By: James Neyer ~Staff Writer~
The banquet room of Cintas Center was filled to capacity for the ERS Lecture titled “Fifteen Years Later: The Cincinnati Riots and the Future of the City.” This event started off with former mayor of Cincinnati Charlie Lucan sharing his thoughts on the issue.
“It’s good to pause and remember and look forward,” Lucan said. “Our community, including me, was slow to grasp the depths of legitimate complaints. When citizens demand change, when they deserve change, when they petition for change, and people in power do not respond or do not listen, then it is the history of America, the history of democracy, that people will protest and engage sometimes in civil unrest.”
Lucan emphasized the importance of these protests, which he described as “a healthy part of American tradition,” in the growth of Cincinnati. He described it as a “jolting awakening” that brought forward some of the underlying conditions that are still here today.
After, Donna Jones Baker, CEO of the Cincinnati Urban League, was introduced as the moderator of the discussion. Baker discussed the deaths that led up to the riots, the primary goals of the Collaborative Agreement which was a multi-faceted agreement between community groups, Cincinnati police and the police union after the 2001 riots, and thanked Xavier for hosting the event during a time when it would be easier to ignore the topic.
Baker invited panelists up to give differing perspectives. These included Rev. Damon Lynch III, who led a class action lawsuit concerning racial profiling against Cincinnati; Iris Roley, a leader of the Cincinnati Black United Front (CBUF) who collected numerous accounts of police misconduct from the community; Al Gerhardstein, who acted as legal council for Sam DuBose and the class action lawsuit against Cincinnati, and Cpt. Maris Herold, an officer who is helping to create a more integrated and diverse police force.
Each panelist gave a brief view of his or her perspective regarding the issues.
Rev. Lynch discussed the reason for the riots, which he said was the only way for these issues to be brought to life. Roley focused on how the Agreement was made by the people, and this change was made for the community, by the community. Gerhardstein described how the strategy of the police had changed, while Herold described how policing, which she described as a “paramilitary organization,” started focusing more on utilizing data.
The consensus among the panelists was that while much has changed, the main crux of economic disparity has not been fully eradicated. In addition, Rev. Lynch focused on the issue of child poverty in Cincinnati, which he said is a major issue.
“Calling it childhood poverty will make people more likely to do something about it,” Rev. Lynch said. “Childhood poverty will not cause the next major civil unrest. It’s not going to motivate people to move to the streets, but a police shooting will. It is not because the police force is just that bad but because these issues have festered.”
Brian Taylor, leader of the Cincinnati chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, was later invited up to the table to discuss some of the issues surrounding police relations today. His focus was not on the racism of individual police officers but on a system that perpetuates racism.
The mics were then opened up to the citizens, who discussed their frustration and hopes for change. Issues brought up were the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine, problems teachers face and the ongoing fight for equality.