Enquirer News Update   -   Updated 6:40 p.m.

City in state of emergency

Mayor declares curfew: Taft sending 75 patrolmen

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mayor Charlie Luken has requested help from Gov. Bob Taft, who is sending 75 members of the Ohio State Highway Patrol to Cincinnati this afternoon to provide police relief and street strength.

        Mayor Luken earlier this morning declared a state of emergency and issued a citywide curfew, ordering city streets cleared by 8 p.m.

        He said a mandatory curfew will be in effect for all citizens from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for an indefinite period of time.

        "It is an order to clear the streets," Mr. Luken said at a 10:30 a.m. press conference. "Very simply, it affects everybody in the city of Cincinnati. It affects all ages."

        The declaration comes as violence swept through city streets and police squared off with rioters and looters in Over-the-Rhine, Avondale, Bond Hill, Walnut Hills and the West End. Mr. Luken said the violence, which started with protests over Saturday's police shooting of an African-American man, can no longer be tolerated.

        By declaring a state of emergency, the mayor effectively assumes control of the police department and assumes the ability to declare a curfew. Mr. Luken said Wednesday night he wanted to avoid that measure, but this morning it was clearly necessary, he said.

        Police Chief Tom Streicher said today that legitimate protests turned ugly and violent as darkness fell, with troublemakers setting fires, breaking store windows and assaulting motorists.

        "The people out there voicing their anger and frustration, that group is not the same group that is out there at night," the chief said.

        The chief said the curfew will not apply to people traveling to and from work, but everyone else is ordered off the streets by 8 p.m. under threat of arrest.

        City officials are still considering asking the National Guard for assistance as police continue to work 12-hour shifts without relief. A decision will likely be made within the next 24 hours.

        The guard would be used strictly to reinforce city police and to provide traffic control in affected areas.

        "We understand this is a holy week," Mr. Luken said, referring to the Christian observance of Easter. "We ask those citizens whose services are affected to stay in their houses and pray."

        This morning, Cincinnati police officers continued to comb Over-the-Rhine for a man who shot at a Cincinnati police officer near the corner of Green and Vine streets shortly before 11 p.m. Wednesday, when the melee was at its peak.

        The 37-year-old police officer was fortunate: the bullet bounced off his belt buckle.

        Lt. Roger Wolf said, "Innocent people need to be protected…We have to get this guy off the streets. Frankly, this is very urgent."

        The suspect is described as a six-foot tall heavy-set, African-American male wearing a gray sweatshirt and shorts, identified by some as middle-aged.

        Keith Fangman, president of the Queen City Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, went on a radio talk show this morning, praising fellow officers and accusing elected officials of inciting violence.

        "This city needs to wake up," Mr. Fangman said. "You've got people like (Councilwoman) Alicia Reece and Charlie Luken, both of whom have inflamed this community with their repeated statements.

        "Just before the riots started, the mayor was repeatedly saying we have far too many African-American males being killed at the hands of Cincinnati police," Mr. Fangman said.

        "That's coming from the mayor. Now, if that doesn't give some thug an excuse to go out and riot, I don't know what does."

        This morning, at the City Hall press conference where he announced the citywide curfew, the mayor said the curfew and state of emergency were "unprecedented, and a week ago unthinkable." With several African-Americans shouting protests inside the packed press room and outside in the hall, he made it clear that the larger issues of improving relations between police and the black community would have to wait.

        "There is a very legitimate and real problem with race relations and how this city is going to heal itself," Mr. Luken said. "We have to be absolutely clear that we won't tolerate this violence."

        Several who shouted protests during the press conference were escorted from the room.

        At least three hours before, several City Council members joined an early-morning meeting with Mr. Luken and about a dozen business leaders.

        City Council member Phil Heimlich said the only priority now should be to stop the violence.

        "I think what everyone needs to do is demand order," he said. "These aren't protesters, these are criminals."

        "The key is, we've got to stop this before it gets worse," council member Pat DeWine said. "We have to be absolutely clear that we won't tolerate this violence."

        Mr. Luken would not comment on police strategy, and would not estimate how much damage already had occurred. He said he took the action with "a very heavy and sad heart."

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