Protesters gather to mark the year anniversary since a shooting triggered riots in Cincinnati

Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A year after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man led to the city's worst riots in decades, the city's police union approved a proposed settlement Monday of a lawsuit that accused officers of harassing blacks on the basis of their race.

The American Civil Liberties Union was expected to vote on whether to accept the proposal later in the day.

On Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators had marched through the city chanting ``No justice, no peace,'' protesting what they called an enduring racial divide in the city.

The City Council and the Black United Front already had approved the tentative settlement, which would create an independent agency to investigate complaints against the police and institute numerous reforms in police procedures. The city admitted no wrongdoing.

If any party rejects the settlement, all sides could agree to renegotiate a deal, or the lawsuit would go to trial.

The city reached a separate agreement with the Justice Department last week on the federal government's review of police operations.

The Fraternal Order of Police vote was 62 percent in favor of the agreement and 38 percent against, said Roger Webster, president of the FOP's Queen City Lodge 69.

On Sunday, police gave the demonstrators a wide berth at the gatherings at City Hall, police headquarters and in the alley where Timothy Thomas, 19, was shot on April 7, 2001, as he fled from officers who tried to arrest him.

``Here we are a year later and not much has changed. I guess the city didn't think we were serious. Are we serious?'' Victoria Straughn of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice asked the protesters, who responded with cheers.

Dozens of people were injured and more than 800 were arrested in the three days of violence that followed Thomas' death. Officer Stephen Roach was acquitted on criminal charges in connection with the shooting.

Although the protesters had a permit to march only to City Hall on Sunday, several hundred marched another five blocks to police headquarters. There were no arrests.

At City Hall, protesters rang a small bell a dozen times to mark the months that have passed since Thomas' shooting.

City and business leaders said they have spent the past year trying to boost education and job opportunities for blacks, including employment training programs and funding to revitalize poor neighborhoods.

Activists disagree, contending the city has not done enough to help black residents economically and that the rights of blacks continue to be violated.

Among the speakers at Sunday's rally was Thomas' mother, Angela Leisure.

``Today, I stand here with mixed emotions that range from anger to zeal,'' she told a crowd of several hundred. ``I am angry that I must relive the greatest day of pain a mother could experience, the death of her child.''

She was one of the more conciliatory among more than a dozen speakers.

``I do not advocate violence of any kind. Nor do I have malice, hate or vengeance in my heart,'' she said. ``I implore everyone _ community members, leaders and the police _ to work together to foster a sense of unity and peace, for it is under these conditions that we will see justice.''

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