Cincinnati in state of emergency
CINCINNATI (AP) – With police in riot gear out in the streets, the mayor declared a state of emergency and imposed a citywide curfew Thursday amid the worst outbreak of racial violence in Cincinnati since the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968.
Mayor Charles Luken acted on the fourth day of rioting over the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.
”Despite the best efforts of the good citizens of our city, the violence on our streets is uncontrolled and it runs rampant,” Luken said. ”The time has come to deal with this seriously. The message is that the violence must stop.”
Only people going to and from work in this city of 331,000 will be allowed on the streets between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., the mayor said.
Gov. Bob Taft ordered the state Highway Patrol to assist Cincinnati police, and the mayor said he may ask Taft to send in the National Guard.
As of Thursday, 86 people had been arrested in the looting, arson, vandalism, assaults and other violence in mostly black sections of Cincinnati. More than 60 people have been injured, including at least 25 taken to hospitals, police said.
The violence is Cincinnati’s most sustained racial unrest since the rioting prompted by King’s assassination.
Tensions exploded after Saturday’s fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas, 19. Since 1995, 15 black men have died at the hands of Cincinnati police, four of them since November.
Black activists said they had been warning city officials for two years that problems were coming because police were harassing blacks.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, urged calm during a speech before 300 people at a Baptist church.
”Everybody is angry. I’m angry, but anger has its place,” he said. ”We want the world to see we are respectful in our anger.”
However, some of the young people in the audience urged more protests, mocking calls for peace and prayer.
President Bush called Attorney General John Ashcroft to discuss ways the government can restore calm.
”The president understands the very strong emotions involved and he joins Cincinnati and Ohio leaders in their appeal to the people of Cincinnati for calm and a nonviolent resolution to the current situation,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Luken, a Democrat, acknowledged a ”real problem with race relations” but said he had to separate that from the need to quell violence.
The curfew halted nighttime taxi service and forced cancellation of some Easter weekend events, including a Good Friday tradition in which Roman Catholics climb the hillside steps of Immaculata Church after midnight and pause on each step to pray.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which alleged in a lawsuit filed last month that Cincinnati police have illegally targeted blacks for 30 years, expressed concern about the indefinite curfew.
”We don’t like the fact that we have to declare a curfew,” Luken said. ”For 99.9 percent of the citizens of our city, a curfew is completely unnecessary. We ask our citizens to bear with us.”
The curfew came too late for Brian Edmondson, manager of a clothing store. He swept out broken glass and took stock of what merchandise remained after the place was looted Thursday. The store’s front was boarded up because the windows and door were smashed.
”I’m still pretty upset about it,” Edmondson said.
On Wednesday, rioters broke windows, looted stores and assaulted at least one white motorist, who was dragged from her car. Others in the neighborhood came to the woman’s aid. A police officer was shot, but his gunbelt buckle caught the bullet and he suffered only cuts and a bruise, the mayor said. No arrest was made in the shooting. The unrest began in Over-the-Rhine, the poor, mostly black section where Thomas lived, and spread to several other largely black neighborhoods.
Thomas was killed as he fled Stephen Roach, an officer trying to arrest him for failing to appear for misdemeanor charges and traffic violations. Roach, 27, has been placed on leave. Roach has not commented, but his union said he feared for his life during the encounter.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said he will probably present the case to a grand jury next week. The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office in Cincinnati on Wednesday joined the FBI in a civil rights investigation.
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