A Town Hall Meeting:Cincinnati Riots 15 years Later


We must change their hearts.” – 77 year old African American attendee

On February 2, Xavier University hosted a town Hall event reflecting on the 15th Anniversary of the riots in Cincinnati.  The sad story of human events in our city is a common and related story found in other cities across our country.  The true story is not just about the police shootings of Roger Owensby and Timothy Thomas, or of protests or of riots, but of something else that has been a part of our culture since slavery.  This is a story of racism and indifference.   Donna Jones Baker moderated a panel of guest speakers including Brian Taylor, Iris Roley, Rev Damon Lynch III, Capt Maris Harold, Al Gerhardstein who spoke of the changes that the city has taken to change how policing is done in the city and the impact of the Collaborative Agreement.  There have been tremendous efforts to make the changes systematically, but have our hearts really changed?

Charlie Luken sited Fredrick Douglas speech “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” Nothing changes without demand.  He stressed the importance of the dramatic events that were necessary to bring about change.  Reverend Damon Lynch III explained the reasons for the riots using a quote from the movie Suffragette, “We break windows.  We burn things.   Because war is the only language men listen to.”  This is what happened in Cincinnati.  From the events, there were changes in using law suites, The Collaborative Agreement, integrative police modeling and problem solving instead of mass sweeps and profiling.  Yet, Donna Jones Baker, president of the Urban League, stated “we still don’t have it right.”   How is it that African Americans still make up 70% of arrests?  Have we changed our hearts?  Did we push all of the work onto the police department to solve society’s problems?  Rev. Lynch says race is still an issue.  We need to move the conversation to look at not just policing, but the racial issues as well.

Going forward, Rev. Lynch he said that we need leaders who are “willing to climb the flag pole and are willing to take on the struggle."  The biggest areas of frustration and struggle are the lack of economic opportunities for African Americans.  Due to the past methods of arrests, so many African American men have some sort of record, which then keeps them in a cycle of poverty due to the inability to obtain a job.    A few stories from the crowd were told that demonstrated the true suffering of living without opportunity despite having the skills like a college education.  The stories were upsetting but are necessary and needed to be voiced.  Iris Roley said “there is a need to tell the story right or we take the away the power from the people.”  What can we do? Listen to their stories of suffering and injustice.  Learn from these stories.  Change our hearts.   We each need to hold ourselves accountable for our thoughts and actions.  We need to look at how we hire people and how we promote in the work place.  We need to look at the other person without stereotyping.  We need to treat each other with love and remove our indifference.  I recall a story when I was a young engineer in a manufacturing plant.  I had very little concern for others and just wanted to get the job done.  One of my employees was an elderly African American lady. I was told that we had to replace the piece of equipment she worked on for a new one.   She had been working on that same piece of equipment for many years.   I did not do much to prepare her for the new equipment and did not do much to even speak to her.   Then one day, the union steward, an ex-marine with giant muscles, drove up to me in his fork truck, looking very upset with me, pointing his finger at me, and said in a very strong voice, “Hey, you need to treat her like your very own Mother!”  I was in shock.  I had no idea how I was treating this employee.  I was very indifferent to her.  I never gave her much time nor considered her feelings.  I never even thought to give her a job that was less stressful or even a chair so that she did not have to be on her feet the entire day.   As a daughter who really loves her mother, I do not demand of my mother but I love and serve her.  From then on, his words resonated within me.  I try to work very hard to be in the presence of others by listening and learning from them so that I may serve them better.  This ex-marine did more than defend this woman, he changed my “heart of stone and gave me a new one of flesh” (Ezk 11:19).  

“We must change their hearts." - 77 year old African American attendee