Friday, April 19, 2002

Vine Street

What was the excuse this time?

        There was no police shooting, no reverends shouting for justice this time — just 300 black people blocking Vine Street on Monday night, pelting cars with rocks, bottles and eggs and yelling “get whitey.”

        Some cities would call that a riot. Cincinnati didn't even call it a “disturbance.” The headline over a 3-inch story in the Enquirer the next day said, “Fight draws crowd; police close street.”

        Witnesses and police reports showed something worse: frightening attacks on cars driven by white people, while cars driven by blacks were waved through.

        Police said it started when two girls, ages 14 and 17, started throwing punches in the street. As cops arrested the girls, the 14-year-old struggled and spit in the face of one officer. The 17-year-old's brother, 12, jumped on a cop — and it took two more to restrain him.

"Get whitey'

        The crowd swelled to 300, and 20 to 50 people began throwing things. The cops backed off to regroup.

        Police logs show several calls from trapped motorists.

        “Group of male black suspects threw rocks, eggs at his car; yelled things about his being white,” says one dispatcher's report.

        “They were running up and throwing things at the windows of cars and yelling, "Get whitey,'” said a woman who did not want to be named because she lives nearby and fears reprisals.

        University of Cincinnati student Steve Wahoff was caught in the middle of it. “I was giving a buddy a ride downtown. Vine is the quickest route. I knew it was sort of dangerous. But it was still light out, so I thought there would be no problem,” he said. “I saw this large crowd in the street and thought, "I'd better get out of here.' And right then, this huge rock hit the windshield.”

        As he hit the gas and fled, he noticed that black motorists were not bothered at all, and one tried to block his escape. Damage estimates for his car were $800, not including a windshield replacement, he said. “That's the last time I go down Vine Street.'

"Really scared'

        Kiril Merjanski, a Bulgarian writer and poet who has been in the United States just three months, was also caught in the mob with his wife. “We were really scared,” he said. “Things are not good in Bulgaria, but this type of thing would never happen there.”

        Their car was hit with eggs and rocks, causing about $1,000 in damage, according to police reports.

        Michael Howard, an outreach coordinator for Mount Auburn Methodist Church, was walking on Vine Street. “There's an element down there that is growing in disrespect for the law,” he said.

        Mr. Howard, who is black, says Cincinnati is reluctant to face what happened because “we don't want to return to the riots of last April.”

        “But a lot of people are going to be hurt and a lot of property is going to be damaged if we don't take control.”

        So what's the excuse? What's the politically correct “root cause” for racial violence that makes Cincinnati look worse than Bulgaria?

        “I don't know about all this,” Mr. Merjanski said. “I don't know what the problem is.”

        Nobody does.

        E-mail or call 768-8301.


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