ANYONE TEMPTED TO DISMISS the slavery reparations movement should take a look at Cincinnati. A year after rioters beat white drivers and burned and looted businesses, their spokesmen have shaken down the city for tens of millions of dollars in social spending and police monitoring mechanisms. And the riot apologists are not done. Scorning a recent settlement as "insultingly insufficient," they vow to continue a destructive boycott until the city coughs up another $200 million. Racial extortion is alive and well in America.
Cincinnati's nightmare began April 7, 2001. A 19-year-old with 14 outstanding war-rants led the police on a 2 A.M. chase through Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati's most violent neighborhood. One pursuing officer turned a corner and came face-to-face with the fleeing man, Timothy Thomas, who appeared to be reaching for a gun. The officer shot him dead. The victim proved to be unarmed.
Thomas immediately became a martyr to "police brutality," his name joining a list of 14 others killed by the Cincinnati police over the previous five years. Those "martyrs" included an axe-murderer, a pistol-whipping sadist, a fleeing bank robber, and an armed car thief, all of whom had tried to kill the police before they were shot. Such circumstances mattered not to Cincinnati's police-bashers, who brandished the phrase "fifteen black men" as a synonym for cop racism.
Two days after Thomas's death, rioting broke out in Over-the-Rhine and elsewhere. For Cincinnati's race industry, the timing was perfect. Two weeks earlier, an obscure protest group called the Black United Front, led by the Rev. Damon Lynch III, had filed a racial profiling suit against the city. Their evidence was ridiculously weak. Typical was the lead plaintiff's claim that he had been stopped and harassed merely because of his race. He neglected to disclose that he had refused to stop after weaving across the yellow line, though signaled to pull over by a patrol car. The pleadings made no effort to show statistically that stop rates were disproportionate to law-breaking--the bare minimum for showing racial profiling--and the suit's play for class-action status was laughable.
Having only reluctantly crushed the riots, Mayor Charlie Luken and the City Council were still desperate to demonstrate racial sensitivity. So rather than contest the suit, they voted to "mediate" its settlement. And even though Damon Lynch's demagoguery had inflamed the rioters, the mayor named him to a new three-man racial reconciliation committee, Community Action Now (CAN).
The city soon discovered the futility of appeasement. From his perch atop CAN, where he was supposed to be healing racial divisions, Lynch merely cranked up the volume of his tirades. He routinely denounced the city for practicing "economic apartheid." He and his followers called the police murderers, rapists, and terrorists, and railed against the "unjust system of absolute oppression" under which Cincinnati blacks are forced to live.
Such rhetoric could not be further from the truth. Cincinnati is a friendly, well-meaning town, whose major corporations have practiced affirmative action for years and contribute generously to whatever social uplift program is being peddled at the moment. Blacks have long sat on the City Council and in the city manager's chair. There is no evidence that the police single out minorities.
Cincinnati does suffer from a high school dropout rate of between 60 percent and 70 percent. In poor minority neighborhoods, knots of young men mill around selling drugs or just hanging out. Contrary to Lynch, it is not racism that prevents them from getting jobs at local giant Procter & Gamble, but their own lack of skills.
However unmoored from reality, Lynch's vendetta worked. Bill Cosby, Wynton Marsalis, Whoopi Goldberg, a 3,000-room Baptist Convention, and several music festivals canceled engagements under pressure from Lynch's boycotters, at a cost of $10 million, estimates the Cincinnati Post.
More devastating than the national publicity has been the boycott's effect on regional tourism. Cincinnati's crucial suburban patrons have been scared away by continuous coverage of the city's alleged racial problems. Lynch's boycotters are always careful to mention the possibility of more "unrest" should the city not provide "justice." As a result, the areas most damaged by last April's riots are still struggling to survive.
The greatest victims of the boycott are poor, law-abiding minorities, who can't find jobs in the city's hotels and restaurants, and who now risk paying for the riots with their lives. Cincinnati's police became less assertive after last April, having been constantly called murderers, and told that if they have "too many" law enforcement interactions with minorities, it's because they are racist. What followed was the bloodiest summer in Cincinnati history. Black men shot each other at a rate nearly 20 times higher than the rate at which Cincinnati's police officers had killed the infamous "fifteen black men."
And the crime wave has still not abated. In the first two months of 2002, crime was up 39 percent over the same period last year, but arrests were down 10 percent. Homicides may exceed last year's record-breaking number.
For this wanton destruction, Cincinnati awarded Lynch the ultimate prize on April 4, 2002: settlement of the racial profiling lawsuit, and many other goodies, just in time for the one-year anniversary of the riots. The changes in police procedures and oversight will cost up to $20 million over five years. Add to that another $50 million for redundant social services, and $1 billion in school construction, and you're talking real money, especially on top of the city's $27 million budget deficit. The corporate community has been shaken down as well, agreeing to pick up the plaintiffs' $600,000 attorneys tab, and promising 25 percent minority set-asides in a riverfront development project, notwithstanding a shortage of minority contractors.
True to form, Lynch responded with contempt to the settlement, even as he signed it. The boycott would continue, he said, until the city granted amnesty to the riot thugs and coughed up more money. As if to underscore his threats, Cincinnati's annual rhythm and blues festival--worth $25 million to the city--announced its cancellation for 2002 just two days after Lynch reaffirmed the boycott.
Most galling to Cincinnati's law-abiding citizens, however, was Lynch's glorification of the riots on their one-year anniversary. "Understand the power not just of April 7 [when Timothy Thomas was shot], but of April 9th through 11th [the riot days]," he told protesters commemorating the shooting. "The only reason you have a [mayor's race relations panel] is . . . because people hit the streets."
THE TRAGEDY of Cincinnati is that it contains a trove of responsible blacks who utterly reject such celebrations of criminality, yet the city leadership has given them no voice. "When will the city say: 'You can't negotiate wrongdoing'?" despairs Tom Jones, arguably Cincinnati's most courageous man. "It's beyond belief and understanding that the city would negotiate with Lynch. It's like paying a ransom: The more you pay, the more demands they'll place on you."
Jones has been fighting drug dealers since moving his printing business to Cincinnati in 1995, a crusade that has earned him death threats, bullets, and the vicious enmity of race protesters, who detest his vocal support for the police. "Every effort from black militant groups is to push the police out," he observes. "But what is Cincinnati going to be without the police? If you got rid of the cops for even a day, this city would be in turmoil." Jones scoffs at the notion that the police are targeting black men because of their skin color. "If you're hanging out at this particular corner at this particular time, you're going to be stopped, period," he asserts.
Pastor Ed Gaines of the Calvary Chapel is equally heartsick at the city's capitulation to "the mob." Lynch's celebration of the rioters "sends the most devastatingly negative message that could ever be: that violence is the way to justice," Gaines laments. "Someone with authority should stand up and speak the truth. If we keep on appeasing, we'll be like Pilate handing over Jesus."
The "truth" of Cincinnati, in Gaines's view, is that opportunity is available for anyone who wants to work. "We need to get to children in school and tell them: 'There's no one to hold you back but yourself, no one responsible for your own destiny but yourself. It's not the white man who's responsible.'" Unfortunately, the opposite message reigns. "Students are hearing: 'You won't be treated fairly no matter what you do,'" notes Gaines. "A lot of young people have bought into that lie, and they throw in the towel."
Cincinnati's politicians should confer authority on men like Jones and Gaines. But contemporary race politics grants authenticity only to incendiary victimologists such as Damon Lynch and Al Sharpton. The costs of this mistake keep mounting. Over the last decade, Cincinnati lost 10 percent of its population, critically eroding its tax base. The "problem in Cincinnati is not that white and black people do not get along, but that white and black people are not sticking around," says former councilman Phil Heimlich. The perception that the city has caved into the rioters will accelerate suburban flight and discourage greater contacts between regional residents and downtown, Heimlich predicts.
Fittingly, Charles Ogletree Jr., the legal director of the reparations campaign and a Harvard law professor, has praised Cincinnati's rioters. Speaking at an NAACP dinner last October, he compared the vandals and assailants to the American revolutionaries of 1776. Ogletree undoubtedly feels an affinity for these blackmailers, and must be taking heart from their victory in Cincinnati. The best way to defuse the reparations movement before it gathers more steam is to start granting equal time to those legions of black Americans who stand up for personal responsibility, hard work, and education as the keys to American success.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal and the author of "The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society."