• Wed. Jun 7th, 2023

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Cincinnati activist and Black United Front member Iris Roley, a key person in the drafting and implementing the community/police Collaborative Agreement for police reforms which is in its 20th year, noted recently that about 35,000 Black residents of the city were arrested by Cincinnati police in 2001, 15 young Black men had been fatally shot by police in several years prior, and there were protest marches in the streets, and it was estimated that about $220 million in convention business was lost by national organizations canceling their conventions in the city. Bill Cosby was the first to cancel an appearance here.

The reforms followed civil unrest in the city that resulted from yet another killing by police of Timothy Thomas, a young Black man cornered in a Downtown alley after running from police for not having a driver’s license.

The reforms called for in the federally mandated agreement are working, Roley said, with arrests of Black citizens in the city now down 54 percent since the signing of the Collaborative Agreement, with CPD use of force at 1,069 times in 2004 down to 458 times in 2020 (which is the lowest level ever in modern times), marches in the streets now part of Black Lives Matter protests of police abuses elsewhere, and the Cincinnati model for police reform has become a national model. 

“The Collaborative Agreement is not just a document. We can show results with the reforms that have been made,” Roley said. “But we have to keep going. It took a lot to get to this point, and it was the right thing to do. But it will take more to hold these people accountable. However, a Black person can now walk up to a police officer without being fearful.”

In the ensuing months and years, City recreation centers were opened for sessions between Blacks and police to meet and discuss the recommendations. Also, the centers were used to listen to stories of police abuse from more than 400 people.

“It took a lot of work, and a lot of diverse people came forward to work on the police/ community relations plan, Roley said.

Community activists Jesse and Iris Roley talk about the progress made in community policing in Cincinnati following the adoption of the Cincinnati Collaborative Agreement.

Roley listed reform agencies that came out of the agreement, including the Citizens Complaint Authority that investigated citizen complaints about police, the establishment of the Police Community Partnering Center, as well as some of the 250 recommendations in the agreement that have been implemented or are under consideration.

Charles A. Wiley grew up in the projects of Lincoln Heights. During his youth and as an adult, Charles said he was was a victim of racial profiling, police brutality and systemic racism. Wiley’s book, “To God Be The Glory: We Must Never Give Up (This Is My Story Growing Up Black In America),” powerfully describes the rioting and looting during the police shooting and death of Timothy Thomas in 2001, which resulted in bringing about a previous started effort for police reforms in 2002 with the adoption of the Collaborative Agreement between local groups, the local police union and the Federal Government.

Twenty years later, the community recently had the opportunity to listen to some of the plaintiffs in cases that brought about the Collaborative Agreement, who Wiley calls “The Forgotten Legends,” at a recent luncheon at Park Place Restaurant, 1185 Kemper Meadows Dr. in the Tri-County area. They briefly shared what happened to them at the hands of the Cincinnati police and what they are currently doing.

Wiley, who organized the event, strongly encourages other cities across the country to take a strong look at Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement to help them to understand the positive impact that it is making here.

The 16 cases which were resolved that helped to bring about the agreement involved Bomani Tyehimba, Elise Carpenter (Mother of Michael Carpenter), Roderick Glenn, Arnold White, Vincent Clark and Terry Horton, Tony Stillwell, Angela Leisure (Mother of Timothy D. Thomas, who was shot to death while cornered in an alley while running away from police after being stopped and not having a drivers license), Shelia Barnes, Lisa Youngblood, Antonio Johnson, John E. Harris, Matthew Shaw, Stephanie and Paul Keith, Mark A. Ward and Ronnie Cuthbertson, Enrico Martin, and Charles A. Wiley.

From left, Mark Ward, Bomani Tyehimba, Lisa Youngblood and Terry Horton were panel members in discussing what community policing looked like for Blacks in Cincinnati prior to the adoption the Collaborative Agreement.

Wiley says because of the Collaborative Agreement, the communities are stronger, and police have been cooperative in sitting down with residents at community gatherings to discuss improving police community relationships.

City Councilman and retired Cincinnati police officer Scotty Johnson has said the reforms made his job as an officer a lot easier due to the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between police and community members.

Roley, who is passionate about the Collaborative Agreement and has worked with the city on a Refresh of of its recommendations to make it even stronger, asks what if Cincinnatians devoted as much effort over 20 years to resolving other equity issues in the city. “Who knows what could be accomplished? There are so many other ways we need equality in Cincinnati,’ Roley said.

Mark Ward, who was pulled over in a stop by police prior to 2001, said he could not believe it. “I was doing nothing wrong. Yet here I am in detention. It has been something here to have gone through the dark and now be able to see the light,” he added.

Bomani Tyehimba talked about the fear he once had of being stopped by a CPD officer. “I got back in my car and put my hands on the steering wheel. But all I could see was the black hole in my head. I was handcuffed and dragged to the police car. Everything was okay after I identified myself, but I was told that I would be released when they’re ready to release me. I had won the war, and I was able to go home and see my son.

“I learned you do not fight a battle with police, for you may lose.”

Lisa Youngblood discussed how frightened she was when she went out one night with friends to celebrate an event in her life and a police officer in an unmarked patrol car and civilian clothes began playing road rage with her. The officer followed her to her home and other police showed up for no apparent reason. “You felt so hopeless,’’ she added.

Bomani Tyehimba, at left, and Charlies Wiley were leaders in filing lawsuits that led to the Collaborative Agreement.

She called her attorney Ken Lawson at 1 a.m. for help. Police later denied stopping us, but audio tapes  of the vehicle stop vindicated her. “It seemed as if nobody believed us,”she said.

“We were able to settle the  case, but there was no admission the police did anything wrong,” she added. “I was hoping they did not kill us that night. I will never forget the fear of having those guns pointed at me.”

Vincent Clark is a Cincinnati native, who played for the Green Bay Packers and is now a youth advocate who provides life coaching programs in College Hill. 

He too was pulled over one night for no apparent reason and was released when officers realized who he was, he said. “Although I was innocent, it is so traumatic to be violated like that,” he said.

“Yes, there are so many good cops, but there are some out there who do not care about us. That’s why we should teach our kids how to act with dignity (in this type of situation.),” he added.

Jesse Roley, who joined his wife Iris in this work, said more than 200 Black people came forward with similar stories about trauma on the city’s highways that resulted in the filing of the largest lawsuit of racial profiling by police in the country.

“The lawsuit brought about change. More than 250 polices and procedures in how the Cincinnati Police Department treats Black people have been or are being adopted.”

Iris Roley said the Black United Front was asked by Blacks to do something 20 years ago, and a lot of people came forward. “A lot has been accomplished, but we gotta keep going. No one has forgotten, and that is why we are still working to change policing in the  city of Cincinnati,” she added.

Charles A. Wiley is an entrepreneur, author, national diversity motivational speaker, and mentor/life coach.

The Forgotten Legends is a part of Wiley’s newly formed Let’s Get It Production Speaking Academy. Wiley, along with his team members Vinny Clark, Lisa Youngblood, Terry Horton, Mark Ward and Bomani Tyehimba will be speaking on mind-provoking topics to help inspire and motivate the community to continue to keep moving forward.  

Some of the topics are depression, suicidal thoughts, bullying, police brutality/police/racial profiling, no father at home, violence and gun violence, social and emotional challenges, trauma, positive decision making, family values and relationships, conflict resolution, and trusting God through difficult circumstances.

Wiley can be reached at 513-470-2139 or Wewereborntowin.net.