Thursday, January 1, 2004

Plan takes on 'black-on-black' crime


Four council members seek $100,000

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Standing outside of the Bond Hill Recreation Center near where the city's 75th homicide took place, City Council members Y. Laketa Cole (from left), Sam Malone, Alicia Reece and Christopher Smitherman announce their united effort to curb the black-on-black violence.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
BOND HILL - Cincinnati's four black City Council members on Wednesday launched a campaign against the escalating homicides in the city, and said they want $100,000 to start it.

Standing across the street from the alley where a 21-year-old man was found shot to death Monday, the coalition announced the Black-on-Black Crime Initiative. It proposes expanding a Children's Hospital gun violence education program into more schools and recreation centers, reinstating the police department's gang unit, choosing a Sunday for clergy to preach against violence and starting a job-finding effort for convicted felons.

The four council members - Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, Laketa Cole, Christopher Smitherman and Sam Malone - said it's time for them, as young African-Americans, to step up. Three live in Bond Hill, where two killings happened Monday. And they said they're tired of attending funerals for young black men slain in their streets.

Of the 75 people killed in Cincinnati this year, 84 percent were black.

"We are outraged with the number of deaths that have occurred in our community," Cole said. "We have to put an end to it."

Cincinnati recorded its most deadly year since 1977, and 2003 was the fifth straight year that the city's homicide total increased. The 75 killings marked a 12 percent increase over 2002's 66 deaths. Based on Cincinnati's 2000 population of 331,285, the city's homicide rate jumped more in the last three years than the rate of killings in larger and historically more dangerous cities.

Chief Tom Streicher has said at least 90 percent of the killings are related to drugs.

Streicher, Mayor Charlie Luken and City Manager Valerie Lemmie met Wednesday to discuss their plans for 2004for decreasing homicide.

They've been talking in recent months about various law enforcement policies and about drawing more community members into the crime-fighting effort.

Their plans are still preliminary, and Luken said it was too soon Wednesday to discuss details. He did say, though, that some of the community leaders tapped would be nontraditional and from "a new generation of leadership."

"The key to this is getting more proactive policing with community involvement," Luken said. "I don't think there's any rabbit in the hat here."

Two days after his stepson was gunned down, former assistant Cincinnati police chief Ron Twitty continued to talk about increasing homicides and associated violence. As guest host for Jay Love on WDBZ, he spent hours again Wednesday talking about what can be done about the violence. Dozens of callers vowed to follow him in the grass roots anti-violence plan he said he's working on.

Twitty's stepson, Allen Shannon, 30, was the 75th homicide victim. He was shot to death Monday night as he sat in his SUV outside his children's home on Carolina Avenue in Bond Hill.

It was the second killing within about three blocks and in less than five hours.

A series of discussions and events about the city's homicide increase are set for next week:

• Tuesday, Councilman David Pepper will announce the schedule for his neighborhood "safety summits."

They'll start in Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Avondale, Price Hill and Northside.

"I'm happy to work with anyone who wants to work on the problem," Pepper said Wednesday. "There's obviously a lot to do on all sides. Every idea is worth considering, but we need to work together."

• Wednesday, the four black council members will ask for $100,000, to come from Cincinnati's Human Relations Commission's $400,000 budget. Luken said he would oppose taking the money from the agency's budget because he said wants the CHRC for other antiviolence programs and doesn't want to cut its funds.

• Thursday, those same council members will host a town hall meeting at the Hirsch Recreation Center in Avondale.Reece said the $100,000 could come from the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission's $400,000 budget. But officials said neither Lemmie, Luken nor the human relations commission was consulted about the four members' plan.

While short on specifics on exactly how the $100,000 will be spent, Reece said the money makes the team's plan different than other similar efforts. Reece said the four had already begun talking to businesses to find job openings that can be filled by people with criminal records. The group also is planning an antiviolence rally Jan. 19 during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend basketball classic at Xavier University.

Malone said he thinks reinstatement of the gang unit is key because officers need to be collecting information on gang tattoos and affiliations. Streicher eliminated the unit a couple of years ago, but has said repeatedly that the department's intelligence unit does the same work and is more effective than the gang unit had beenIt's unclear how many of this year's homicides are tied to street gangs.

Just over 40 percent of Cincinnati's 75 killings remain unsolved. Declining solve rates have been a problem across the nation, as authorities attribute more killings to the drug and gang culture that breeds retaliation, not cooperation with police.

Here, Streicher says, the increase in killings has made it difficult for detectives to keep up. With another increase in homicides this year, the new cold-case squad has not been able to focus solely on older killings, said Capt. Vince Demasi, investigations commander.

"I think all that we're doing takes time to kick in," Demasi said. "My hope and prayer is that 2004 is much different than 2003."

E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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