Sunday, December 30, 2001
Binding wounds: What can be done?
A mediator tries to bridge the gap between whites and blacks.
Other programs promote contact between the races. But a boycott
letter critical of police threatens to disrupt the work...
By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jay Rothman thought things were going pretty well.
As the mediator who is supposed to help Cincinnati solve its
racial problems, Mr. Rothman had spent months working to find common
ground among the city's blacks and whites. He was pleased with the
But when he glanced at a newspaper headline in early December, he
got a sinking feeling.
Two of the people he was counting on to help his efforts, Rev.
Damon Lynch III and Mayor Charlie Luken, were trading insults over a
letter critical of police.
The letter, signed by Rev. Lynch, called for an economic boycott
of Cincinnati because "police are killing, raping, planting false
evidence and ... destroying the general self-respect for black
Suddenly, outraged police officers, public officials and community
activists were talking about pulling out of the mediation talks that
Mr. Rothman had been nurturing since the riots.
"Oh my goodness," Mr. Rothman said to himself. "After all this,
let's not get derailed now."
The dispute between Mr. Luken and Rev. Lynch was a throwback to
the days before the riots, when racial tension was at its highest.
Clearly, the new alliances among black and white leaders were more
fragile than many had thought.
Mr. Luken and Rev. Lynch, a white politician and a black minister,
were supposed to represent the spirit of cooperation that would lead
the city to better race relations.
Instead, they were back to sniping at each other. Despite all the
meetings and special commissions and round-table discussions that had
been organized since the riots, Cincinnati remained a deeply divided
"The depth of mistrust, fear and miscommunication are just
gigantic," Mr. Rothman says now.
Many have pinned their hopes of fixing those problems on Mr.
Rothman, an expert in conflict resolution who was appointed by a
judge to help resolve the racial profiling lawsuit against police.
Since the riots, Mr. Rothman's mediation effort has taken on added
importance. It's seen by some as the city's best chance to make
significant improvements in race relations.
But it is by no means the only effort under way. In the wake of
the riots, special projects and committees formed almost daily.
People from the suburbs met with people from the inner-city.
Teen-agers met with the elderly. Police officers met with ministers.
Blacks met with whites.
"You have to establish a relationship,'' says Cecil Thomas,
director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission. ""You have to
tear down barriers."
That's what Robert Morton hoped to do by taking part in the "Walk
a Mile in My Shoes" program at Withrow High School. The program
paired the 18-year-old African-American with a white student from
They spent a day together in early December, talking about their
plans for the future. Right away, they found they had one thing in
common: "We both want to be lawyers," Robert says.
Later, they found they shared something else: They were each wary
of going to the other's neighborhood. "He thought somebody might do
something, might call him a name if he came here," Robert says. ""I
told him I might be called a name if I went to Anderson."
Before the program ended, they went to those neighborhoods to
visit each others' schools. Except for skin color, Robert recalls,
the students weren't all that different.
"This shows we can work together," he says.
Others remain skeptical. To many African-Americans, meetings and
commissions have been used for years as a diversion from actually
dealing with racism in Cincinnati.
Despite his own skepticism, Rev. Lynch agreed in April to join
Mayor Luken's special commission on race, Cincinnati Community Action
Now. It was a bad fit from the beginning.
Rev. Lynch continued his involvement in protests and boycotts,
while the mayor urged him to work on changing the system from within.
After the boycott letter, the mayor fired Rev. Lynch.
For a few tense days in early December, it seemed the spat might
polarize the city, just as similar disputes had done in the months
leading up to the riots.
Within a few days, though, the crisis passed. Mr. Rothman's
mediation effort resumed and more meetings in the community were
"It was a problem, but we're past it," Mr. Rothman says.
For the moment, he says, the city seems willing to move forward.
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