CINCINNATI – One year after an unarmed black man was shot and killed by a white police officer, hundreds of protesters gathered downtown to mark the anniversary and demand the city do more to hold police accountable for their actions against blacks.
Fountain Square was filled with people listening to speeches by civil rights activists and relatives of Timothy Thomas, whose shooting led to the city's worst rioting since Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968.
The city says much has changed since Thomas was killed, but black activists disagree. They contend the city still has not done enough to help black residents economically and that the rights of blacks continued to be violated.
"Here we are a year later and not much has changed. I guess the city didn't think we were serious. Are we serious?" Victoria Straughn, a member of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice, asked the peaceful protesters, who responded with cheers.
The Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of Cincinnati Black United Front, urged residents to work for reforms to curb what he called excessive use of force by police and to ensure justice for blacks.
"History shows us if there is no pressure, there is no change," he said.
After the rally, several hundred people marched from the square to City Hall where they rang a small bell a dozen times to mark the months that have passed since Thomas, 19, was shot as he fled police on misdemeanor charges.
The officer, Stephen Roach, was acquitted on criminal charges.
Police on horseback escorted the crowd, which continued their march another five blocks to police headquarters. There were no arrests and no violence reported.
City and business leaders say much has been done in the past year to boost education and job opportunities for blacks, including employment training programs, funding to revitalize poor neighborhoods and conversion of an inner-city high school to train youths in computer skills valued by businesses.
Last week, negotiators for black activists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the city and police union reached a tentative settlement of a lawsuit accusing city police of harassing blacks on the basis of their race for 30 years. The city admitted no wrongdoing in reaching that settlement, which awaits final approval by all parties and a federal judge.
The police union is expected to release results of its vote on the settlement Monday.
Dan La Botz, an assistant professor of history at Miami University who helped organize Sunday's protest march, said police still haven't taken responsibility for past infringements on the rights of blacks.
"We think people should understand that they've been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century," La Botz said of city leaders and police. "We want to claim that victory for the people of Cincinnati."
Meanwhile, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Sunday that over the past year, violent crime has increased, while the number of arrests and tickets issued have decreased, according to an analysis of police reports. The newspaper reported that violent crime was up 39 percent in the first two months of 2002 compared with the same period in 2001 and that arrests were down 10 percent in the same period.
Officers are concerned about getting into trouble for doing their jobs, said Roger Webster, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
"It's simple," he said. "I think guys are still afraid."
Others explain the falloff in arrests and tickets by pointing to an increase in other work.
In part because of the riots, many officers are in more specialized assignments, including walking patrols in troubled neighborhoods and a new Downtown Services Unit aimed at promoting a good image of the department and the perception of safety downtown.