Riots in this racially tense city subsided this weekend and city officials today lifted an emergency curfew that had kept residents off the streets after dark since Thursday.
“We have an opportunity for a new Cincinnati,” said Mayor Charles Luken. “Now that the disturbances have subsided, they must never occur again.”
Last week, angry protesters smashed windows, set fires and looted stores for three days in response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed 19-year old black man by a white officer. Police fired tear gas and beanbags to disperse protesters, and more than 800 people were arrested for criminal offenses or for breaking curfew.
Timothy Thomas was shot and killed as he fled down an alley in the early morning hours of April 7. He was the fourth black man killed by Cincinnati police since November. City police have killed 15 people since 1995. Three were unarmed; all of them were black.
Building to the boiling point
Thomas, who was engaged to be married and had a three-year-old daughter, had two outstanding warrants for fleeing arrest. He had been charged with 12 traffic violations, including failure to wear a seat belt.
Officer Stephen Roach, 27, claimed he thought Thomas was reaching for a gun, although Mayor Luken said there are lingering questions about the officer’s version of the incident. Roach has been placed on paid leave and an internal investigation is underway.
On Saturday, the city’s public safety director, Kent Ryan, announced his resignation, citing health reasons.
The city council will meet in special session tomorrow to discuss demands from black leaders for changes in procedures for choosing police and fire chiefs. Luken today announced the formation of a commission to look into citizen complaints about police.
The Justice Department is also investigating the city’s police force, long the subject of complaints from local residents.
The Cincinnati police department now joins forces in Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., New Orleans, Detroit, and Prince George’s County, Md., now under federal investigation for brutality, corruption, or racial profiling.
At least four investigations since 1968 have called for extensive reform of the Cincinnati police department, but residents and some city leaders say their recommendations have gone largely unheeded.
After the Thomas shooting, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) joined a lawsuit previously filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charging the police department with racial profiling of residents and discrimination in hiring and promotion of black officers.
Cincinnati is 43 percent black. The police department is 28 percent black. The number of black officers has more than doubled in the past 15 years, from 115 in 1986 to 290 today. Of the three Cincinnati officers killed in the line of duty in the past four years, two were black.