Concerned citizens march in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhone previous to a gathering to observe the 20th anniversary of the fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas by a Cincinnati police officer.
Story and photos by Michael Mitchell
Twenty years ago on Wednesday, April 7, was the 20th anniversary of the death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, an unarmed man who was shot to death by a Cincinnati police officer in a dead-end alley in the Over-the-Rhine community in an event that sparked civil unrest in Cincinnati that resulted in a federally mandated agreement to improve police/community relations.
To mark that day community organizers gathered first at Washington Park where Mona Jenkins, leader of Mass Action for Black Liberation told a number of marchers that the shooting of Timothy Thomas was the final straw for people suffering from over policing. Fifteen young Black men had been fatally shot by Cincinnati police in the two years leading up to Mr. Thomas’ death.
The marchers crossed Race Street to 13th Street gathering in a small park a cross the street from where Mr. Thomas was killed.
Iris Roley, a founding member of the Black United Front, spoke to the marchers, pointing out how policing and community relations in Over-the-Rhine had improved and much of the past issues had been erased, including parts of the memorial for Mr. Thomas in the now-gated alley where Mr. Thomas was killed.
Janiah Miller of Cincinnati Black United Front and leader of the Free World, told the crowd, “It’s crazy to think I was just a baby when it happened and to see his impact today, how one death can change an entire city. The change we’ve seen up to this point is due to the tireless work of Black people in this community, but more needs to be done.”
Victoria Straughn, community activist and member of Concerned Citizens for Justice, said, “It’s sad to still be fighting all this time later.” She added that too many times, instances of police brutality against Black people have been discounted.
Marcus Wagner president of the Over the Rhine community council also address the crowd.
The walkway where Thomas was shot and killed is now gated for the people who live in the new apartment building that was an abandoned building at time of Mr. Thomas’s death.
Also, Terry Thomas, brother of Timothy Thomas, spoke by phone as Iris Roley held the phone while he spoke to the crowd saying, “Twenty years have passed by and there’s a lot of stuff still going on. The only way things will change is if people band together to demand change.”
Since the formation of the Collaborative Agreement, which resulted from the 2001 civil unrest and previous incidents, police/community relations have vastly improved in Cincinnati, and the agreement has become a model for other cities facing issues in this area. Efforts are now underway in an initiative known as Refresh to improve on the progress that has been made.