Sunday, December 30, 2001
The riots explode: A city's dark week
Violence tears open the city, and it takes a curfew to bring
calm. Bodies, property and the city's reputation are damaged in the
worst urban unrest here in 30 years...
By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Mayor Charlie Luken sat alone in his office, growing more tense
with every update that burst from his police scanner.
Dumpster fire on Elm. Looting on Vine. Burning building in Over-
Street barricades from the West End to Avondale.
It was April 11, and Cincinnati was deep into the third and worst
night of the riots. The violence had begun April 9, when someone in a
crowd of protesters heaved a rock through the front door of District
1 police headquarters.
Now, the brief, breathless dispatches on the mayor's scanner told
of a city out of control.
Apr. 10, 2001 - A protester says "I accuse you" to officers guarding the entrance to District 1 headquarters
(Enquirer photo by Glenn Hartong)
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Already, hundreds of people were in jail and dozens had been
treated for injuries. Fires were burning, and roving bands of thugs
were pulling motorists from their cars. Police in riot gear were
fighting back with guns, clubs and chemical spray.
Property was looted and destroyed in communities from
Over-the-Rhine to Norwood. Businesses suffered hundreds of thousands
of dollars in damage. The violence grew worse by the hour.
"I have literally been in the street with tenants all day," said
Jim Moll, a landlord who spent April 11 at his Over-the-Rhine
properties. "I looked into the eyes of terror."
Blocks away, a mob pulled a white man from his car and beat him.
Looters raided and burned a furniture store, carrying off lamps,
chairs, even a big-screen TV.
But some of the worst damage, and perhaps the most lasting, was to
A city that preferred to keep its racial problems quiet was now
the talk of the nation. A city that prided itself on law and order
was now a symbol of chaos.
"I thought we had begun to work constructively on our problems,"
Mayor Luken says now. "Then the riots came along."
The mayor and other city officials struggled that night to find a
way to end the violence. They worried that being too aggressive ...
imposing a curfew, calling in the National Guard ... might do more harm
than good. They also feared that not being aggressive enough would
embolden the rioters.
The trouble usually began in the early evening, when peaceful
protesters gave way to rioters. "In the daytime, it was people with
a legitimate beef," recalls Jerry Dubose, who lives and works in
Over-the-Rhine. "At night, it was different."
The protesters wanted to be heard, Mr. Dubose says. The rioters
wanted an excuse to destroy.
Apr. 10, 2001 - Protestors marching south on Race St. stand atop a car blocking an intersection,
as protesters took to the streets.
(Enquirer photo by Michael E. Keating)
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Soon, the violence attracted the national media. They arrived
early in the week and began broadcasting Cincinnati's troubles around
the globe. Great Britain posted a travel advisory, warning its
citizens to stay away from Cincinnati.
By the evening of April 11, Mayor Luken had been on at least a
dozen talk shows. He urged Cincinnatians to stop the violence and
assured the outside world that the city was not dangerous. It was a
As interviewers asked questions that to him seemed unfair ... "Are
the police murderers? Is your city racist?' ... the mayor worried
about how Cincinnati would look to viewers around the country.
He couldn't help thinking, "I'm being set up."
In a few days, Time magazine would pick him as its "Loser of the
"The media were willing to use Cincinnati to exacerbate the
situation, to sensationalize the problem," Mr. Luken says. "I
resented it very much."
But the mayor had more immediate worries.
A few blocks from his office that night, an employee at the Big
Dollar store on Vine Street was frantically calling her boss, Steven
The young woman lived in an apartment above the store. She was
trapped inside as looters smashed through windows and dragged out
"They're taking everything!" she told Mr. Rothchild, who was
home in the suburbs.
As the night wore on, angry mobs gathered in at least a half-dozen
communities. A fire station in the West End came under siege by
youths throwing bottles and rocks.
In Walnut Hills, police sealed off a four-block area hit hard by
mob violence. Store windows were smashed. Cars at an auto dealership
Chaos erupted "just like that," said Police Capt. David Ratliff,
snapping his fingers. "People started going up and down the street,
smashing things. They really did a number here."
Roslyn Jones was stuck behind a burning barricade in Avondale,
trying to get to her apartment in Over-the-Rhine.
The 28-year-old African-American doesn't remember the brick
hitting her head, only the blood and screaming that followed. Ms.
Jones is albino, with very fair skin. One of the rioters mistook her
for a white woman.
"Stop!" a man yelled. She's black! She's black!"
The man pulled her to safety while rioters pummeled her car with
rocks. Ms. Jones was never able to identify her attackers, and she's
not sure she wants to. "I don't want to know why someone would act
out in such a violent way," she says now.
As midnight approached on April 11 and mayhem seemed to be
everywhere, Mayor Luken's scanner suddenly crackled with even worse
news: Shots fired. Officer down.
On the streets, police officers and bystanders ran for cover. The
injured officer was not seriously hurt ... the bullet had lodged in his
belt ... but the gunfire sparked panic.
Apr. 13, 2001 - Mayor Charlie Luken, Chief Tom Streicher, and City manager John Shirey during a press conference at police headquarters Friday morning.
(Enquirer photo by Glenn Hartong)
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"You're going to get killed!" police screamed at reporters and
The mayor had finally heard enough.
He went on TV within hours to declare a state of emergency and a
curfew. He called in reinforcements from the sheriff's office and
highway patrol. "This has got to stop," he said.
But even as he and others decried the violence, many city leaders
began to recommend government action that clearly would not have been
on the agenda without the violence. Jobs programs, renovation
projects, neighborhood reinvestment.
The hope, city officials said, was that swift action would quickly
restore the city's battered reputation and, ultimately, prevent
In the days that followed April 11, Mayor Luken visited some of
the neighborhoods hit hard by the riots. One of his stops was Findlay
Market in Over-the-Rhine.
Riot Zone - Rioting was concentrated in near-downtown neighborhoods of Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Walnut Hill, Evanston and Avondale.
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Al Silverglade was glad to see the mayor make the market a
priority. Mr. Silverglade, the owner of Silverglade & Sons deli, has
worked at Findlay Market for most of his 70 years.
He thinks the market can help the city solve its racial problems
and restore its good name.
The market was, after all, built on the business of immigrants who
spoke different languages, ate different foods and worshiped in
different churches. Mr. Silverglade can think of no better example of
"When people walk into that market house, no matter who they are
or what their background, everyone is on the same level," Mr.
Mayor Luken expressed similar sentiments when he toured the market
after the riots. But as he walked around charred trash bins and piles
of broken glass, the mayor was still stunned by what he had seen and
heard in the days before.
"This is all just senseless, random violence," he said.
Cincinnati 2001: Year of Unrest
Prologue to turmoil:
"A very tense time"
The trigger: Shooting
'ignites furious response'
The riots explode:
A city's dark week
Summer of blood - guns rule the streets
Tests of justice:
What can be done?
What comes next?:
Good examples few
WARD BUSHEE: A chance to talk honestly ... and to act
2001: A timeline
Unrest photo timeline
Jim Borgman on race