Curfew restores calm to Cincinnati streets for one night

Friday, April 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) _ A curfew restored peace to the city's streets, ending a streak of three days of rioting over the shooting death of a black man by a police officer.

Officials were to decide Friday how long to keep the citywide curfew in place and what changes were needed to ensure that violence wouldn't resume once restrictions were eased.

``Some people need to be fired,'' said the Rev. Damon Lynch III, head of the Cincinnati Black United Front. ``If nothing changes, nothing will change. The mayor needs to make some quick and deliberate moves.''

Mayor Charles Luken reluctantly declared a state of emergency Thursday and imposed the curfew to halt Cincinnati's worst racial violence since Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968.

``I have lived in this city all of my life and I love it to death,'' Luken said. ``I never thought I would sign an emergency order because of civil unrest.''

Police reported 42 arrests for violating the curfew that lasted from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and drastically changed routines in the city of 331,000. Only those who were going to work or had emergencies were allowed to travel.

Businesses closed early, concerts and sports events were rescheduled and Holy Thursday services were called off.

``We understand this is a holy week,'' Luken said. ``We ask those citizens whose services are affected to stay in their houses and pray.''

Some blacks initially vowed to break the curfew. Less than an hour before it went into effect, NAACP national President Kweisi Mfume used a bullhorn on the steps of a Baptist church and urged a reluctant crowd to go home.

``We've got to protect our young brothers in the community tonight,'' said Mfume, who visited the riot-torn city for the day.

As dusk fell, helmeted police _ some on horseback _ patrolled the otherwise deserted streets while a sheriff's helicopter hovered overhead. There was no sign of the roaming groups that had looted stores, set fires and attacked motorists the last three nights.

``It's been a very quiet evening,'' police Capt. Dave Gregory said. ``Pretty much everyone is in compliance with the (curfew). We expected this.''

At the city's request, Gov. Bob Taft ordered the state Highway Patrol to assist Cincinnati police overnight. Luken could request the Ohio National Guard as well, but the success of the first night of the curfew made that less likely.

``It seems to be working, but it's a very tenuous circumstance,'' Luken said.

Timothy Thomas, 19, who was shot while fleeing a police officer, will be buried Saturday following a church service in Over-the-Rhine, the neighborhood where most of the rioting occurred.

Four black men have been killed by police since November. Three were shot and one died of asphyxiation while being arrested, resulting in charges against two officers.

Hamilton County prosecutors plan to present evidence in Thomas' death to a grand jury next week. The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Cincinnati have joined the FBI in federal investigations.

Mfume, who met with Thomas' mother and visited the spot where he was killed, urged more than 300 people at a town meeting Thursday evening to use their anger constructively.

``We are all angry, but we've got to sit down and say, 'What do we do tomorrow?' If there's no plan, there's no progress,'' Mfume said.

Many of the speakers at the NAACP's town meeting demanded an overhaul of the police department. Luken has agreed on the need for change without getting specific.

Any changes in the police department could meet resistance from officers. The head of the police union went on a radio talk show Thursday and said the city shouldn't give in to the rioters.

``If we give one inch to these terrorists in the form of negotiations, then we've got no one to blame but ourselves when we turn into another Detroit or Washington, D.C.,'' police union President Keith Fangman said.