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Protests Mark Cincinnati Anniversary

Demonstrators participate in the March for Justice rally Sunday April 7, 2001, on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. The rally was held to mark the one-year anniversary of the police shooting of unarmed suspect Timonthy Thomas, which sparked several days of riots in the downtown area.
Chanting "No justice, no peace," hundreds of marchers denounced what they called an enduring racial divide in the year since the police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Police gave protesters a wide berth Sunday at gatherings at City Hall, downtown, police headquarters and in the alley where Timothy Thomas, 19, was shot after he fled from officers who tried to arrest him last April 7.

"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 of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice asked the crowd, which responded with cheers.

Although the protesters only had a permit to march to City Hall, several hundred marched another five blocks to police headquarters. There were no arrests.

The city says much has changed since Thomas was killed, but activists disagree. They contend the city has not done enough to help black residents economically and that the rights of blacks continue to be violated.

The rally came a day before the Fraternal Order of Police and the American Civil Liberties Union were to announce their votes on acceptance of a tentative settlement to a lawsuit alleging systemic harassment of blacks.

The City Council and the Black United Front already have approved the settlement, which would create an independent agency to investigate complaints against the police and institute numerous reforms in police procedures.

The city admitted no wrongdoing in reaching the tentative settlement. U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott had said that all parties must approve it by Tuesday to avoid a trial.

At City Hall, protesters rang a small bell a dozen times to mark the months that have passed since Thomas' shooting, which led to the city's worst rioting since Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968.

Dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested in the three days of violence last year. Officer Stephen Roach was acquitted on criminal charges in connection with the shooting.

Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure, attended church services in suburban Springdale, spent time with family members, then went downtown to speak at the rally.

"Today, I stand here with mixed emotions that range from anger to zeal," she told a crowd of several hundred. "I am angry that I must relive the greatest day of pain a mother could experience, the death of her child."

She was one of the most conciliatory among more than a dozen speakers.

"I do not advocate violence of any kind. Nor do I have malice, hate or vengeance in my heart," she said. "I implore everyone - community members, leaders and the police - to work together to foster a sense of unity and peace, for it is under these conditions that we will see justice."

The Rev. Damon Lynch III, who heads the Cincinnati Black United Front, urged residents to work for reforms to curb what he called excessive use of force by police.

"History shows us if there is no pressure, there is no change," he said. His group advocates amnesty for those arrested during rioting.

City and business leaders said they have spent the past year trying to boost education and job opportunities for blacks, including employment training programs and funding to revitalize poor neighborhoods.

Dan La Botz, an assistant professor of history at Ohio's Miami University and who helped organize Sunday's march, said police still haven't taken responsibility for 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."

By Terry Kinney