Thousands gathered–black and white, young and old–to express their frustration over police brutality, racism, and economic injustice in a peaceful rally organized by Black Lives Matter Cincinnati on Sunday July 10 and dubbed ‘Enough is Enough.’
The rally came in the wake of last week’s police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana and the sniper ambush of police in Dallas which killed five officers who were providing security during a Black Lives Matter rally. While some have tried to connect the Black Lives Matter movement to the sniper attack on the Dallas police, BLMC organizers firmly denied any link.
Mourn the Dallas police officers and their families, said Brian Taylor, a BLMC leader, “but do not let your empathy for the fallen officers be converted into shame. And never let it minimize the scope of our suffering.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, while it lacks a centralized national leadership, has helped shape the dialog around race and criminal justice in the country. And the movement has joined in the struggle for worker rights and women’s rights, said Taylor.
“The same system of oppression is coming after our detractors, and we’re in defense of their rights as well,” said Taylor, who added that anyone who wants to struggle for their rights through organized political action is welcome to join.
“I come out here to backup my people,” said James Thompson, 44, a black man from Northern Kentucky, who came to the rally with his teenaged son. “Everybody’s tired of the same old drama. Everybody’s here for peace. It’s the system that’s messed up.”
“It’s a beautiful turnout,” said Reggie Jeter, 53, a black man from Cincinnati. “I’m here in support of Black Lives Matter because they do matter. There’s been too much police brutality around the country.”
We are all neighbors and should treat our neighbors as we would want to be treated, said Cindy Schrader, 62, a white woman from Columbia Tusculum, who said she prayed all night that the Cincinnati rally would be peaceful.
There were no incidents and no arrests during the rally, said Tiffaney Hardy, director of communications for the Cincinnati Police Department. WCPO quoted Assistant Police Chief Paul Neudigate on the rally: “I think what happened yesterday was about as best-case scenario as we could accomplish. I don’t know that it gets any better.”
The rally was self-policed in part. BLMC organizers designated marshals for the rally who could be identified by their safety-yellow vests. Their role, according to Taylor, was to prevent demonstrators from provoking or being provoked by CPD officers or counter-demonstrators.
CPD estimated the crowd to be 1,500 based on an analysis of overhead surveillance video; however, various participants and organizers estimated the size of the crowd to be between 2,000 and 5,000 participants.
One can be pro-BLM and pro-cop in the views of Thompson, Jeter, and Schrader.
Thompson, a former corrections officer, urged better background checks of police officers. “Sometimes it seems like police departments recruit from the KKK. They take off their white sheets and put on badges.”
Jeter said, “They need to root out the bad ones,” but he feared the “blue code” might shield the bad cops by making it hard for the good ones to come forward.
The rally formed next to the police memorial park on Ezzard Charles Drive across from District One police headquarters, where the crowd heard several speakers, including Audrey DuBose, the mother of Sam DuBose, who was shot to death by a University of Cincinnati police officer during a traffic stop.
Representatives of organized labor also spoke.
“To win economic justice, we must win racial justice,” said Latoyia Comb, the southern Ohio coordinator for SEIU Local 1.
“Labor cannot and will not stand on the sidelines in matters of racial justice,” according to a statement from the AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka that was read by the union’s southern Ohio field representative.
From the police memorial, participants walked south on Central Parkway and Plum Street, east on 7th Street, north on Vine Street, and finally west on 13th Street.
At 13th and Republic, there was a makeshift memorial marking the spot where 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer. This shooting sparked the 2001 riots in Cincinnati.
The riots eventually led to the 2002 collaborative agreement between Cincinnati Black United Front, ACLU, City of Cincinnati, and the Fraternal Order of Police.
The 2002 collaborative agreement is regarded nationally as a model for community policing, which is the centerpiece of the 2015 report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The task force identified so-called best practices on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust.
Some marchers left flowers and CDs at the memorial for Timothy Thomas.
The CDs were a direct reference to Alton Sterling, who for years sold CDs in front of the Triple-S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, La. where he was said to be a “fixture.”
Early on July 5, two white officers responded to a call about an armed black man at the market. The officers had Mr. Sterling pinned to the ground when at least one of them shot him. On July 6, the Justice Department announced a federal criminal investigation into the fatal shooting.
The CDs were also an indirect reference to the economic situation of many black Americans who cannot find a job in the mainstream economy to support themselves and their families. They hustle to eke out a marginal living in activities like selling CDs of movies, albums, and games.
Alton’s hustle and death also echoed the arrest of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, in July 2014 for illegally selling loose cigarettes in New York, when he was choked to death by one of the plainclothes officers arresting him.
“When people have an opportunity to participate and win, then they will start to participate rather than the other things they might be doing,” said Taylor.
From the site of the Timothy Thomas memorial, demonstrators continued on to Washington Park where they gathered at the gazebo.
The chants were frequent and unapologetic: “Black power.” “Power to the people.” “Unify or die.”
Christina Brown, a founding organizer of BLMC, led a call-and-response chant that summarized the sentiment that inspired many at the rally:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”
“It is our duty to win.”
“We must love and support one another.”
“We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
People understand their oppression, but they need to be awakened to their own self-worth, said Taylor, who expressed confidence that a mass movement of people–working together but independent of the institutions that oppress them–is able to change the world.
By Mike Brown, email@example.com