Monday, April 08, 2002

Hundreds march for peace, justice

By Janice Morse,
Jane Prendergast,
and Jennifer Edwards

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A rally and march downtown commemorating the one-year anniversary of Timothy Thomas' death by Cincinnati police gunfire ended with an impromptu retracing of his last steps in an Over-the-Rhine alley.

Marchers gather in the alley where Timothy Thomas was shot to death.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Nearly 1,000 people chanted, sang and listened to speeches on Fountain Square beginning at 3 p.m., then hundreds of them marched to a drumbeat to City Hall.

        But about 200 people ended the procession in the alley at 13th and Republic streets at 7:30 p.m.

        Mr. Thomas' aunt, Patricia Price, stood at the shooting site with tears streaming down her face. She visits often but didn't expect any fellow mourners Sunday.

        “When I saw everybody,” said Ms. Price, “that's when I knew people didn't forget him.”

Marchers stand at the Cincinnati police memorial near District 1 headquarters.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        It was a poignant conclusion to a day that encompassed nearly every reaction the city has witnessed in the past year — except violence.

        The shooting death of Mr. Thomas, an unarmed black man who was fleeing from officers who were trying to apprehend him on outstanding warrants, ignited days of unrest, months of local and federal investigation, and deep racial tension that persists today.

        The anniversary of his death follows two major developments last week — a tentative settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit and Justice Department “patterns and practices” investigation; and Cincinnati Community Action Now's plan for new community policing procedures.

        On Sunday, more than a dozen people spoke at the two-hour Fountain Square rally.

Crowd gathers on Fountain Square.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Anger and defiance were loud enough to make people wince. Sorrow and prayers were reflected in silence.

        Mostly, though, voices of determination and hope dominated.

        “I see lots of hope ... and I see lots of different people coming together, blacks, whites, Hispanics, American Indians, whatever,” said marcher Paul Sledge, 35, who lives in Clifton. “People are starting to see this is not only for black people, it's for everybody.”

Rev. Damon Lynch III (center) leads a group to Fountain Square.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        More than half of the participants were black, about a quarter were white, and others were American Indian and Hispanic. Some carried signs that read, “I'm a witness for justice” in English and Spanish.

        Several participants said they felt compelled to come, to help ensure that those who died in police shootings wouldn't be forgotten and to maintain pressure for changes in police conduct.

        Said Ray Woodruff, an 80-year-old from College Hill, “The danger is that we'll say, "Oh, we got the job done and don't have to do any more.' But we'll lose the gains we made if we don't keep going.”

        At one point, a member of the Black Panther Nation of Detroit urged the crowd: “Everyone needs to learn how to lock and load.” He received a lukewarm response. But when he chanted “Black Power” moments later, the crowd joined him enthusiastically.

Angela Leisure, mother of Timothy Thomas, speaks at the rally on Fountain Square.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Most speakers — including Mr. Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure — urged nonviolence.

        “I do not advocate violence of any kind. Nor do I have malice, hate or vengeance in my heart,” Mrs. Leisure said. “I implore everyone — community members, leaders and the police — to work together to foster a sense of unity and peace, for it is under these conditions that we will see justice ...”

        Some speakers, including the Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of the Cincinnati Black United Front, noted that last year's rioting changed Cincinnati history by calling attention to racial injustices.

        “Understand the power of not just April 7th, but April 9th through 11th ...” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “Nothing else brought the Justice Department to Cincinnati.”

        He urged amnesty for those arrested on riot and curfew charges, a continuing demand of activist groups calling for a boycott of the city.

Marchers head north on Vine Street.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        Adam Ortiz, a regional deputy director of Amnesty International's Chicago office, told the crowd he was sad to be in Cincinnati because his organization focuses on places with serious human rights violations.

        “The city has talked the talk about human rights,” Mr. Ortiz said. “We demand today that they walk the walk.”

        Police and city officials maintained a low profile during the rally and march. Many officers were in plain clothes.

        City Manager Valerie Lemmie came to police roll call Sunday morning and told officers to be professional and careful. Several commented that they'd never seen her predecessor, John Shirey, at a roll call.

        Officers' crowd control work started at 1 p.m. Sunday, when about 40 young people from Cincinnati and Cleveland held a prayer vigil outside District 1 police headquarters to help ease racial tensions.

April Harris of Avondale raises her fist in front of City Hall.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        “We want to remember what happened, but then move on and do something positive,” said Prince Williams, 17, of Cleveland Heights.

        At the Fountain Square rally later, City Council members John Cranley and David Crowley stopped to chat with a few participants. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott, who has been overseeing the mediation of a racial profiling lawsuit filed against the city, walked her two dogs through the square.

        The local Fraternal Order of Police and ACLU will announce their votes on the proposed settlement today.

        About 600 of the remaining crowd headed for City Hall. In front of the building, peace-keeping monitors wearing green arm bands held up “Quiet” signs; the familiar chants of “no justice, no peace,” faded.

Marchers pray on the steps of District 1 headquarters .
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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        A bell tolled 12 times, symbolizing “each of the 12 months we have waited for our voices to be heard, for justice to be done, for peace to come to the hearts of those who still mourn,” according to a flier handed to those present.

        About 400 people then walked to police headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive, where they chanted. It was this spot a year ago Tuesday where the emotion of another African-American dying at police hands turned to violence.

        On Sunday, officers watched from unmarked police cars that lined the streets around the station. No cruisers were parked in front of the large glass windows that were broken during last year's initial protests.

Monique Wilcox, Timothy Thomas' girlfriend and mother of his child, gets a hug from Wiley Chandler of Mount Auburn in the alley where Thomas was killed.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        The group then crossed the street to the Cincinnati police memorial, where they chanted some more. Some of the group, still about 200 people, continued on to the alley off Republic Street.

        There, 15-year-old Derrick Blassingame gathered people around Mr. Thomas' girlfriend, Monique Wilcox, who stood amid the wreaths and burning candles.

        He prayed for justice and unity. Then he asked God to bless Tywon, the 16-month-old son of Ms. Wilcox and Mr. Thomas.

        Enquirer reporters Randy Tucker, Cindy Kranz and Kristina Goetz contributed to this report.

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