A community art show
and event of creative expressions for Peace and Justice
Timothy Thomas, Acrylic
on board, 24" x 24", December 18, 2014
Timothy Thomas, Acrylic
on board, 24" x 24", Re-installed April 7, 2016
Reposted from http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-34950-unrest_in_otr_15_years_later.html
Unrest in OTR: 15 Years Later
What’s changed?—?and what hasn’t
BY NICK SWARTSELL · APRIL 5TH, 2016 · COVER STORY
April 7, 2001 forever changed Cincinnati.
The police shooting death of unarmed black citizen Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine
and subsequent unrest here 15 years ago presaged incidents in Baltimore,
Ferguson, Mo., Chicago and elsewhere by more than a decade.
When other cities erupted with anger and fear over those more recent incidents,
however, protests in Cincinnati remained peaceful and police left their
riot gear at headquarters. Images of recent marches and rallies in Cincinnati
present both an echo of and a contrast to the fitful reckoning that came
after Thomas’ death in 2001.
A decade and a half after the unrest, many outside the city have lauded
changes undertaken here. Cincinnati has been heralded by national publications
like The New York Times, The Atlantic and others as a model for a nation
experiencing a crisis around issues of police and race relations.
“The city that once served as a prime example of broken policing
now stands as a model of effective reform,” reads an Atlantic article
published last year.
Government task forces have also held Cincinnati up as an example of reform
done right. Both President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century
Policing, which visited Cincinnati, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s
Taskforce on Community-Police Relations held up the city’s Collaborative
Agreement and problem-oriented policing approach as worth emulating.
But data suggests there is much more work to do. Arrests and stops by
police still fall disproportionately on blacks here. The demographic makeup
of area law enforcement agencies still doesn’t mirror the population
Controversial police-involved deaths continue to happen. And pervasive
economic segregation in predominantly black neighborhoods continues to
put stress on those communities. In fact, some critics say changes that
have occurred in OTR since the unrest only underscore the city’s
stubborn fault lines around race and economics.
Then and Now
The shooting of 19-year-old Thomas in OTR by Cincinnati police officer
Stephen Roach strained long-standing tensions here to the breaking point.
Roach was white. Thomas was black. The incident shook Cincinnati, a city
with racial tensions already churning just under the surface.
During an emotional Cincinnati City Council meeting the evening after
the shooting, Thomas’ mother Angela Leisure had a simple request.
“I demand to know why,” she said among a packed crowd of 200
angry protesters at City Hall.
Funeral for Timothy Thomas, 2001 - Photo: Jimmy Heath, courtesy the Greater
Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless
From there, hundreds took to the streets during three days of civil unrest,
seeking answers for Thomas’ death and the deaths of 15 other black
men killed by CPD officers during the five years prior. Some posed an
immediate threat to officers, CPD said. But three of those prior incidents
involved unarmed citizens. No white citizens were killed by police in
that time frame.
Long after the protests ended, after the curfews were lifted and after
buildings that had been burned were rebuilt — in some cases replaced
with shining new storefronts — the fateful shooting in a dark alley
just off Republic Street has continued to have ripple effects.
A lawsuit against the city brought by local activists like Iris Roley
and Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front, as well as the American
Civil Liberties Union, resulted in federal oversight for CPD as it made
reform efforts. Among those reforms: Cincinnati’s Collaborative
Agreement, which is now hailed nationally as the gold standard in police
The agreement created a framework for a more community-oriented kind of
policing, better training and education for officers and increased oversight
and accountability for police, among other reforms.
Time and struggles for reform have also changed attitudes.
“Without the civil unrest of 2001, the progress and change in our
city, and the dramatic nature of the change, would have been less,”
former Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said recently at a Xavier University
event about the unrest.
That’s a change in tone from those heady days in 2001, when Luken
had harsh words for some of the protesters.
“Some of them seem to be out here just for the fun of it,”
Luken remarked on a WCPO newscast at the time. “A lot of what I
saw was not people reacting to the event … a lot of what I saw was
12-year-old kids stealing hot dogs from vendors and breaking windows.”
Cincinnati Police Department District 4 Captain Maris Herold says policing
in Cincinnati has gotten remarkably better since the unrest. She touts
the so-called “problem-oriented policing” approach that CPD
adopted after 2001. That approach focuses policing on the small number
of people committing crimes against a small number of victims in a couple
dozen “hot spots” around the city.
“To me, everything is about strategy in policing, because policing
is a paramilitary organization,” she says. “Prior to 2001
… basically, we were told to go out into the community with zero
tolerance. When the community had complaints of violence, drug dealing,
the overarching strategy was go out and arrest everything that moves.
You could see it in the eyes of the people you were dealing with that
this had horrible harm to the community.”
A protester faces off with police during the 2001 unrest - Photo: Jimmy
Heath, courtesy of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless
Arrest and use of force numbers show the effectiveness of the change in
strategy, Herold and others say.
Use of force by police in Cincinnati has dropped nearly 70 percent in
the past 15 years. Injuries sustained during encounters with officers
have dropped by more than half. And the crime rate itself in the city
has decreased by almost half as well — from more than 4,000 violent
crimes in 2001 to just over 2,300 in 2014 — though some of that
coincides with a large drop in crime since the 1990s in cities across
But the reduction in crime and arrests isn’t the whole story.
“We’ve reduced arrests, but if you look at the percentages
of black people getting arrested, it’s about the same,” says
Cincinnati civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein, who represented the
Black United Front in its 2001 lawsuit.
Gerhardstein lauds the switch to problem-oriented policing, but he points
out that 70 percent of felony and misdemeanor arrests still involve blacks.
Police arrest data for 2015 up to October of that year shows that 2,090
of CPD’s 2,936 felony arrests were of black citizens. Of the department’s
13,447 misdemeanor arrestees, 9,430 were black.
That arrest disparity has proven stubborn. In 2001 and the years immediately
after, the ratio of black citizens arrested hovered around 77 percent.
The rate has been as high as 83 percent as recently as 2013, and in 2014,
black citizens again accounted for 77 percent of felony arrests by CPD.
“We haven’t tackled that core problem,” Gerhardstein
says of racial disparities in arrests.
Blacks also account for a similarly disproportionate percentage of the
city’s crime victims, including homicides and other serious offenses.
Many offenses happen in areas where low-income, mostly black citizens
have been concentrated by decades of policy decisions and market forces.
Reams of studies show correlation between economic distress and crime
in communities whether they are black or white.
Gerhardstein is hopeful about a new initiative that CPD has adopted this
year called PIVOT, or Place-Based Investigations of Violent Offender Territories.
PIVOT is designed to further efforts like the Cincinnati Initiative to
Reduce Violence, or CIRV, which started in 2007. PIVOT combines CIRV’s
focus on the networks linking offenders and the community with data-driven,
intensive attention on chronic crime locations that place-based policing
Former CPD police chief Jeffrey Blackwell and protesters at a rally for
Samuel DuBose. Blackwell became the face of CPD's community engagement
efforts before his dismissal last year. - Photo: Nick Swartsell
The key to the new approaches, Gerhardstein says, is engaging community
stakeholders, including landlords, nearby businesses, neighborhood residents
and others, and by changing environmental conditions such as lighting
and traffic patterns that make locations more conducive to crime. If instituted
properly, Gerhardstein believes PIVOT can further chip away at the number
of arrests CPD makes and hopefully limit the disparities in those arrests
But the reasons for those disparities are complex and larger than any
one officer or department.
“So many young men of color become part of [the justice system]
because so many minority families and communities are struggling... they
lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted,”
Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said in a speech
on race and implicit bias in law enforcement at Georgetown University
last year. Comey called that “a tragedy of American life —
one that most citizens are able to drive around because it doesn’t
Continuing Tension and the Samuel DuBose Tragedy
The death of Samuel DuBose at the hands of University of Cincinnati police
officer Ray Tensing last summer showed the extent of the problems that
DuBose was killed July 19 after Tensing shot him in the head during a
routine traffic stop in Mount Auburn over a missing front license plate.
Though Tensing initially claimed he was dragged by DuBose’s car,
footage from his body camera showed otherwise.
Currently, the UC Police Department is not covered by the city’s
Within 10 days of the shooting, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters
announced an indictment of Tensing on murder and manslaughter charges.
He will stand trial for those charges in October.
UC fired Tensing and reached an almost $5 million settlement with DuBose’s
family. The department’s police chief, Jason Goodrich, also resigned
earlier this year.
Despite the quicker move to indict Tensing — it took a month to
indict Roach in 2001 — many in the black community say DuBose’s
shooting is a stark reminder of the work left to be done.
“Even in 2015, some lessons have continued to escape us,”
Southwest Ohio Urban League CEO Donna Jones Baker told the crowd at Xavier.
“We mourn the death of Mr. DuBose. There is no reason he should
“In many respects, even given the many successes we’ve had
with the Collaborative Agreement, we still don’t have it right.
In my opinion, if the agreement was good enough for CPD and the citizens
of Cincinnati, it should be good enough for any and all police agencies
in Cincinnati, including our universities and the Hamilton County Sheriff’s
If UCPD had not been utilizing body cameras, DuBose’s death would
still be shrouded in questions. That’s an important point because
CPD has yet to adopt body cameras.
Questions around other cases involving CPD in the last year, including
the police shooting deaths of QuanDavier Hicks in Northside last summer
and Paul Gaston in Cheviot earlier this year, highlight continuing tension
and underscore the need for the cameras.
Police said Hicks came to the door of his apartment building with a rifle
after a woman filed complaints he was threatening her. An officer shot
him and he subsequently died.
Gaston was on his knees in the street surrounded by officers after a chase
in February when he made a motion toward his waist. Police say he was
reaching for a weapon, forcing them to fire upon him. It turned out to
be a toy. A bystander’s video taken from behind Gaston shows him
making a motion, but does not show the weapon or shed light on whether
he was reaching for it.
Activists and family members dispute police versions of events in both
CPD is set to start phasing in body cameras this summer, but there are
questions at the state level about whether footage will be public record.
Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black last year signed a letter asking state
lawmakers to keep the footage from being covered under public records
laws. He has since rescinded that letter. State lawmakers are still working
on laws around body camera footage.
Another aspect of the DuBose shooting illustrates a bigger dynamic at
play. That a minor infraction led to DuBose’s death is a tragically
familiar story. In 2001, police pursued Thomas because he had about a
dozen misdemeanor warrants for traffic and other minor offenses. Like
Thomas, DuBose was in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood at
the time of his death.
Statistics show such stops for minor incidents still fall disproportionately
on black citizens in those neighborhoods.
UCPD issued 62 percent of its traffic tickets to black motorists in 2015,
and Tensing himself gave black motorists 81 percent of the tickets he
issued. UC’s campus is about 8 percent black, though the surrounding
neighborhoods have a much higher percentage.
CPD stops for minor offenses also still fall disproportionately on blacks.
In 2015, 64 percent of those stopped by CPD for pedestrian violations
and 63 percent stopped for traffic violations were black, according to
department data. The city’s overall population is 46 percent black.
Many of those stops came in predominantly black neighborhoods.
The department caught some criticism for its enforcement of minor offenses
last month when Chris Harrell, who is black, recorded his Feb. 6 arrest
for a pedestrian violation on Elder Street in northern OTR. That video
subsequently went viral.
“This is what we have to go through in Cincinnati,” Harrell
says in the video, pointing his camera behind him to show bicycle officers
following him. “Harassment. Can’t even be a black man and
enjoy your morning because the police are going to harass you.”
In the video, Harrell is walking with a cup of coffee and a cellphone
as officer Baron Osterman trails him on a bicycle. At one point, the officer
says Harrell crossed against a traffic light, though Harrell says the
light had already turned and the walk signal had come on. Osterman eventually
arrested Harrell, who was subsequently charged with resisting arrest,
a pedestrian violation and a minor drug charge for possession of less
than 100 grams of marijuana.
Officials with the city’s Citizen Complaint Authority, created as
part of the Collaborative Agreement, have noted the disparities in who
is stopped for minor offenses.
“We see many cases where citizens are pulled over for minor infractions
for which I have never been stopped,” former Citizen Complaint Authority
Board Chair Scott Knox wrote in the authority’s 2014 annual report.
“I do not believe that any significant number of officers get up
in the morning thinking, ‘I’ll pull over people based on their
race today,’ but what I see is a disproportionate number of African-American
citizens pulled over for minor infractions.”
The demographics within CPD also have yet to reflect the community it
serves. Overall, the makeup of CPD has budged little since the 2001 unrest.
Back then, 287, or 28 percent, of the city’s 1,028 officers were
black. Today, 314 of the city’s 1,056 officers are. That’s
a little less than 30 percent of the force in a city that is 46 percent
CPD supporters say there has been progress in this area at CPD, pointing
to three black officers recently promoted to captain in the department
and the fact that the city’s last three police chiefs, including
current Chief Eliot Isaac, have been black.
High-Profile Incidents and Accountability Questions
Beyond the demographic numbers, there are still questions about how officers
are disciplined when they break rules, both within and outside of the
The Citizens Complaint Authority is supposed to be a first step in that
process for those who feel like police have wronged them. The authority,
which is made up of a five-member board, investigates complaints about
use of force, harassment, improper procedures, discourtesy and lack of
service. But it hasn’t been as high-profile as it could be, some
“It’s just not very present in our lives,” says Gerhardstein,
who calls the CCA somewhat “invisible.”
Last year, the Citizen Complaint Authority hired a new director, Kim Neal,
who has made it a mission to get the agency out into the community more.
Neal and other CCA officials have spent time visiting the city’s
52 community councils and speaking with citizens who are unaware of the
Citizen Complaint Authority or unsure about what it does.
Citizen complaints against police have dropped more than 40 percent from
15 years ago. But in the past five years, allegations lodged with the
CCA have stayed more or less steady. There were 561 allegations in 2010,
596 in 2012 and 556 in 2014, according to CCA reports.
During that time frame, of the 650 cases investigated (not all allegations
were investigated by the CCA, and some complaints contained multiple allegations),
62 were sustained, or turned over to the Cincinnati police chief.
How complaints are handled by CPD is somewhat unclear, however, an issue
Neal says she is working on.
“That’s what the community wants to know,” she told
WCPO last year. “If these allegations are sustained, people want
to know what’s happening to the officers. … Is the police
department listening to you?”
The Citizen Complaint Authority keeps lists of officers who have received
more than 10 complaints in a two-year period.
Among the officers who have appeared on this list are Zachary Sterbling
and Erich Kohler, two of the three officers involved in the Gaston shooting
in Cheviot earlier this year. Police officials have ruled that shooting
Sterbling had 10 complaints with 17 allegations between 2012 and 2014,
while Kohler had 11 complaints with 14 allegations between 2011 and 2013.
Both have also made the list in other years.
Other officers involved in high-profile police killings have also had
questionable incidents on their records outside the Citizen Complaint
Authority’s complaint process.
Last year, two Cincinnati police officers were charged in the coverup
of a car accident involving a third officer, Sgt. Andrew Mitchell. In
2011, Mitchell shot and killed local musician David “Bones”
Hebert, who was white, in Northside after police said Hebert was brandishing
a sword. Later investigations revealed he had only a knife and that there
was inconclusive evidence to show he meant to attack or threaten officers.
According to court documents, Mitchell was off duty and driving his personal
vehicle, a Honda Odyssey, on West McMicken Avenue in Fairview at 5 a.m.
on March 22, 2015 when he ran into a pole. Afterward, the two other officers
allegedly concealed Mitchell from witnesses, helped him get home and did
not fully investigate the accident, according to charges against the three
in Hamilton County Municipal Court.
A witness at the scene of the accident called 911, reporting that Mitchell
seemed “drunk as hell,” but no sobriety test was administered.
A Hamilton County Court judge dismissed the charges earlier this year,
saying the matter should be dealt with internally by CPD. It’s unclear
what, if any, penalties were levied against the three officers as a result
of the allegations.
Mitchell’s shooting of Hebert in 2011 was controversial, causing
a number of protests and investigations in Cincinnati. The shooting led
to a 2012 wrongful death lawsuit against CPD. That lawsuit claimed Hebert
was complying with instructions given by an investigating officer when
Mitchell shot him. CPD settled that suit last year for $187,000.
That wasn’t the only incident involving Mitchell. In January of
2008, he was the subject of a civil rights suit after he allegedly used
a Taser improperly against a teenager. Mitchell allegedly Tased Christopher
Bauer from his police cruiser after he asked Bauer to stop. However, the
teen was wearing headphones and a hoodie and didn’t hear the command.
Bauer’s suit says he fell face forward and sustained substantial
injuries during the incident. Mitchell was eventually placed on a 40-hour
suspension after exhausting appeals within the department’s disciplinary
Some CPD officers once involved in controversial deaths — and with
other past disciplinary incidents — have been promoted to supervisory
roles. Earlier this year, CPD officials promoted Officer Patrick Caton
to the rank of lieutenant.
Caton was involved in the Nov. 7, 2000 death of an unarmed 29-year-old
black man named Roger Owensby, a Marine veteran with no criminal record
or warrants, in Roselawn. Caton and another officer, Robert Jorg, pulled
over Owensby for questioning, they said, when he tried to flee. A struggle
ensued, during which Owensby was tackled, taken to the ground and choked
and punched while handcuffed. He subsequently died in the back of the
police cruiser. In later interviews and testimony, Caton admitted to punching
Owensby both on the ground and in the cruiser, saying he did so with the
palm of his hand so he wouldn't break his fingers and because it caused
Owensby’s death contributed to the racial tensions in the city that
came to a head in April 2001. Caton was initially cleared in the incident
but was fired at the conclusion of an internal investigation in 2003 for
his behavior during the arrest. He later regained his job through arbitration.
CPD did not respond to a request for comment on Caton’s recent promotion.
Caton’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request,
features a number of glowing reviews from superiors. But he has also had
other disciplinary incidents, including a reprimand for using racial slurs
while on duty, for which he was briefly suspended.
There have been other tragic incidents with a controversial lack of disciplinary
outcomes at CPD. In 2010, prior to the massive revitalization of OTR’s
Washingont Park, Cincinnati police officer Marty Polk accidentally ran
over and killed Joann Burton there. Burton was laying under a blanket
when Polk drove his cruiser through the grass, hitting and killing her.
Polk faced no charges for the incident, which drew ire from some social
service providers in OTR.
Economic Roots of Unrest
Despite continued questions around policing in Cincinnati, both police
and activists say reforms like the Collaborative Agreement have been a
“It still has relevance to the peoples’ lives,” says
Black United Front activist Iris Roley. “Children want to know —
what did the people do for them? This is what we left for them to continue
But activists like Roley also say the anger that erupted during the 2001
unrest was about more than policing.
“The original ask from the clients was about economic justice,”
Gerhardstein said of the Black United Front’s original complaints
that led to the Collaborative Agreement. “I sue people. I can’t
sue to undo capitalism. So we picked a bite-sized piece that was still
The economic complaints aren’t unique to Cincinnati, and they’ve
sparked unrest in other deeply segregated cities across the country.
Dr. Maliq Matthew, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati,
told CityBeat last year that recent unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore,
like Cincinnati’s unrest in 2001, stretches back through decades
of systemic inequalities.
“Really, these communities have been under pressure the whole time,”
Matthew says. “These communities don’t carry a lot of political
power and financial status. They erupt because they’re appealing
to a power structure that they feel doesn’t hear them, that has
no reason to really consider them.”
When it comes to those factors, Cincinnati still has a long way to go,
as CityBeat explored in a story last year (“That Which Divides Us,”
issue of August 26, 2015) outlining Census data that shows the disturbing
extent of the economic isolation in Cincinnati’s black neighborhoods.
A few notable points:
• Of the city’s 10 neighborhoods with the lowest median incomes,
nine are more than 70-percent black. Six of those neighborhoods with considerable
populations, including the West End and Avondale, are more than 90-percent
black. In these places, life expectancies are five to 10 years lower than
the city as a whole.
• Citywide, the median income for blacks in 2013 was $21,300. It
was $48,000 for whites. That gap has been widening. In 2000, the median
income for white city residents was $36,452; for blacks, it was $20,984.
In 13 years, whites in Cincinnati have gained $11,000 in median income,
while blacks have gained just $316.
• Overall, 46 percent of the city’s black residents live in
poverty, compared to just 23 percent of whites, according to the 2012
American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The economic gaps between blacks and whites in Cincinnati start young
and linger. The city has one of the highest childhood poverty rates in
the country. Despite being in a city that is 46 percent black, the University
of Cincinnati’s student body on its flagship campus is just 8 percent
These inequities have dire, though slow-simmering, consequences, racial
justice activists say.
“Childhood poverty is not going to cause the next major civil unrest,
but a police shooting will,” says Rev. Damon Lynch III, another
activist instrumental in bringing about the Collaborative Agreement. “It
won’t be because our police force is just that bad, but because
we allow all those other issues to fester. It’ll come to a head
when the next unarmed black person is shot or beaten by police.”
Rev. Damon Lynch III speaks with police near Findlay Market during the
2001 unrest - Photo: CityBeat Archive
There have been efforts to address these disparities — an initiative
looking to extend preschool to all of Cincinnati’s children, new
development aimed at low-income residents in neighborhoods like Avondale
and the city’s recently created Department of Economic Inclusion,
for instance. But for many, the progress has been achingly slow.
Ironically, some say efforts to remake Over-the-Rhine in the wake of the
2001 unrest demonstrate the deeper economic and social divides still present
Ongoing Development in OTR
Today, the spot where Thomas died looks vastly different than it did 15
years ago, surrounded by boutique shops, gated parking lots and glittering
restaurants standing in place of more humble establishments and vacant
Following the unrest in OTR, then-mayor Luken worked with a cadre of the
city’s business leaders to form what would become the Cincinnati
Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). Founded in 2003, it has since
poured more than $400 million into the neighborhood and an equal amount
into neighboring downtown.
The development it has quarterbacked in OTR — a historically low-income,
mostly black neighborhood — has brought a rush of activity and investment
Some call it unmistakable progress, with lower crime, new businesses,
more middle-class and upper-income housing and restored historic buildings.
But there’s a downside, others say.
Longtime residents are being pushed out of the neighborhood, advocates
say, as developers renovate historic buildings and raise new structures
for high-rent apartments and condos that can cost $500,000 or more.
For decades, OTR has been majority black, a holdover of the city’s
demolition of a large part of the West End in the 1960s, which caused
many blacks to move east into the neighborhood.
But recent Census data suggests this is changing in some parts of the
neighborhood that have seen large-scale redevelopment.
Otis Stevens, a long-time business owner in the community, says he thinks
blacks have been locked out of the resurgence in OTR.
“First, there was no money,” Stevens said during the Xavier
event. “We were trying to create jobs and development, a vibrant,
self-sustaining community, but there was no money. Everything moves slow
when you’re talking about fairness and opportunity. But then all
of a sudden, in Over-the-Rhine, things are in warp speed, money falling
Xavier University’s Community Building Institute on Jan. 25 released
a housing inventory commissioned by the Over-the-Rhine Community Council
of the housing stock in the quickly developing neighborhood.
The study, which uses Census data and current apartment price information,
found that housing for middle-class and higher-income residents has increased.
But at the same time, the most affordable housing — units costing
about $400 for a one bedroom — has decreased by 73 percent, going
from 3,235 units in 2000 to just 869 in 2015. Such affordable housing
now accounts for about 22 percent of the neighborhood’s housing
South of Liberty Street, the median household income for the once-impoverished
neighborhood is now $40,000 and rising, according to 2010 Census data.
North of Liberty, where little development has occurred, the median income
is just $11,000.
The Census tract encompassing the southern part of the neighborhood, where
most development has occurred in areas like the Gateway Quarter, was nearly
60 percent black just a few years ago, according to the 2010 American
Community Survey. The tract’s population rose from just over 700
that year to more than 1,000 three years later, according to the ACS,
but the black population dropped by about 100 during that time, accounting
for just 36 percent of the neighborhood by 2013. The other Census tract
south of Liberty Street saw similar changes over that time, and as many
as 1400 black residents left the neighborhood between 2000 and 2010, according
to a recent Greater Cincinnati Urban League report, even as new white
residents moved in. ACS data suggests that change has increased in the
years since, with the number of black residents decreasing sharply as
white residents increase somewhat.
The ACS isn’t as precise as the 10-year Census, and the changes
can’t be definitively attributed to gentrification. But the data
seems to show a clear decrease in black residents in the area.
“I feel like my wagon’s surrounded, like I’m the last
Mohican,” Stevens says. “I’m 53 now. I started out climbing
on these buildings when I was 16. I’ve been trying to do development
all my life. Where is the money coming from? Can we get access to it?
Where do we get the help that we need to start businesses that reflect
The answers to those questions lie beyond police reforms, but they’re
intimately tied to the trauma OTR experienced 15 years ago.
For some, the neighborhood continues to be a bitter reminder of inequalities
in the justice system and beyond.
“I spent 25 years of my life in Over-the-Rhine,” says Rev.
Lynch, whose New Prospect Baptist Church once stood on the corner of Elm
and Findlay streets. Lynch’s church has since moved to Roselawn.
“I lost. I left feeling defeated. I left there with people who raised
their kids and grandkids. We keep losing because we don’t take the
next step. The economic fight is the fight we have to fight.” ©
death by Police was the catalyst for the 2001 Cincinnati civil unrest.
At 11 p.m. Monday,
June 18, 2012 fifteen-year-old Africa Hope was killed by a stray bullet
at 1700 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. This portrait is placed at the
site after being in the SOS show.
Winning second place in the juried Golden Ticket Art Show at the Clifton
Cultural Arts Center in Clifton, Cincinnati, Ohio verified what I had
been experiencing with my art.
Realtor yard signs repainted with a portrait of a gun violence victim
placed where they died, provide a positive colorful happy catalyst to
solve gun violence. Help a "at Risk" person. Be part of the
solution. Apathy is the problem. The signs—revered by community—
are everlasting remembrances.
With each painting I experience something like a block buster movie with
characters larger than life when I learn about the victim and meet the
family. They live larger lives, the highest highs and lowest lows. The
portraits are larger than fine art. I become a pawn in a complex battle
to live in a safe productive world.
Being the creator of a painting against gun violence does not solve the
problem. It is the grunt on the ground that solves gun violence. Social
networks solve gun violence. Slogans, art, songs and preaching help solve
gun violence but it is the grunt on the ground makes the change.
I plan on painting at these spots looking for the beautiful in these
locations. I will befriend the residences and make a change. With everyone
stepping up and taking back their streets we can solve this problem.
Many people are working on this problem. Many events draw attention to
gun violence. I add this ongoing project to the battle.
April 4, 2013, Angela
Grayson's portrait on a realtor yard sign placed where she was killed
by a stray bullet while waiting for a bus in Avondale, Cincinnati in at
11 a.m. Tuesday, April 24, 2006.
Wood 12/9/75 to 6/6/2011, Acrylic on board, June 21, 2012
Killed by a stray bullet at the corner of Vine and Forest.
A positive colorful happy catalyst to solve gun violence.
Feel powerless to do anything? Help a "at risk" person.
Be part of the solution.
Apathy is part of the problem.
Earnest Crear, Oil on board, 5" x
7", May 19, 2012
Earnest Crear, Latex on board, 50”
x 19” x 1”, May 15, 2012, 18” x 12” board from
a realtor sign painted on both sides an impressionistic portrait of Earnest
Crear placed in metal realtor frame. Placed at Rockdale Avenue and Knotts
Street where Earnest Crear was fatally shot, August 12, 2007. Tom Lohre
won second place at the Golden Ticket Artists Exhibition at the Clifton
Cultural Art Center, September 7, 2012 with the Earnest Crear portraits.
August 12, 2007
Fourteen Little League football teams had gathered at the Cincinnati Recreation
Commission's Avondale Play
Field Sunday for what the organizers hoped would become a yearly an all-day
Peace Bowl in the sweltering
August heat. The event was organized by the Cincinnati Human Relations
Council, other groups and individuals in an effort to demonstrate that
youth from the Cincinnati area neighborhoods could come together in a
City officials and other dignitaries were present for the opening ceremony.
Cincinnati Police helped organize the event and served as volunteer referees.
“The tournament was held to encourage the peaceful engagement of
youth in positive activities as an alternative to crime and violence,''
said Cheryl Meadows, executive director of CHRC.
Former Bengals player and an Avondale Warriors coach Ickey Woods and Rod
Davis, director of the Boys and
Girls Club in Avondale, were talking about how the preseason league event
was such a positive remainder of how neighborhoods could come together
to promote peace in opposition to the violence that has plagued Cincinnati
in recent years.
Little did they know that within an hour of their conversation, their
Peace Bowl would be marred by another
Avondale shooting - the 11th in the community this year - this time outside
the fence surrounding the football
field at Rockdale Avenue and Knotts Street.
Earnest Crear, 19, had come from his home in Avondale to get a ride to
Price Hill to pick up his son, Earnest III, 6 years old. Gathered in a
group of about 20 young people were three of his friends, a group from
which he had parted ways in an attempt to make something of his life.
For some reason, one of the three friends pulled a gun and fatally shot
Crear, one shot to his back and another to his head.
Rev. Peterson Mingo, a Little League coach and advocate of anti-violence
in the community, and two women
from a nursing home, who were trained in CPR who were at the games to
treat for sprains and scrapes, raced from the field to the scene of the
shooting. They checked Crear's vital signs and attempted to revive him,
but Crear died while they tried to help him. Mingo offered a prayer.
The three men jogged away, according to an eyewitness.
Police say the shooting was an act of retaliation following an ongoing
dispute between Crear and his killer or
More than 200 people participated Tuesday evening in a Cincinnati Ceasefire
march in Avondale to protest the
violence. The marchers organized at the shooting location on Knotts.
Crear's mother, Sonya Crear, led the march against violence in the community.
She said her son had parted ways with the three men involved in the shooting
after having a close friendship with them. The men were often guests in
her home and at her table in the former Virginia apartment building at
Rockdale and Knott and in her present home in the neighborhood, she said.
Her son, a dropout at Woodward High School, had had some run-ins with
police, but had decided to change the direction his life was going, she
said. He had planned to spend Wednesday going to businesses and companies
to fill out employment applications, she said.
But Sunday afternoon, he was on Knotts Street, not far from his mother's
home, looking for a ride to Price Hill to pick up his son. He had called
his mother to let her know where he was, she said.
Brian Garry, a community activist and City Council candidate, was an eyewitness
to what then happened.
Garry was a speaker at the church of Rev. Peterson Mingo earlier in the
day, and both attended the football bowl, with Garry arriving around 3
Garry said as he was walking up to the entrance to the field, he was looking
straight at a group of about 20 people about 60 feet away and across Knott
“There was no struggling, fighting or yelling among the group,''
he said. “All of a sudden I heard sounds that
sounded like fireworks. I did not see anyone pull a gun out or the guy
who pulled the trigger. It was a very quiet shot. There was no screaming
or pandemonium following the shots. I saw three men run down Rockdale,
going around a house. Then they came back, and then sort of jogged off.''
It was not at first obvious that someone was shot, he said.
Garry said the shooting “shook me up.'' He immediately dialed 911
at 3:02 p.m. A squad car soon arrived, and he directed the officer to
the scene of the shooting.
“It was the worse thing I have ever seen,'' Garry said. “A
nice looking person was lying there on his back. He
wasn't moving, but his eyes were open. His blood ran down the street from
the back of his head.''
Garry said he grew up on streets of Bond Hill, and he has seen a lot,
but this was the first time he had watched
someone die. “It's very sad,'' he commented.
He remembered what the three men were wearing, but he could not describe
their faces. He and Mingo were
taken to police headquarters where they were questioned about the incident.
Garry said he was amazed that no one in the group where the shooting occurred
left, and when they did leave they just walked away as if nothing had
happened. “They were just so matter-of-fact. Maybe some people are
getting numb to the violence in our city,'' he said.
The act of Mingo running toward the group after shots fired was very courageous,''
It took about 10 minutes for everyone to realize what happened, Garry
said. The football players told to hit the
ground and some parents went into the field to shield their sons. Other
players were herded into the southwest
corner of the field, which is protected by a wall around it. Parents began
to take their kids and leave, and after a
while, everyone left, he said.
“Little kids saw this guy dying there, his life stolen from him,''
he said. “It was traumatic for me as an adult, so it had to be worse
Garry said the violence would not cease without an alternative for desperate
people to turn to. “We have to
address poverty,'' he said. “Poverty is the underlying cause. Poverty
breeds hopelessness. People become
desperate when they are hopeless, and desperate people do desperate things.''
“I'm very angry about this,'' Sonya Crear said. “My son was
starting to do the right thing. He's my first born, and now he's gone.''
A family friend, Karla White, said Crear was popular, and he was nicknamed
“Yearn,'' because “all of the women yearned for him.''
He played basketball and football in school, and he was starting to learn
how to box, his mother said. He was
involved in activities at the Boys and Girls Club on Rockdale and at Hirsch
Recreation Center on Reading Road, she said.
Prior to the march, Abdul Bilal, of Cincinnati Ceasefire, said those participating
in the protest want people who
engage in violence in the community to hear loud and clear that community
residents do not condone the violence and shooting that are occurring
in the neighborhoods.
“There's got to be another way,'' Bilal said. “If you need
a job or you have another issue, come to us for we will help you.''
Mingo took over the bullhorn, saying, “Evil prevails only when good
people do nothing. Negative elements in
this community will not dictate where we have activities for our kids.
Herald sportswriter Ozie Davis knew Crear. “Since Ernest had his
son, he was trying to build a better future- it's sad that he didn't live
to do it,'' Davis said.
Other sponsors of the tournament were the Avondale Community Council,
Evanston Community Council, US
Bank, Boys and Girls Club of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Empowerment Corporation,
and Cincinnati Police
Department. The tournament may be rescheduled, organizers said.
Anyone with information about this homicide is asked to call the Criminal
Investigation Section at 352-3542 or
CRIMESTOPPERS at 352-3040. Callers may remain anonymous and may receive
compensation for their
Arab Woman, 16" x 20", Wax on
Aluminum, Glow in the dark colors. March 7, 2011
My first painting, little squiggly lights
you see with your eyes closed. I owe it all to the robot. Never sell a
model of perception short. Shown at 2011 SOS
Gabriella Giffords, 16" x 20",
oil on gessoed board, February 19, 2011, Shown at 2011 SOS
Gabriella Giffords, 16" x 20",
pencil on gessoed board, February 12, 2011
oil on board, 16" x 12", May 2010, Shown at 2006 SOS
War, Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator, 20"
x 16", oil on canvas, 2006, Shown at 2006 SOS
Oil on canvas,
1979, Shown at SOS
The oil painting shows a woman
looking up at a floating earth. A snake encircles the earth and is about
to strike. Below the earth is a tiger who is about to bite the snake.
In the background is a nuclear explosion. Behind the woman is a tall ornate
Painted for Birdie Bloch, a great
patron of Tom's. He painted her portrait several times and in this painting
she let Tom do what he wanted. He painted an allegory about the benefits
and dangers of Nuclear energy. Tom spent a lot of time at the circus to
study the tigers. The bench is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The
blast in the background was from a famous nuclear cloud photo.
The painting is an allegory of
threat. Painted in 1980 at the end of the Cold War it was meant to show
the nuclear treat of the Cold War. The woman represents humanity and the
tiger in front of her represents the powers available to her. The chair
behind her represents her authority. The Earth represents herself and
the snake represents the treat of a nuclear holocaust. Today the
treat is different but still there.