CINCINNATI – Dozens of black teen-agers, emboldened by last week's rioting, say the established community leaders don't speak for them and they're tired of being ignored.
"The older generation could have prevented this," said Derrick Blassingame, 14, president of the newly formed Black Youth Coalition Against Civil Injustice. "Our black leaders are not leading us."
Blassingame helped organize a teen forum Monday, which allowed youths to air grievances following the death of Timothy Thomas, 19, who was killed by a white police officer.
The teen-agers, speaking to about 300 people, blamed last week's racial tension on police, the media and the black men considered their spokesmen.
"Some of our black leaders just want their faces on TV. They are in this for four things only: reputation, power, politics and money," Blassingame said.
Three days of arson, looting and attacks on motorists followed the April 7 shooting death of Thomas, who was unarmed and running away from officers trying to arrest him on traffic warrants.
Police arrested more than 800 people during demonstrations and a citywide curfew — lifted Monday — was put in place for the first since the race riots of 1968.
"We fumbled the ball and we need to listen to our young people," said the Rev. H.L. Harvey Jr., pastor at New Friendship Baptist Church where the forum was held.
Some youths urged boycotts of white-owned businesses. Others demanded punishment for Officer Steve Roach, who shot Thomas.
Angela Leisure, Thomas' mother, urged the forum to turn to peaceful protest.
"I don't want to see anybody else hurt," she said. "Let my son be the last one. Don't give them any excuse to justify killing us or beating us down anymore."
Leisure warned there could be more violence if a grand jury does not indict Roach.
"We are all sitting on a powder keg waiting to see what the grand jury decides," she said. "Let's see if that officer is held accountable."
The FBI, police and the county prosecutor are investigating the shooting. Fifteen blacks have died in confrontations with police since 1995, four of them since November.
Cincinnati was sued last month by citizen groups who accused the police department of failing to end 30 years of police harassment of blacks. On Monday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it would join in the lawsuit.
Prior to the meeting, several Cincinnati companies pledged more support for job and loan programs in the city's black community.
"The events of the last week are a tragedy," said Jack Cassidy, president of Cincinnati Bell, who offered to turn a high school in one of the city's low-income neighborhoods into a technology center.