Sunday, September 19, 2004

Where boycott succeeded, and where it failed

Differing views

By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer

City and business leaders say the boycott succeeded mainly in bringing bad publicity to Cincinnati.

Boycott organizers say the negative publicity helped force city and business leaders to address some long-standing employment, housing and public safety concerns.

poll Everyone agrees that the boycott, started in July 2001, kept millions of dollars in convention and entertainment business out of downtown.

"From its inception the boycott has been an extremely effective tool of getting change in the city," says the Rev. Damon Lynch III, former president of the Cincinnati Black United Front, one of the main boycott groups.

Boycotters persuaded celebrities - including comedian Bill Cosby, actress Whoopi Goldberg and film director Spike Lee - to cancel appearances in Cincinnati. Those cancellations sent powerful signals to the world that Cincinnati was an unwelcoming place for blacks.

Boycott supporters also talked the biggest conventions in 2002 and 2003 out of coming here. Loss of the Union of Black Episcopalians, the National Urban League and the Progressive National Baptists conventions cost the city $10 million in business.

The boycott also sent organizers of the Jazz Festival - the city's largest black event - running to Detroit in 2003. The festival hasn't come back.

But at the same time, boycotters never got an audience with Mayor Charlie Luken to negotiate their long list of demands. They asked for City Council members to be elected from districts rather than citywide, amnesty for rioters and laws banning racial profiling. They also demanded millions of dollars for inner-city development projects and programs that benefit African-Americans.

Luken and the city created Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN), a broad-based group of local movers and shakers. It launched initiatives such as early childhood development and community problem-oriented policing programs, a criminal record expungement program for rioters, a minority business accelerator program and a one-stop center for hard-to-employ people. Efforts to change the way council members are elected were considered, then scuttled.

Cincinnati CAN dissolved in June 2003 after moving its programs into existing agencies with the skills and resources to keep them going for years.

"We've done the right things," the mayor says.

Lynch says he sees the boycott's biggest successes as completion of a historic agreement between the U.S. Justice Department and the city to reform police department policies and procedures. The city also hired African-Americans in key city positions, including City Manager Valerie Lemmie.

"Our only failure would have been not to have done it," Lynch says of the boycott.



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