Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Mayor boots Rev. Lynch from race commission

Pastor unrepentant about letter calling police rapists and killers

By Gregory Korte and Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III remained unrepentant for penning a letter calling police rapists and killers, even after Mayor Charlie Luken fired him from the city's race relations commission Monday.

        On or off the commission, the Over-the-Rhine pastor said he would continue to fight for racial justice.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said late Monday that his letter calling for a boycott of the city — written on the letterhead of his Black United Front organization — “speaks for itself.” (Text of Lynch letter)

        “The intent of the letter is not to paint all police officers with the broad brush of police misconduct, but it is to highlight the indisputable fact of past and present police misconduct that undermines public safety and trust,” he said. “In the same vein, police officers who abuse that authority, plant evidence and kill unarmed citizens should be punished.”

Complete coverage in our special section.
        The Rev. Mr. Lynch said the shooting of Timothy Thomas in April and the strangulation death of Roger Owensby last year — and the acquittal of the officers charged in those incidents — “give us a national reputation as a city unconcerned about justice.”

        Mr. Luken fired the commission co-chairman in a 15-word letter hand-delivered to the pastor at about 9:30 a.m. Monday.

        “You are hereby dismissed from further involvement of any kind with Cincinnati Community Action Now,” Mr. Luken's letter said.

        It was Mr. Luken's first official act on the first business day after being sworn in as the city's strongest mayor since 1925.

        Few thought the firing came as a surprise. Mr. Luken had become increasingly critical of the minister in past months. That criticism escalated over the weekend after the boycott letter — which was undated and sent to an unknown number of people — found its way to City Hall.

        There, some city officials said they couldn't tolerate having the pastor work with the city for change and then undermine that work with his public statements.

        Councilman Chris Monzel applauded the minister's removal.

        “I think it's a good signal that Charlie is responding to what needed to be done,” he said. “You just can't have someone playing both sides of the fence.”

        But some said the firing casts into doubt whatever progress the commission has made since the riots in April.

        “I think there will be a feeling of alienation among some African-Americans and there will certainly be a divide on this issue based on race,” said Norma Holt-Davis, president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “This is something we could have surely done without at this point.

        “When Rev. Lynch was appointed, everybody knew he was leader of the Black United Front. The mayor knew what he was getting,” said Mrs. Davis. “Rev. Lynch has been honest from the beginning.”

        However, some said simply removing the Rev. Mr. Lynch from the race relations commission doesn't go far enough.

        As long as the Rev. Mr. Lynch is also involved with the mediation of a racial profiling lawsuit, the city should pull out of negotiations over police policies and procedures, said Councilman Pat DeWine, chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee. He said he would ask the committee today to consider pulling out of the mediation.

        “Here's the problem as I see it: Damon Lynch is still a part of the collaboration. We're still being forced to negotiate police policies and procedures with Damon Lynch and the Black United Front,” Mr. DeWine said.

        Mr. Luken gave no indication of who — if anyone — would succeed the Rev. Mr. Lynch on the commission. Mr. Luken has been critical of the commission since his election, saying he's frustrated with the “pace of change” coming from the privately funded group.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch was one of three co-chairmen appointed to the commission in May. The other co-chairmen are Tom Cody, president of Federated Department Stores, and Ross Love, president of Blue Chip Broadcasting.

        The Rev. Calvin Harper, pastor of Morningstar Baptist Church, said he was troubled by Mr. Luken's action, and the way it came.

        “There was no person-to-person contact between the mayor and Rev. Lynch. You would have thought he would be more respectful,” he said.

        Cecil Thomas, director of the city's Human Relations Commission, called the Black United Front's letter counterproductive to solving the city's racial woes. But so is firing the Rev. Mr. Lynch from the commission, he said.

        “I think Damon's need to be on the CAN commission far outweighs any damage this letter has done,” said Mr. Thomas, a former police detective.

        “The council needs to shut their mouths. The front needs to shut their mouths,” he continued. “Everybody is disagreeing with each other, but people are looking for how we can move this city forward and change our image.”

        Some City Council reaction:

        • Paul Booth, Democrat: “The mayor knew Rev. Lynch's philosophy when he hired him, and his philosophy has not changed.”

        • Minette Cooper, Democrat: “We need that voice at the table. We just need it in a way that doesn't make the city feel like it's not being supported. ... Let's be clear: Rev. Lynch is not the only grass-roots person who can fulfill that role.”

        • John Cranley, Democrat: “We're never going to solve police-community problems if police are going to be called, in a broad way, rapists and killers.

        “Because of the Lynch situation, the impetus only seems to be increasing for legislative change, rather than judicial change.”

        • Pat DeWine, Republican: “Charlie had no choice. It's too bad Lynch and Cincinnati CAN weren't willing to take some constructive steps on their own.”

        • Alicia Reece, Democrat: “The mayor made all the appointments, and therefore the mayor can remove people. That's my only position on CAN. It's not a council issue.”

Text of Lynch letter

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