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Cincinnati: Searching for a Resolution
Six Months After Riots, More Questions Than Answers

listenListen to Part I of Noah Adams' report on Cincinnati's racial divide, focusing on the mayor's race.

listenListen to Part II of Noah Adams' report, focusing on the Over-the-Rhine community.

Kaldis coffee shop in Cincinnati

The Kaldi's coffee shop on Main Street was part of the first wave of gentrification of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati.
Photo: Sara Sarasohn, NPR

Nov. 1, 2001 -- Cincinnati has had a troubled year. On April 7, a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man named Timothy Thomas. Three days of demonstrations and rioting followed.

Tensions heightened by a series of previous shootings by police exploded in three days of demonstrations and rioting. The unrest exposed deep divisions in the Ohio River city -- between the police and the black community, between the city dwellers and suburbanites, and between business owners and neighborhood activists.

Just weeks before the April riots, the ACLU and a black community group filed suit against the city’s police department, accusing the police of racial profiling. The judge told the parties to the suit that they must first go through mediation. That process is being led by the ARIA Group, a conflict resolution firm that works with some of the world’s most bitter foes, including Middle Eastern nations.

Cincinnati's Racial Tensions

• Since 1995, Timothy Thomas is the 15th African-American male to be shot and killed by Cincinnati police.

• 12 of the 14 Cincinnati police officers shot and killed in the line of duty were killed by black men. Of the three Cincinnati officers killed in the line of duty in the past four years, two were black.

• At least four investigations since 1968 have called for extensive reform of the Cincinnati police department.

• Cincinnati is 43 percent black. The police department is 28 percent black. The number of black officers has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 115 in 1986 to 290 in April 2001.

In many Cincinnati communities, the firm’s counselors are guiding citizens through a process of talking about the complex issues of race and the role of law enforcement. From these discussions, they will draft a set of recommendations to improve police/community relations.

All Things Considered co-host Noah Adams recently visited Cincinnati, and discovered that despite the meetings and conversations and negotiations, city officials and citizens seem far from closing the racial divide.

The neighborhood where the shooting took place is called Over-the-Rhine. For many years, it’s been a port of entry to the city for ethnic groups, including Germans, Irish and Italians. Now the neighborhood is predominantly African American.

To the police, Over-the-Rhine is known as a hotspot for drug activity. It’s dominated by low-income housing and empty buildings, but business interest in the neighborhood is growing. Over the past few years, bars, restaurants and clubs have opened on Main Street, attracting mostly white visitors from outlying areas.

Cincinnati building being renovated

Another sign of the times: a once-abandoned building in Over-the-Rhine being renovated.
Photo: Sara Sarasohn, NPR

Some Over-the-Rhine neighborhood activists are worried that the new development could force out longtime residents, if gentrification pushes up rents. Others are happy to see the new investment.

The question of race and the effect of the April unrest likely will play a big part in next week’s election. Cincinnati goes to the polls Nov. 6 to decide on a mayor. Current mayor Charlie Luken, who is white, has been heavily criticized from all sides for his inability to handle the riot or heal the city in its aftermath. The challenger, Courtis Fuller, is black.

Some thought the mayor’s race would be a kind of referendum on race relations in the city. But the campaign has been quiet -- there are few lawn signs for either candidate, a traditional measure of political participation, and the candidates have had only two scheduled debates.

As in most other cities, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have diverted attention away from local problems. But there is a feeling within the black community that these issues will not go away -- and have not been overshadowed.

In Depth
NPR's past coverage of the Cincinnati riots and its aftermath:

April 11, 2001: A second day of rioting, with clashes between protesters and police wearing riot gear.

June 25, 2001: Mediation begins in settlement of a racial profiling lawsuit against Cincinnati.

Sept. 26, 2001: Officer Stephen Roach is acquitted of misdemeanor charges related to Timothy Thomas' death.

Other Resources

• Read the online questionaire about race relations in Cincinnati, provided by the ARIA Group.

Cincinnati City Beat, one of the city's largest alternative weeklies, has a comprehensive online archive of its coverage of the riot and its aftermath.

Cincinnati.com, operated jointly by the Enquirer and Post newspapers, has a special section on race relations.

• Official Web site for the City of Cincinnati.

• Official Web site of the American Civil Liberties Union.

• Official Web site for the Cincinnati Police Division.