Tuesday, August 20, 2002

For downtown, a lost weekend

Disturbances tarnish Black Family Reunion

By Tom O'Neill, toneill@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Responsibility for the violence that followed this weekend's Black Family Reunion downtown rests with those who committed it, say city, festival and community leaders.

[photo] A youth is taken into custody by police in this image from WCPO-TV
(WCPO-TV/Troy Towery photos)
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        “The responsibility clearly rests with the individuals, and the family of those individuals,” Cecil Thomas of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission said Monday. “I don't see two ways about it.”

        Neither does Cincinnati Police Lt. Kurt Byrd.

        “The kids that did it,” he said in placing accountability. “There's nowhere to put the blame except the kids who were doing it. You can't blame the event, the police department.”

        Among the thousands of youths at the reunion, a dozen juveniles and one adult were arrested Saturday and Sunday nights.

        Most common: curfew violations and disorderly conduct charges as youths leaving a hip-hop concert threw rocks and bottles at passing cars, damaged Metro buses and overturned news racks and garbage cans.

[photo] Groups of youths roamed downtown.
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        The most serious: two assault arrests. A metro bus driver was punched in the face, and a teenager was hit with brass knuckles and a gun.

        The violence marred what had been a successful weekend at the 11th annual Black Family Reunion at Sawyer Point.

        Some of the youths began fighting among themselves, then broke into smaller groups as they made their way up to Fountain Square and the nearby Metro bus station at Government Square.

        Bus driver William Jackson, 43, was punched in the face by young people getting on his bus in the 600 block of Walnut Street, police said.

        The other assault victim, 17-year-old David Willis of Madisonville, was struck in the face by someone using brass knuckles, while a second person hit him with a gun, according to a police report.

        He lost consciousness several times on his way home and later, en route to a hospital where he was treated for an injury to the right side of his face. Police consider it a felonious assault.

   Violence erupted after the Black Family Reunion at Sawyer Point this weekend. The details:
    Seven total arrests including one adult male and three juvenile males for disorderly conduct; one juvenile male for disorderly conduct and obstruction of official business; one juvenile male for disorderly conduct and inducing panic; one juvenile female arrested for felony assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.
    Six total arrests including five juveniles (sex unknown) arrested for curfew violations; one juvenile arrested for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
    Incidents of violence reported included:
    Metro bus driver William Jackson, 43, was hit in the face by a juvenile leaving the reunion at 11:15 p.m. at 600 Walnut St.
    Reunion patron David Willis, 17, was attacked by two juvenile males. One assailant used brass knuckles to hit him and a second assailant pistol-whipped him. The victim lost consciousness several times on his way to the hospital.
    The windshield and windows were smashed on a parked Dodge Neon by a crowd of people leaving the reunion. The car was dented in several places.
    — Source: Cincinnati Police Department
        The violence is “unacceptable,” Mayor Charlie Luken said. “It's a failure of personal accountability. It's a failure of parental responsibility.”

        He said he would review the problem with Black Family Reunion organizers.

        “It (Black Family Reunion) has always been a great event in the city, and I want to keep it,” he said.

        “The police did a great job,” he added. “They were firm but they were controlled. We owe them a debt of gratitude.”

        Sheila Adams, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, said the irresponsible actions of a few should not sully the image of what has consistently been a positive event. She said the events needed to be put in perspective and should not be overblown.

        “We can't continue to blame everything on the conditions in our community,” Ms. Adams said. “There may be some sense of frustration on the part of our youths, but that's no reason for destroying property. We need to stop making excuses when behavior is not appropriate.”

        The call-in talk radio airwaves crackled Monday with differing opinions, including WCIN (1480-AM) and WDBZ, 1230-AM the Buzz, which have predominantly African-American audiences.

        WCIN host Courtis Fuller discussed the turn of events with a panel that included Mr. Thomas, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, Reunion organizer Cassandra Robinson and City Council members Minette Cooper and Paul Booth. The consensus: Unruly conduct from youth cannot and should not be tolerated.

        “Maybe we as adults have to take the lead more and say no we do not tolerate disrespect,” Mr. Fuller said after his show. “We need to let them know that if they have frustration and anger, there are other ways of managing that anger and frustration than running the streets of downtown.”

        Buzz host Scotty Johnson told one caller, “For many years, we've made excuses for our young people.”

        Later, host Jay Love took another position and blamed the media for inflaming the situation and blowing the violence out of proportion.

        He said he doesn't condone what happened, “but young people do that,” he said. “It'll happen in a few weeks at Riverfest.”

        Lt. Byrd said a similar incident at Riverfest would prompt a similar response from police.

        Kevin Aldridge and Randy Tucker contributed.


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