afterwards. As the church service ended and the motorcade with the hearse drove away from the church, groups of people filled the streets and corners. Many held the funeral program and handmade signs condemning cop violence and calling for justice.

A crowd of 30 or so, some holding signs, marched to the corner of Liberty and Elm streets and stood. Without warning, four police cruisers drove up. Cops got out and began shooting the buckshot-filled bean bags at the protesters. The crowd dispersed as the cops jumped in their cars and sped off.

Three people were injured, including two girls aged seven and 11. A 37-year-old school teacher from Louisville was hospitalized with a cracked rib and bruises to her lung and spleen.

This cop attack quickly drew a crowd of several hundred from the funeral, accompanied by the huge media corps. Participants proceeded to organize an impromptu march to Taft high school next to the District 1 police station. Immediately, more than 100 cops on horseback, on foot, and in cars blocked the intersection and prevented the demonstration from continuing. Many protesters sat in the street in the ensuing standoff.

Cincinnati Black United Front leader Damon Lynch made his way to the front of the protest and demanded "an explanation" from the police. "We want the names of the officers who fired [on the three victims] and we want them fired," he said.

After 30 minutes, Lynch negotiated with the cops to allow the march to Taft high school to proceed. The march grew to nearly 2,000 as people from an Easter day religious procession joined in.  
 
Cops 'out of control'
As the demonstration continued with chants and calls for justice at every intersection leading to downtown, protesters were greeted by dozens of cops in riot gear. The march stopped at Washington Park for a short rally and wound up at the high school.

As this reporter marched, an Associated Press photographer recounted that to his dismay the cops "were unprovoked" and "shot into a peaceful demonstration. These Cincinnati cops are out of control," he said.

As of April 16 the investigation into the incident by the police chief and the mayor's office is almost completed. Mayor Charles Luken said the chief is "considering reassigning" the cops involved.

Many working people continue to speak out against the racism and injustice they experience. More than 500 jammed a city council meeting April 17. During the five-hour session nearly 70 people testified before the mayor and city council members about cop brutality and discrimination in the city. According to the New York Times, the "complaints included accusations of excessive use of force and racial profiling by the police department, poor housing, and complaints that major cost overruns in the city's new football [stadium] were tolerated while incidental discrepancies in programs for the poor were not."

While three-quarters of the speakers were African Americans, one white woman, Heidi Bruins, a financial manager at Procter and Gamble, described her observations of the post-funeral attack by the cops. The Times reports Bruins testified that the officers "shot only at Blacks, adding that she and her companions, all white, were not interfered with."

Keith Fangman, president of the local Fraternal Order of the Police, has defended the action of the cops. Focusing on incidents such as shop windows being broken, Fangman said, "If we give one inch to these terrorists in the form of negotiations, then we've got no one to blame but ourselves when we turn into another Detroit or Washington, D.C."

On April 12 the mayor declared a state of emergency in the city and instituted a curfew. More than 852 people have been arrested since then. Mayor Luken lifted his citywide curfew after five days, but did not end the state of emergency that gives him powers to reinstate a curfew and impose restrictions on the population at any time.

A grand jury scheduled to convene to hear arguments on whether to indict Stephen Roach, the cop who shot Thomas, has been postponed. A police video of the killing has yet to be released. Some city police cruisers are equipped with video cameras.

Osborne Hart is a meat packer and member of UFCW Local 876 in Detroit. Chris Hoeppner, Bobbi Sack, and Carl Sack also contributed to this article.
 
 
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