By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald 

Announcing the establishment of a Social Justice Center at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio, are, from left, are Michael Wright, Managing Partner, Cochran Firm Ohio; J. Phillip Holloman, Board Chair, Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio; and Eddie Koen, President and CEO, Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Photo by Gina Goings/UL Greater Southwest Ohio

The Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio announced June 22 the organization would establish a Center for Social Justice that would monitor police actions and recommend reforms with a $1 million gift in the form of a programmatic pledge from J. Philip and Gail Holloman. J. Philip Holloman is the local Urban League’s board chair and a former president and CEO of the Mason-based Cintas Corp.

The center will launch in mid-July and housed at the Urban League, 3458 Reading Road in Avondale.

We believe there needs to be a deeper and sustained focus on social justice, advocacy and policy issues, especially surrounding policing and police reform,” said Holloman. He adds social justice has been lacking in and around Cincinnati, and the grant will allow police monitoring to spread outside Cincinnati.

The local Urban League serves both the Cincinnati and Dayton areas.

“African Americans live in, work in, drive through these municipalities on a regular basis,” he says. “The center will endeavor to assess and determine if African Americans are disproportionately profiled, stopped and detained by police in these cities. Biased policing can escalate from racial profiling to the use of deadly force.”

Holloman says the center aims to eliminate racially biased policing from the culture of these police departments.

“We want to work toward preventative measures and work toward not having complaints exist,” he says. “That’s why we talk about working with these municipalities on their reforms, making sure that from our perspective they’re working on the right reforms and that the right action is being taken.” 

That includes communities’ relationships with police unions and their contracts. Holloman says he doesn’t think reforms will occur without cooperation with unions. “There’s this generational continuum of hiring practices and culture that still exists today that affects the African American community.”

Urban League President and CEO Eddie Koen says working with departments and unions is the ideal. “One of the things people talk about is the incredible work that was done around the (Cincinnati) Collaborative Agreement (that was approved between local police reform groups and the U.S. Attorney General following a rash of killings of Black men by Cincinnati police). The accelerant to that was a lawsuit,” he says. “Legal action is very necessary in many cases to accelerate the deep social change that we need.”

The center will be working with a law firm when necessary. Michael Wright of the Cochran Firm of Ohio says his office will give the center “teeth.”

“If there’s lawsuits that need to be filed, if there’s injunctions, if there’s things that we need to do to make sure that these policies and procedures that are adversely affecting our community that we can address those things,” Wright says.

This is the largest private gift in local Urban League’s 72-year history. 

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