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Marching for Justice in Cincinnati

Chicago Independent Media Center
JUN. 2 - Darkened by the wetness of the morning's intermittent rain, the stones of a downtown Cincinnati plaza are being vacated by the 3,000 demonstrators who are spreading into the street for the March for Justice. The first sight for the peaceful marchers as they descend onto Vine Street is of 25 white-shirted police officers. Two of them are holding rifles.

Leading the way are the compelling beats and dance of local drummers and cheerleaders. A lively drum corps of 8 black youth is led by 4 energetic dancers. They are dressed in white cheerleading outfits and blue cowboy hats. At the lead is a young man with red gloves and red pants. The fast-paced booming of the bass drums is set off by the report of sharp snare drums as the dancers high-step and march in front of the lead contingent.

As the march turns onto West 12th Street the smart rhythm gives way to a soft tapping on the rims. All participants, including the drummers, become still as the march passes near the location of Timothy Thomas' killing. With only the sound of a helicopter beating the air overhead a group of friends and family of Timothy Thomas detaches from the march and solemnly proceeeds down Republic.

A wreath of flowers is carried past boarded-up buildings and a large, open-balcony-style apartment block. Chicken-scented barbeque smoke filters lightly around the street and the sounds of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" drifts through the air.

With black residents looking on, the group turns down a gangway to bring the wreath to the actual spot of Thomas' killing. Wedged between a fenced-in grassy lot on one side and the brick wall of a building on the other, the gangway is strewn with pieces of shattered bottles. It leads to a backyard area of dirt where the wreath is laid. A sharp smell of urine is unmistakable.

With loud drumming and a giant cheer the march resumes. Following the drummers and dancers are people carrying a wide banner reading "March For Justice, Cincinnati, June 2, 2001." Dozens are carrying "No Justice / No Peace" signs.

Another banner reads "CRY for Justice," carried by Cincinnati Radical Youth, a group of high-school students. A large black puppet named "Officer Reaper" rises about the marchers. The puppet's head is a giant skull of papier-mache with a body of black stretched garbage bags and an oversized badge of aluminum foil. Two gnarly hands are outstretched away from its body, its fingers twisted to the point of not resembling hands at all.

Near the front people begin chanting "No justice, no peace." Marchers then take up chanting "Whose Streets? / Our Streets!" An older black marcher carries a plastic-wrapped sign with a blown-up snapshot of an elderly white gentleman. He says the man in the photo is Rev. Maurice McCrackin, "one of the greatest human-rights activists and writers in all of history."

Stopped at Elm and 12th Street the dancers and drummers squat closer to the ground while continuing their frenetic pace of activity. The girls swing their arms quickly while the guys hammer out a fast beat. The demonstrators in front hold a chant for awhile, "What do we want? / Justice! / When do we want it? / Now!" Then they pick up "No justice, no peace / No racist police."

A long black banner stretches across most of the width of the street. It reads "October 22nd Coalition - National Day of Protest - Wear Black - Stop Police Brutality and the Criminalization of a Generation."

Several medics accompany the march from the sidewalks, decked out with flak jackets that carry plastic water bottles. Pieces of red tape create red crosses on their backs.

Pausing to wait for a gap to open in front of them, a contingent of black-clad, scarved youth rush forward with their banner, dramatically filling the space. A banner on the side of their contingent reads "Stop Police Brutality." They carry a number of flags, black, black-and-red, and black-and-green. A few black-clad members hand out fliers about radical democracy and anti-authoritarian resistance.

Another group's sign reads "To Rebel Against Racism Is Justified. Drop All Charges Now."

Toward the back of the march is group of 20 yellow-slicker-clad marchers carrying a Ya Basta sign that reads "That's Enough Police Brutality. Cincinnati Zapatista Coalition."

A chant kicks in of "Ain't no power like the power of the people / 'Cause the power of the people don't stop."

A group carrying small orange flags with blue lettering reads "Solidarity 1199 SEIU - Health care for all."

The Quakers carry a sign that reads "Quakers Social Justice, Peace and Social Concerns Committee."

A large sign reads "Free Mumia and All Political Prisoners."

Turning at the corner of Ezzard Charles Drive and Central, the march passes by City Hall and a Cincinnati Police Department building. About a dozen officers stand behind crowd-control fences in front of City Hall, while officers sit on seven horses in front of the police building. "Get those animals / Off of the horses" shout a few children as they pass by.

As the crowd enters the park several dozen residents at nearby public housing watch the people pass by. One black man in his late 20s sits on a low brick wall holding a sign that says "No Justice / No Peace." When asked about why he decided to hold the sign he replies, "Someone just asked me to hold it. We need justice in Cincinnati, but with a cause, and not with violence. It doesn't help to burn down stuff. Violence comes from all over. Even in [political] office, [politicians] use violent words, but they're not really doing nothing. I've been a resident of Over-the-Rhine all my life. We need to keep the peace."

The park plays host to large tents and several dozen tables set up by local organizations for a variety of causes including political organizations, AIDS support, animal advocacy, housing loans, labor and religious groups. Marchers spread out into a large field and enjoy free soup and bagels for lunch.

One woman approaches people handing out copies of her latest poem on sheets of orange paper. Louanne Anderson, a poet published on, describes her reason for attending the march as being one of support for Timothy Thomas' mother. She says that there are not enough jobs for blacks in Cincinnati. "The minimum amount of knowledge needed for 'x' job is only so much. I've been at job interviews where they run me through a series of tests and then say that I'm 'not qualified.' How much do you need to know to answer phones and type into a computer? More doors need to be opened for blacks and minorities and everyone. This [gathering] is very good. I like the unity of it all."




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