The Magazine

Appeasing the Race Hustlers

A year after the riots, Cincinnati rewards rioters.

Apr 22, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 31 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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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.