In Cincinnati, Rage Still Simmers

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In Cincinnati, a protest over charges in the police shooting of a black man

Itís been nearly five weeks since a white Cincinnati policeman gunned down Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old, unarmed black man. But instead of easing with time, the racial tensions in this city just keep bubbling to the surface.

After the three days of violent protests and looting that followed Thomasí death, Cincinnati mayor Charles Luken announced the formation of a community relations board — and the U.S. Justice Department sent in review board to examine the cityís police practices.

Monday, the police officer who shot Thomas was indicted by a grand jury on a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide and obstruction of official business, a move which set off further protests.

TIME Midwest bureau chief Marguerite Michaels has been in Cincinnati for a week. She spoke with Wednesday about the cityís wounds — and what it will take to heal them. What was the reaction on the streets when the grand jury verdict was read Monday night?

Marguerite Michaels: The verdict was announced at about 6.30, and the reaction was pretty subdued. There werenít that many people gathered to hear the verdict, maybe 20 or 30. Those that were there kept pretty calm.

There were little pockets of trouble around the city; there were a few broken windows, a couple of overturned trash cans. But generally things were quiet.

The people whoíd gathered to hear the verdict marched over to a church, in the predominantly black Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. They left the press outside, so we donít know what was said. But later everyone marched back out and walked over to the local police headquarters and staged a noisy but non-violent protest. No one stayed very late — I think the rain had something to do with it.

Whatís the mood in Cincinnati today?


The protests and violence in April took everyone by surprise. They shocked everyone here. This is a city that believes it has no institutionalized racism. And now, after the riots and all thatís been exposed, I canít imagine things will never be the same again. And thatís a good thing.

Thereís a lot of denial around here, in the city as well as in the police force. The leadership here, including Mayor Luken, realizes thereís a problem they werenít paying a lot of attention to. I think itís safe to say they wonít make that mistake again.

How is the cityís black community responding to the killing and the grand juryís verdict?

A handful of new and not-so-new leaders have emerged in the community since the riots, including Damon Lynch III, whoís a minister at the New Prospect Baptist Church. He has promised a campaign of civil disobedience, including sit-ins, until changes are made. Another leader is a lawyer named Ken Lawson, who had previously filed a suit against the city in a racial profiling case. Lynch and Lawson make a very effective team, and have had a lot of success galvanizing support.

How is the cityís power structure responding to Thomasí killing?

Oh, theyíve got all sort of things happening now. The police have been on and are staying on 12-12 shifts at least until Thursday morning. And they have the Justice department looking into the cityís police practices. Then of course thereís Mayor Lukenís committee, Cincinnati Community Action Now, or Cincinnati CAN. And they can, of course, but itís going to take them a while.