Continuous Improvement in Policing

cmo_community-forum3_1217.jpg

In society, nothing remains stagnant: either you work to get better or things deteriorate.  And so it is with the Collaborative Agreement among the police and various civic organizations in Cincinnati that emerged in response to the riots in 2001.  It had been voluntarily extended for over a decade, and people were beginning to suspect decay.  Consequently, the city has embarked on a refresh.  As a part of this effort, they held three Community Forums, “designed to solicit invaluable feedback from Cincinnati residents, Cincinnati police officers, and various community stakeholders on the state of local community-police relations.”  The last of these forums took place on Thursday, 1/11.

3rd Forum CrowdUnlike the first such forum last September, this one was lightly attended: I think police and other officials attending outnumbered the civilians, and there were many empty tables.

3rd Forum QuestionerDuring the question period, one person attacked the panel for not getting the word out, in essence blaming the organizers for the poor attendance, especially from the population that is most impacted by the consequences of biased policing.  City Manager Black defended the organizers, citing a number of steps that they had taken, ending with “We can’t make them come.”

Though I had noticed the size of the crowd as soon as I entered the room, after a moment’s reflection, I was not surprised. It is much more exciting to rise up in anger over the shooting of Sam Debose than to sit and talk about procedures, accountability, data, problem solving, and recommendations to “develop metrics to evaluate mutual accountability…”.  It is all too abstract. Kim Neal, director of the Citizen Complaint Authority, told me that they even have trouble getting people who have registered complaints to return their calls.  If people are reluctant to engage in issues where their stake is personal, it is not surprising that they won’t bother with some city wide forum like this.

1st forum crowd 2To me, the first forum seemed to feature lots of like-minded people of various backgrounds getting together for Kumbaya, but there was no grit.  I had trouble imagining this forum having significant impact, no matter how “invaluable” they called the feedback they received.  Regardless, it is important to give ordinary citizens the opportunity to participate.

Saul Green

Saul Green

Saul Green, who was appointed by the court to monitor the collaborative agreement when it was put in place back in 2002, is overseeing the refresh.  He is critically examining current procedures, and my impression is that he is not going to put up with pointless activities that have no real impact.  The team is making recommendations for change. City Manager Black is accepting them all, and forming concrete plans to implement them.

The specifics of these recommendations and the implementation plans would have been too numerous for presentation in this meeting, and are in any case not finalized.  Some in attendance were clearly dissatisfied, but what they were asking for was a level of detail that I, for one, had neither the time nor the expertise to evaluate.   I left this part of the presentation with confidence in the qualifications and engagement of the leadership, and I am willing to trust them to bring about constructive changes.

Dan Hils

Dan Hils, FOP President

In my opinion, there is one major obstacle to a successful refresh: the reluctance of a certain segment of the police community to participate.  Initially, there were reports that the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) voted “to stop taking part in the process of reviewing and renewing the Collaborative Agreement”.   Apparently, the FOP later backed off of this stance, but Hils, the FOP president, still points out “a big difference between looking at things and signing off on things.”  The rank and file police officers can undermine the agreement, no matter how carefully crafted the procedures are.   Perhaps a citizen forum is not the place for these police to air their point of view, and, to be honest, I might not be very receptive to what they have to say.  However, somewhere in this process, their concerns need to be heard and acknowledged.

At the end of the forum, they talked about PIVOT, “Place based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories”.  This is an awful acronym, but an effective program.  It won the 2017 Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing.  For me, this presentation had the kind of detail that meant something.  Instead of just talking about problem solving in the abstract, they presented the actual data, described the problems that it identified, and articulated specific steps taken to address the problems.  PIVOT E WestwoodThe highlight of the evening was the video documenting the problem and the community response in East Westwood and Westwood. These adjoining neighborhoods had narrowly defined locations where many crimes were being committed.  The response to the problem involved not only significant policing, but also collaboration, though the Neighborhood Enhancement Program, with other city departments and various community groups.  Unlike in some “broken windows policing” scenarios where citizens feel harassed and disrespected, here then citizens felt involved and empowered.  The result was that crime in the area was significantly reduced and life in the community improved.

In many parts of our country, policing mixes comfortably with the legacy of racial discrimination, harking back to a time keeping order meant, in part, keeping the coloreds in their place.  Far too often, the police will deny that racial bias is a problem in their department.  In the aftermath of the riots in 2001, Cincinnati confronted reality head on and found a constructive path forward, embodied in  the Collaborative Agreement. At the forum, I talked with a lieutenant with 25 years of experience who spoke with pride in the transformation that had occurred in the department since she first joined it.  However, pride in past accomplishments is never sufficient.  In Cincinnati, civic and religious organizations are working together with the police department and the city government to continue to improve.  The refresh of the Collaborative Agreement, with its focus on metrics and procedures, is only part of what is going on.  People are also developing innovative strategies like PIVOT and the Neighborhood Enhancement Program to confront the problems of a city in the 21st Century.  These strategies recognize that policing, no matter how innovative and well meaning, cannot provide the whole solution.  It is the whole community, working together, that can solve the problems we face.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell is Fired

Blackwell facebook

Jeffrey Blackwell

I first heard about the firing of Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell at the delegates meeting of MARCC (Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati).  Among this group of faith based community activists, this news was greeted with cry of dismay.

Over the past year, I have posted several times about Chief Blackwell and the department: Constitutional PolicingCincinnati’s Ferguson Protest: a Personal View, and Cincinnati Deals with a Police Shooting.  I have the greatest respect for Blackwell’s vision for how policing should be done in this country. I had heard some grumblings about his self-promotion, but I was pleased that his ideas were getting more attention. He was often away, but I had assumed that a well run organization like the Cincinnati Police Department did not need baby sitting by its chief.

At a MARCC meeting (12/10/2015), Blackwell spoke of the need to replace that old policing model, “Big Me, Little You”, with one that valued and respected the rights of the citizens, and built up the relationship between the police and the community. What I did not know, could not know from my position on the distant outside, was that Blackwell did not apply these principles to his own behavior within the department.

PoliceSurvey

I have read over the Cincinnati Police Department Climate Assessment.  I always view such reports with a grain of salt, especially when the outside organization confirms the point of view of the person that hired them. The organization, Make It Plain Consulting, has a good reputation, having been awarded “Emerging Business of the Year” by The South Central Ohio Minority Supplier Development Council. I find no evidence of bias in the report. It states that morale is low. It sites three areas of concern:

  • Communications. ““the department lacks effective communications up and down the chain of command”
  • LEADERSHIP: “the dissention and mistrust among the Police Chief and Assistant Chiefs (Patrol Bureau and Investigations Bureau) is the primary reason for the breakdown of flow of information and the perception of lack of leadership.
  • TECHNOLOGY: “Technology and equipment is outdated and/or redundant.”

Though this last point cannot be addressed without appropriate budgetary support, the other two clearly belong on Chief Blackwell’s plate.

The memo from Harry Black, City Manager, where he announced to city council that he fired Jefffrey Blackwell “for cause”, paints an even darker picture:

Blackwell uses verbal abuse and insult to convey authority. Individuals have been threatened and berated, in the presence of subordinate officers, superior officers, and members of the public.

….

Equally disturbing, a culture of hostility and retaliation instituted by Mr. Blackwell has put the integrity of the police department at risk.

Black provides supporting documents written by current Assistant Police Chiefs and others.  Here is a sample:

From Captain Paul Broxterman:

Unfortunately, I believe the chief has little regard for the opinions and suggestions of his commanders. Instead, he relies on the counsel of his inner circle. The chief’s inner circle, which includes non-supervisors and civilians, is often allowed to circumvent the chain of command, leaving middle managers and command officers powerless. I believe morale among command officers is the lowest I have seen in my 27 years with the Department.

There is no doubt Chief Blackwell has excelled in community outreach. He is passionate in reaching out to the youth in our city and he strives to provide them with guidance and hope. Sadly, he has failed to do the same within our Department.

From Assistant Chief  David Bailey:

From the onset, Chief Blackwell essentially ignored recommendations from his command staff and instead set up an alternative advisory team who he considered as “loyal”.… The reward for the Lieutenants’ loyalty was unsupervised overtime and on call status city owned cars, which was the subject of recent investigative media reports.

When the Inspection Section attempted to conduct an overtime audit of the Quality of Life Team, Lt. Barb Young was told by the Police Chief they did not have his authority to conduct the audit and were told to cease auditing functions until told otherwise. Their Inspections Section office was immediately moved from the Spinney Field complex to the second floor of 310 Ezzard Charles Drive presumably for control or humiliation purposes. The unit was then later reassigned to report directly to Chief Blackwell.

Ironically, Chief Blackwell was able to opine on a national platform on how other cities should be conducting their affairs, when he was unable to communicate even a most basic operational plan or strategy to his own department.

Eliot Isaac and Harry Black

Eliot Isaac and Harry Black

from Eliot K. Isaac, now acting Police Chief

I have attempted to mediate the relationship between the Chief and Assistant Chief Bailey with little success. It has clearly deteriorated over the past two years and is sadly beyond repair.

There is plenty more, from Blackwell’s constant self promotion to his search for free tickets to sporting events.   He comes off as an arrogant ass.

Even Blackwell’s former supporters have turned. Scotty Johnson, past president of the Sentinels, an organization for black police officers, said in an email, “I have never witnessed such hostility and lack of respect for employees.”

In response to all of this, Blackwell has claimed “I’ve had the support of the White House, the attorney general, the national media…all of the national think tanks of policing, but I could never get the support of John Cranley or Harry Black, and because I’ve never had their support — ever — I was never able to command the department the way it should have been led.”

All this might be true, but the problems described in the report had nothing to do with his relationship with Mayor Cranley and City Manager Black.  The toxic work environment was his own creation.

I have concluded that the firing was indeed justified. I find myself in agreement with City Councilman Chris Seelbach:

I have supported Chief Blackwell and his approach to community policing from day one.

That being said, the statements outlined in the City Manager’s memo by respected members of our police department are concerning and not reflective of the many positive stories from officers and community members I have heard from.

What is most clear is that this is a sad day for the City of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Deals with a Police Shooting

Samuel DuBose

Let me begin with a personal note.  My wife and I drive a car with no front license plate holder.  Over the past five years, we have frequently driven this car in or around the University of Cincinnati campus.  We have never been stopped or ticketed.  However, the missing front license plate became the pretext for pulling over Samuel DuBose.  It was yet another case of “driving while black”. Tragically, this one turned fatal.

On news of another death at the hands of police, commentators unfamiliar with Cincinnati assumed that the same thing would happen here as had happened in Cleveland and elsewhere in the nation.  They were a little surprised at what “even the police chief” thought of the video of the shooting, but they still expected the worst. [from alternet.org:]

“The video is not good,” [Cincinnati Chief of Police] Blackwell said. “I think the city manager has said that also publicly. I’ll leave it there.”

But here’s the thing.

All studies indicate that in nearly 99% of instances of police killing someone, even in the most egregious circumstances, “something appropriate” doesn’t actually happen and officers are let off.

police-killing-sam-dubose

When I read this, I expected Cincinnati to fall in the 1%.  Since the collaborative agreement that emerged after the killing of Timothy Thomas in 2001, the Cincinnati Police have worked hard to establish a culture of Constitutional Policing that has credibility with the black community.  This shooting was committed by a member of the university police, which apparently does not share this culture.  Normally, in the case of a shooting like this, the Cincinnati Police release the raw video right away. Given their delay this time and their public comments, I expected some unusual action.

The university, knowing the video would be released to the public Wednesday,expected trouble.  It shut itself down, canceling classes and evacuating students.  State police were brought to the scene.

Joe Deters
The video was released.  “Not good” turned out to be an understatement.  Ray Tensing was charged with murder.  In the press conference, the Hamilton County prosecutor, Jet Deters, made his position clear

:

It’s an absolute tragedy that anyone would behave in this manner …It was senseless. It’s just horrible. …

He purposefully killed him…

Some people want to believe Mr. DuBose did something violent toward the officer. He did not. He did not at all. …

[UC Policemen Ray Tensing] never should have been a police officer. …

He was dealing with someone without a front license plate, …chicken crap stuff.

I feel sorry for [DuBose’s] family. I feel sorry for the community, too. This should not happen. Ever.

<Cincinnati Enquirer>

Talk like this defuses the powder keg.

Bishop Bobby Hilton, a leader of the black community in Cincinnati,  “What more can you ask for? As terrible as it is, it should be a proud moment for our community. We can prove that we can take the most horrible incident and show the world how our community reacts and becomes better.”

It remains to be seen what is to be done with some other officers who arrived on the scene later and offered testimony corroborating Tensing’s original account, which is inconsistent with the video.  This issue has been raised by some of the protesters.

The protest itself, perhaps somewhat subdued by the heat and thunder showers, was peaceful.

The American system of justice does not work automatically.  Ferguson has shown us how it can fail.  The foundation of the failure is laid by a public largely uninvolved with the civic sphere.  It culminates with public officials who are callously unaware of the problems faced by the people they supposedly serve,  who use discriminatory policing as a way to extract revenue from its poorest citizens, who instinctively give the police the benefit of the doubt despite evidence to the contrary, and who think that deaths at the hands of police, tragic as they may be, are a normal part of keeping the peace when dealing with “those people”.  “Those people” are us, all of us.  Our system requires both a vigilant public and officials who are committed to providing security and justice for all.

There is plenty still to do, but our city can pause for a moment and take pride in how far we have come in this new century.  The lawyer for the DuBose family, Mark O’Mara, summed it up this way:   “Cincinnati is showing us how to do this right.”

Constitutional Policing

blackwell2   Policing in a democracy is difficult.

It is easier in a society where people share a common religion, a common culture, and a respect for those in authority.  There are places in rural and small town America where people think that their community is like that.  Here, the police are respected, admired and welcome.  However, even in these places, there is usually a neighborhood, perhaps on the other side of the tracks, where the police are viewed with suspicion, more feared than welcome.  In this neighborhood,  people realize that they are a part of a multi-cultural society, and they are fully aware of which group is in power.

In America, the problem often comes down to race.  Despite the real progress in civil rights over the last century, despite the prominence of African Americans in government, sports, and the media, most black people still feel the legacy, the stigma, of slavery, particularly in their interactions with the police.  Take, for example, the war on drugs.  Although the plague of drugs is a national problem affecting all areas of the society, the war falls most heavily on blacks.  So many young black men are being incarcerated that it is bound to have an impact on the community. Meanwhile, the popular culture lionizes gangsters, the only ones with money who continue to live in the poor communities.  Young, rebellious adolescent boys adopt the dress, the swagger, and sometimes the criminal behavior of the alluring, powerful men around them.  This leads to a vicious cycle, in which police, and indeed the general public, see blacks as likely perpetrators of crime, and blacks see police as a source of harassment, intimidation and repression.

Eric Garner  Recently, several deaths of black men at the hand of white police have become the focus of controversy.  Looking at the same facts, different groups of Americans come to starkly different conclusions.  One group, mostly white and “conservative”,  sees these as isolated incidents where good, brave policemen faced difficult situations.  Though these people usually acknowledge the tragedy of the unnecessary death, they emphasize that things could have been much worse, with policemen killed.  These people are satisfied with the investigations that followed and trust the ultimate conclusions that the police’s actions were justifiable in each case.  Others, particularly blacks, see these incidents as the tip of an iceberg of police harassment and intimidation.  These deaths are cases where the police bullying got out of control.  They want the perpetrators to be punished and the bullying to stop.

Today, things are escalating.  People are protesting, and the protests occasionally descend into riots.  Each time another young black man dies at the hands of police somewhere in America, the information gets splashed across the internet, providing fresh fuel for both the protest and the police reaction.

How can we break this cycle?  Can we maintain oder and enforce the law in a way that is fair to black Americans?

I have good news: the answer is embedded what that radical, Jesus, preached so long ago: “love thy neighbor as thyself”.  For those of us who are more moderate, for whom this seems an impossibly high ideal, simply start from the premise that we are in this together and that we should treat each other with respect.  Rather than intimidating people, partner with them.  Involve the community in providing order, and more order will follow.  Enable the community to hold the police accountable for their actions, just as the police require the community members to live within the law.  Police in a way that honors our democratic ideals.

Blackwell facebook  This might sound like impractical religious idealism from a peacenik with no experience in policing, but it comes from Jeffrey Blackwell, the Chief of Police in Cincinnati, in a talk given to MARCC (Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati) on December 10. What he sometimes refers to as “Constitutional Policing” comes out of the collaborative agreement that Cincinnati Police, the ACLU and the Cincinnati Black United Front reached after the protests that followed the police killing of an unarmed teenager in 2001.  At first, the police did not like the change in their procedures, the additional paper work, or the intrusion of outsiders looking over their shoulder.  However, with time, they adapted to the changes.  As this new approach proved successful, the police embraced these changes.  Now, even after the agreement is no longer binding, they are continuing most of the practices.  They use evidence, including input from the community, to determine how to deploy their resources.  Under the leadership of Blackwell, they are expanding their involvement in the community, with tutoring programs, summer basketball programs, and other activities to embed the police into the community.  Thus, there has been a major cultural shift in the police department since 2001.  And it is working.

Cincinnati Polie in action  Of course, there are still tragic incidents.  This August, white cops killed a black man in an incident that began with something petty.  The victim’s name was Donyale Rowe; he was a passenger in a car pulled over for a minor traffic violation.  Although this is superficially similar to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, in fact, it wasn’t.  To begin with, the Cincinnati Police Department hid nothing.  They quickly named the officers involved.  They released the video from the squad car to the public.  Because of the history with the collaborative agreement, the police department had a working relationship with independent people who were trusted by the black community; these people reviewed the evidence and concluded that the police had acted appropriately.  Donyale Rowe had a gun and intended to use it.  Although this death is tragic and Donyale Rowe’s life mattered, nobody protested. There was nothing to protest.

Thus, in almost every detail, this incident was entirely different from the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.  Rather than list all of the things that ham-handed Ferguson police did wrong, which was pretty much everything, I want to point to the larger picture.  There was no possibility that the Ferguson police could have handled the Michael Brown killing as smoothly as the Cincinnati police could handle a similar incident, because the Ferguson police have done nothing to establish trust with the community.  The difference is not just in how the one incident was handled, but in the entire approach that the police take toward their job.  In Ferguson, they adopt the antiquated approach that Blackwell calls “Big Me, Little You”, where the police intimidate people rather than listen to them.  In Cincinnati, the police engage with the community to solve their problems together.

In his talk to MARCC, Blackwell described the problem faced by towns like Ferguson.  Poor people live where the rent is low.  As the inner city gets revitalized and gentrified, the poor move out to suburban towns where they can afford to live.  In Ferguson, the once dominant group is being displaced.   Soon, the police force finds itself in charge of a different community, one it has neither the training or cultural background to serve.  Disasters like the Michael Brown shooting naturally result.

Ferguson-protest  Unfortunately, things in Ferguson are going to remain bad for a while.  Even now, the government is planning to make up for a budget shortfall by increased police ticketing.  In other words, rather than focusing on maintaining order, the police are raising money.  When combined with their archaic policing practices, this is a prescription for more resentment and conflict between the police and the black community.  Worse, Ferguson officials are ignoring the sometimes devastating effect these petty fines have on the lives of people struggling to get by.  Evidently, these officials have learned nothing from the protests.  Though they may give lip service to government for all, their actions show little concern for the lives of people outside their power base.

Because the new residents have not been showing up at the polls, the old group is still in power in Ferguson.  However, it’s very hard to suppress the majority for long in a democracy.  Soon, the majority black population will start to vote, and Ferguson will have a new government.  Let us hope they do not simply express their resentment by saying “Now it is our turn,”  providing government that is no better, just with a different group in charge.

Rather, let us hope that they implement the successful model of policing that we have in Cincinnati, “Constitutional Policing”, that can make things better for all.  Damon Lynch III, former president of the Cincinnati Black United Front, has visited Ferguson “to share Cincinnati’s story of struggle and success.”   In addition, similar approaches to policing have been put in place in Los Angeles and other major cities, and the president has appointed a new task force to promote community oriented policing.  Thus, there is reason to hope that in the long run, Cincinnati’s success will be replicated in Ferguson, and across the nation.

Cincinnati’s Ferguson Protest: a Personal View

protest8   The morning after the Ferguson grand jury decision was announced, I heard about the demonstration planned for that evening in downtown Cincinnati.  Though I don’t like these events, I thought I should add my support to the people trying to effect positive change.  I took the bus, which encountered, besides the usual rush hour traffic, a long truck full of groceries, perpendicular to street, blocking traffic while it maneuvered back and forth, trying to back into a tiny inner city parking lot.  By the time I arrived at the Federal Building, the proceedings had already begun.  I crossed the street and joined the hundred or so people standing around and listening to someone speaking into the microphone.

I was soon reminded why I don’t like these events.  A few yards away from the main speaker was another man with a bull horn, saying that the people in charge weren’t interested in hearing what he had to say, but he was going to make himself heard anyway.  To tell the truth, I couldn’t really understand much of what he said.   He seemed angry, and he succeeded in making enough noise that I really couldn’t understand the main speaker either.

Just behind my left me ear was a man who was even angrier, with an impressive set of lungs.  In the beginning, he would yell “All you’re doin’ is jus’ talkin’ ”, or later, when someone lead the us in the Lord’s prayer, “This is jus’ brainwashin’ ”.  I had the feeling that he wasn’t going to be happy unless he could inflict some pain.  Soon he was joined by a young man with a scull on his shirt and a bull horn, adding to the “Listen to me” cacophony.

At one point, I thought a fight was going to break out.  There was some shoving, but the two young men who were not really interested in fighting.  I didn’t hear the full exchange of words, but one said, “But not when your bull horn is pointed directly at my ear.”  Earlier, my ear had gotten a piece of that bull horn in my ear, and I could imagine that anyone who received the full blast suffered real pain.

A few people wore Guy Fawkes masks, which I think were recently popularized by Anonymous, the hacktivist group.  I have some sympathies with some of what Anonymous does, but I was at the demonstration to be seen, to be recognized, to take personal responsibility for my role in the community.  These masks, which obscure personal identity, seem more appropriate for someone engaged in criminal activity, someone who wants to escape personal accountability.   These masks run counter to the spirit of a peaceful demonstration.

Eventually, the rabble calmed down enough that I could hear a little of the substance of what was being said. The best speaker, in my opinion, was Alecia Reece, my state representative.  There have been two police killings in Ohio recently where the victims (black of course) were handling toy guns.  Reece has responded with a bill, named for one of the victims, requiring toys sold in Ohio to be easily distinguished from deadly firearms.  She spoke briefly, in a clear voice tinged with fire.  (The heckler with the loud voice yelled, “We don’t need no laws!”).

damon  Damon Lynch III gave the most substantive speech.  He said that he was not surprised by the grand jury decision or the violence that followed, just disappointed.  He also spoke  about the collaborative agreement that emerged in response to the Cincinnati riots in 2001.  He said “Cincinnati is far from perfect, but it is a lot better than many other cities in this country.”   In my opinion, this agreement should serve as a model for what to do in Ferguson, and Lynch is doing quite a bit to help make that happen.

Our master of ceremonies, Bishop Bobby Hilton with the Cincinnati Chapter of the National Action Network, also spoke about the persecution of Tracy Hunter, a judge who was recently indicted on a half dozen counts, and convicted on one.  I was not happy to have this added to the list of grievances covered by the protest.  Blacks have suffered injustices, but I do not think the prosecution of Tracy Hunter is one them.  I am glad that she is off the bench.

Others were introduced to the microphone: Cecil Thomas, the state senator whom I had canvassed for; a white guy, booed before he began, whose introduction I did not hear, but turned out to be the mayor;  a hispanic man expressing solidarity with people of color.

Occasionally, someone would lead a call and response: “Hands up!: Don’t shoot!” or “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”. It was not a venue for thoughtful exposition.

I realized that I was in a particularly noisy wing of the group.  I made my way over to my right along the edge the crowd, and settled down, standing beside a black man about my age with a bemused look on his face.  It was much more pleasant.

A woman recited a poem, “Black man, I am not afraid of you.”

Toward the end, Hilton harped more and more on what was to him the most important message: “We are having a peaceful demonstration.” He then repeated the words “a peaceful demonstration” over and over, in the same way he had earlier led some of the chants.  Then he thanked us and wished us a safe journey home.

The rabble rousers were having none of that.  They started walking in the middle of main street, blocking traffic.  Most of the crowd followed.  So we walked a couple of blocks north, turned West for a couple of blocks.  Some people started north on Vine, but the bulk of the crowd decided to go south.  I heard a policeman speaking into his radio, “headed south on Vine! I repeat, south on Vine!”  Then we headed back east, and then north again.  Which ever way we wandered, the police were in front of us, blocking traffic, allowing us to have the street.  When we were headed against the traffic, some drivers showed support by honking their horns in rhythm to the chant, or reaching their hand out the window for a high five.

protest66JPG   The chants were the same we had been shouting when gathered across from the Federal Building.  I enjoyed them.  They give a rhythm to the walk and a sense of togetherness to the crowd.  One was I was reluctant to join: “No justice!  No peace!”  I hope for peace in any case, and think peace is the shortest route to justice.  However, when a young kid was leading this chant, I was happy to join in support of his enthusiasm, regardless of my reservations about the message.  Unlike the dreary gathering standing around listening to speeches, I was enjoying the event.

At one point, I saw some people lying down in an intersection.  However, most of us wanted to keep moving, and we knew that lying down was going to force hand of the police.

Someone with a bull horn suggested we head to Washington Park, which seemed to me to be a good destination.  I think he was pastor of a church near there, with food for visitors.  Washington Park is in front of Music Hall, and near the drop in center.  Having been recently renovated, it is symbolic of what is happening to that neighborhood: the improvements are loved by those who want to see the area revitalized, but not by the poor and homeless being displaced.  However, we did not go to Washington Park.

We did not turn west until we reached Liberty, which is several blocks north of the park, and we didn’t turn back south until Central Ave.  Somebody was saying that we were going to City Hall; another was asking “Why are y’all going to the police station?”.  When we got to Ezzard Charles, some tried to continue south toward City Hall, but people instead gathered in front of the Police Station.  When nobody seemed to pay attention to their “Go This Way” cries, these self appointed leaders joined the crowd in front of the police station and soon headed on down Ezzard Charles toward Museum Center in the old train station, an iconic Cincinnati building, a picturesque place to conclude the march.  However, the museum center was closed and out of the way, so nobody really wanted to go there.

protest4   Instead, their goal I-75, the major North South corridor though the city.  The police were again way ahead of us.  When we got to the intersection with the access road, the police, as usual had traffic blocked off.  Then I noticed that they had the entrance ramp to the highway (I75 North) blocked off, and that beyond that, there was no traffic!  The police had cleared the throughway before we arrived.  At this point, I had to see what was happening.  Police cars about a half mile south of us were stopped, blocking a highway full of traffic.  Going south, the traffic, as it often is, was slowed by the bridge and was going about 5 miles an hour.  Many of us walked onto the highway.  Some knelt down, or laid down in the middle of the empty northbound lanes.  Some crossed over into the south bound traffic, and managed to bring that to a halt. The police decided that they needed to act.  They warned us to get off the highway or be arrested.  Rather suddenly, lots of police appeared.  They might have been wearing vests under their uniforms, but there was no riot gear and no tear gas.  They seemed to be engaged in a normal police action to uphold minor violations of the law.  Most of us left the highway.  Only about half a dozen were arrested.

As we left, one young man said, “It’s not over yet!”  I suspect that he was one of those who went across town to I71 to try to shut that down.  Several more were arrested there.  It was quite evident that they were going to continue doing stuff until the police arrested them.  However, the crowd had dwindled.  It lost all sense of cohesion.  I was done.

As we left the highway, I came by a discussion between a black woman in a Guy Fawkes mask and a black police officer.  I did not hear the beginning of it, but I presume that she had accused the man of being a race traitor, or something of that ilk.  In any case, he had taken offense, and he was insisting on expressing his point of view.  Catching the middle of it, “I am all for Dr. King and peaceful protest, but it makes no sense go burning down your own neighborhood.  That’s not a way to change anything.  What you need to do is become part of the system and change it from within, to help make it become what it should be.  That’s how you make positive change on the world.”

She continued, “Weren’t we peaceful? Why did you arrest us.”

“They were breaking the law.  We need to uphold the law.”

After she left, I shook his hand and thanked him for the professional way that the police had handled the entire affair.  He was still a little hot about what the woman had said to him.

“I’m black”, he asserted.

I answered, “You don’t look black to me.”  He smiled.  In fact, he is a very dark skinned man, one for whom the word ‘black’ might actually be descriptive.

This brings me to a less public aspect of the rally.  After we had walked a little ways, I realized that I had a new smart phone that could take pictures.  So I pulled out my new smart phone, which I am obviously clumsy with, and took some pictures, perhaps to use in this blog.  In a little while, a young man came to me and asked to borrow my phone to call his grandmother.  I let him do this, but was wary, keeping him between me and the crowd.  He did not get his grandmother.  So we walked on together, up to Liberty, around the police station, and all the way to the highway.  “This is crazy!” he said as we walked onto the highway.  As we walked back, I gave him a couple dollars to catch the bus, and he tried his grandmother a couple more times.  I called my wife.  We were walking back to the bus stop, and there was no more crowd.  I let him try his call again,  and he ran off with my phone. Stupid me.   At that point, we had spent an hour together, him playing me for a mark the whole time.  I walked back to the police station and filled out a report.  When I got home, instead of talking pleasantly with my wife, or writing this up, I was changing passwords, and checking status of my digital items that could conceivably have been compromised.

After leaving the police station, I walked across town to the bus stop.  There, an inebriated man insisted that I talk with him.  He was all up in arms about the death of that young boy in Cleveland, killed for playing with a toy gun.  He wanted to know how I judged the guilt of the police in this matter.  I tried to deflect him, saying I didn’t know much about that incident.  He pressed me.  I tried to end the conversation by saying that the police are scared, that scared  people do not always make good decisions, that black people are dying, and that is what I was protesting just this evening.  Fortunately, my bus arrived.  As I got on, he said “Who’s side are you on?  That’s what I want to know, who’s side are you on?”  I replied, “Our side.”

Cincinnati_Police  The Cincinnati demonstration was peaceful.  Those of us who participated were just part of that peace.  The other part was the police, who did everything they could to make it likely that the demonstration succeeded in remaining peaceful.  They consistently treated us with respect.  They protected us from any crazies who might have been driving in the blocked traffic.  They allowed us to make our point, only acting to arrest people when it was clearly called for.  When they came out in force, there was no sign of riot gear or military style weaponry.  As we left, several thanked us for remaining peaceful.  From the planning that evidently occurred before the rally began until the end of the evening, from every interaction between the police and the public that I witnessed, the Cincinnati Police proved itself to be a professional, civilian police force, dedicated to maintaining the peace and protecting all of its citizens.

Unfortunately, real peacemaking is not stuff of headlines.