Cincinnati race riots 10 years later

I was 15 when the riots started. My mother was glued to the television — local coverage was nearly round the clock. Images of uniforms beating back black people while buildings blazed and sirens screeched were all we saw for days.

Police try to subdue rioters during the first night. | Enquirer

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Timothy Thomas was gunned down by Cincinnati police officer Steven Roach. Thomas was recognized by police as a wanted man — he had a slew of misdemeanor warrants for offenses like loitering and not wearing a seat belt — and when they approached Thomas, he took off running. Eventually, he turned down a dark alley and Roach shot and killed Thomas, claiming Thomas appeared to be reaching for a weapon. Internal investigations would later find Roach did not follow proper procedure for handling a firearm in pursuit of a suspect and that he was intentionally dishonest about this in reports.

Cincinnati riots | Enquirer

When I heard the Thomas story, I wondered why anyone would run from a police officer. I lived in a mixed suburban and rural area, nearly all white neighborhood about a half hour outside Cincinnati, where children are raised not fear the police. Police officers were our friend. As children, we were told to find a police officer if we were ever lost or ever felt unsafe. And our police force mostly busied itself by leading safety programs, busting kids for underage drinking and pulling people over for failure to signal.

But this is not most people’s experience with the police, especially not African-American people in the urban areas of Cincinnati, not then anyway. The Thomas shooting was just the last straw in a long history of questionable use of deadly force and police brutality — in the six years before the riots, 15 African-American men died in confrontations with police. Not to mention an undercurrent of neglect and disrespect toward the African-American community: extremely high urban African-American poverty rates and the mindset that poor people — not poverty — are the problem; harsh sentences for minor crimes; and uprooting low-income African-American families to make way for “revitalization projects” in Over-the-Rhine or to build I-75 through the Westend.

People rioted for four days, mostly in Over-the-Rhine, after Thomas’ death. It was the largest urban uprising since the 1992 L.A. riots. Mayor Charlie Luken enacted a curfew, arresting any and everyone on the Cincinnati streets. The curfew coupled with a heavy downpour quelled the violence.

Protests at Cincinnati police headquarters blossomed into the riots. | Flickr

Protests at Cincinnati police headquarters blossomed into the riots. | Flickr

Rev. Damon Lynch, president of the Black United Front, called for a boycott of the city. Conventions and celebrities — including Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Wynton Marsalis, Smokey Robinson, Al Roker and Barbara Ehrenreich — refused to schedule events and appearances in the city. It is estimated the city lost $10 million during the year-long boycott.

Class action and wrongful death lawsuits were filed. Investigations were launched. A collaborative agreement was started. Reforms were made.

And while I can now turn on the TV without seeing a story of police brutality, Cincinnati is not healed. Cincinnati is not different. We’re still dealing with the same issues (gentrification, anyone?), but most people have just forgotten what the riots were supposed to teach us.

Many local news outlets are marking the 10th anniversary of the Cincinnati riots with special coverage:

3 thoughts on “Cincinnati race riots 10 years later

  1. Pingback: Filmmakers release Cincinnati race riots documentary trailer | Stuff Queer People Need To Know

  2. Pingback: Filmmakers Release Documentary on Cincinnati Race Riots « In Our Words

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s