Sunday, January 4, 2004

Twitty counsels: 'Wait and see'


Ron Twitty doesn't yet have a plan for how to combat the rising violent crime in Cincinnati. But he is certain that finding a solution is the way to honor his stepson, a victim

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hours after his stepson was shot to death, Ron Twitty left a house full of grieving friends and relatives. He drove downtown to the WDBZ radio studios and took his seat behind the microphone.

[img]
Ron Twitty with his attorney Sharon Zealey.
(Glenn Hartong/file photo)
Condolences poured in for two hours. Then, callers started lining up behind the former assistant Cincinnati police chief as he vowed to fight the violence epitomized by the city's increasing homicides. Last year, 75 people were slain in the city, the highest in 26 years.

It was then Twitty knew he'd done the right thing to leave his family in the middle of their grief to talk about his hope for his city.

It was a decision that thrust the former police leader back into the news, not as a cop, but as a crime victim. And some say he may be the best-equipped to lead the effort.

Twitty doesn't yet know what his anti-violence plan will be. Asked about his ideas, he mentions mobilizing neighborhoods, networking and phone trees. As for more specifics, he smiles and says, "Wait and see."

But he feels he already has honored his son's memory by getting people talking about the killings, most of which have been of young, black males like his stepson. Allen Shannon, 30, was shot to death last week in Bond Hill.

"I told my wife, 'I just feel like I've got to do something,' " Twitty said. "She said: 'I know you. I know you have to do this.' "

Mayor Charlie Luken called Twitty on Friday and encouraged him to work on the violence issue. The two plan to talk again. Vice Mayor Alicia Reece said last week she, too, had talked with Twitty about his ideas.

Lucy Logan, the mother of a 2002 murder victim and founder of the survivors' group Who Killed Our Kids, plans to call him this week.

"If this guy rallies people up and gets them going,'' she said, "then great. Someone needs to.''

But if the recent headlines and calls from city leaders signal a comeback for Twitty - who is hugged by victims and suspects alike at crime scenes - the man with a wide smile shakes his head and says:

"I never left.''

Plea deal forced him out

Twitty, 53, left the department in 2002 as part of a plea deal to end a criminal case against him over damage to his city-owned car. Chief Tom Streicher asked the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office to investigate, and Twitty pleaded no contest to attempted obstruction of official business. He had been on the force since 1973.

And though Twitty's resurgence in the burgeoning crime-fighting discussions may not be palatable to some officers who still believe he lied, Fraternal Order of Police President Sgt. Harry Roberts said he welcomed Twitty's help.

Twitty said he credits the four black City Council members for stepping up last week and launching their "Black-on-Black Crime Initiative.'' But fighting the violence isn't the politicians' role, he said - it's a job for the community.

"They need to set the culture of their neighborhoods,'' he said. "Then you just need the police to come in and preserve it. But they need to set it.''

Derrick Blassingame, a 17-year-old from Avondale who became prominent as a teenage voice in the wake of the April 2001 riots, called Twitty an excellent role model.

Blassingame's brother Cortez, 27, was killed on Christmas Eve 2002. He was shot to death in Northside. No one was arrested.

"I think he'd be a great front-runner to lead this,'' he said. "I think he'll be one of the great voices in this.''

Juleana Frierson, chief of staff for the Cincinnati Black United Front, agreed that Twitty brings talent and experience to the issue. But she said she is concerned about the talk of a new program about community involvement. Instead, she said, the city should completely put in place Community Problem-Oriented Policing, which the city agreed to in the collaborative agreement officials signed in 2002.

"It's great, but sad, that we now have all of this interest,'' Frierson said. "I'm just concerned about the methodology. The city needs to be doing what it agreed to do.''

Twitty and his wife will say goodbye to Shannon at a wake Wednesday evening at New Friendship Baptist Church in Avondale. Then, he said, he'll be back on radio the next week, outlining his plans.

"My mind is really set,'' he said. "And I have a constant reminder of what my motivation is - it's to honor my son.

"The death of a son makes you focused.''

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E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com




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