Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Urban League joins boycott
over black cop's suspension

By Kevin Aldridge kaldridge@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The National Urban League announced Monday that it will not bring its 5,000-delegate convention to Cincinnati in 2003 after all. Urban League President Hugh B. Price cited the Friday suspension of Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Ron Twitty and the prospect of protests at affiliate offices around the nation as reasons for the decision.

Ken Anderson (front) and others protest Monday across the street from Cincinnati Police headquarters on Ezzard Charles Drive. They were angry over the suspension of Lt. Col. Ronald Twitty. Anderson's sign asked the Urban League to cancel plans to hold its 2003 convention here. Later in the day, the Urban League did just that.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        The announcement comes just five days after the predominantly African-American civil rights organization affirmed its original decision to hold its annual meeting in Cincinnati and two weeks before the Urban League's 2002 annual meeting in Los Angeles.

        “We believed last week, as we do now, that our annual conference could have been helpful to community groups and to the city,” Mr. Price said in a written statement. “But clearly, the local climate and timing aren't right for the kind of convention we envisioned.”

        The August 2003 convention was one of the largest of 75 booked at the downtown Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center over the next two years.

        It was expected to bring 4,000 to 5,000 visitors and generate $3.4 million to $4.3 million for downtown shops, restaurants and hotels over five days.

        The Urban League also was one of the first African-American conventions to snub the boycott against downtown. The boycott, which shooed away the city's largest convention this year, is believed to have deprived the city of nearly $10 million to date, according to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

        For Mayor Charlie Luken, who flew to New York last month to meet personally with National Urban League leaders and touted the convention in a press conference on Thursday, the decision was devastating.

        “I don't want to sugarcoat any of this. This is a tremendous loss for the city,” Mr. Luken said. “It's an enormous loss. A complete disappointment. But we dust off and move forward.”

        Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, said she too was disappointed, but she supports the decision. Bringing the national convention here was viewed as a major accomplishment for Ms. Adams, because the group's meeting is usually reserved for larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles. Ms. Adams said national leaders consulted her about the cancellation, but it was ultimately Mr. Price's decision to make.

        Mr. Price said he was particularly disturbed by the controversial disciplinary action taken against the city's highest-ranking African-American officer, which was announced the day after the Urban League affirmed its meeting here.

        Lt. Col. Twitty, 51, a 29-year veteran of the department, was suspended Friday with pay after allegations that he lied about a car accident in his city-owned Taurus. Chief Tom Streicher wouldn't elaborate on the details of the accident, saying he had become a witness in the investigation. He said only that honesty was at the heart of the matter.

        Lt. Col. Twitty has been an assistant chief, one of four, since 1998. About 50 people, mostly African-American, protested in front of police headquarters Monday in a show of support for Lt. Col. Twitty.

        “African-Americans are understandably concerned about this action by the police chief,” Mr. Price said. “Had city officials given us any inkling whatsoever of this impending action, it certainly would have influenced our decision about whether or not to come in 2003.”

        That statement that comes as no surprise to Councilman Paul Booth.

        “The Urban League is an organization that has stood for civil rights and they are incensed about this, and many of our citizens are,” Mr. Booth said.

        Monday's announcement breathed new life into the year-old boycott against the city, which many had speculated was losing steam. Boycotters, who are asking conventions and tourists to stay away from the city because of economic and social inequities, saw the Urban League's coming as a betrayal to the African-American struggle for justice in Cincinnati.

        Boycotters protested in front of the Urban League's offices in Avondale on Friday, Saturday and again Monday morning. They commended Mr. Price for taking a stand.

        “I wish they had done it last week, but better late than never,” said Nathaniel Livingston Jr., a spokesman for the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, a boycott supporter. “I think the message for other organizations around the country is: Don't believe what you hear from city officials.”

        Three weeks ago, Mr. Luken, Ms. Adams and other Cincinnati tourism officials flew to the Urban League's New York offices to meet with Mr. Price and discuss reforms undertaken in Cincinnati since the April 2001 riots. It was this meeting that ultimately convinced Mr. Price that Cincinnati was working to fix its race-relations problems.

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III, president of the Cincinnati Black United Front - a boycott group, said Urban League officials were faced with the same situation that confronted the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Progressive Baptists were slated to bring their 8,000-delegate national conference to the city in August, but reneged after city leaders refused to negotiate with boycott leaders - one of the conditions of the group's visit.

        “They had to announce one day that they were coming and after seeing the city's reluctance to change they announced they weren't coming,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch said. “This ought to be a wake-up call to the leaders in our city.”

        Before Monday's announcement, boycotters had already launched efforts to sway the National Urban League from coming. Boycotters claimed they would send letters to each of the 100 Urban League affiliates nationwide, asking them to take the convention elsewhere.

        Community activists in Chicago inundated the Urban League offices there with angry phone calls and threatened to protest Monday before the decision was made to cancel. Similar demonstrations were promised in Detroit as well.

        In his statement, Mr. Price said “the prospect of pickets at local and national Urban League offices and events is utterly unacceptable because it would intrude on our movement's critically important work to promote academic achievement, economic opportunity and civil rights for black people in Cincinnati and across the nation.”

        Enquirer reporters Gregory Korte and Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.

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