IN THE NEWS # 477 - Cincinnati Riots/Police Shootings

By Jerilyn Watson

This is the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

Many people in the American city of Cincinnati, Ohio, are demanding changes in Cincinnati's police force. This week, hundreds of angry citizens attended a City Council meeting. African-Americans and some whites said Cincinnati must improve ways to control actions by police.

The demands followed the shooting of an unarmed black man by Cincinnati police April seventh. Three days of rioting began after a white officer killed Timothy Thomas, a nineteen-year-old laborer.

Mr. Thomas was running away from police when he was killed. Police were attempting to arrest him on fourteen minor charges. Most involved traffic violations. The officer who fired the deadly shot said he believed Mr. Thomas had a gun.

Mr. Thomas was the fifteenth black man killed by Cincinnati police since Nineteen-Ninety-Five. The police said most had been armed. During that time, the police did not kill any whites.

The shooting caused many Americans to remember the killing of another unarmed black man. In Nineteen-Ninety-Nine, New York City police shot Amadou Diallo forty-one times. The police said they thought he was reaching for a gun.

Federal officials and the Cincinnati police are separately investigating the killing of Mr. Thomas. In addition, Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken invited federal civil rights lawyers to investigate the city's police force. The lawyers will examine how officers are trained and how they perform their duties. Mayor Luken also apologized for the killing.

Keith Fangman leads a labor group that represents Cincinnati's police officers. Mr. Fangman has denied that a problem exists. He says the police have good reasons to be watchful. He notes that several officers were shot in recent months.

The violent demonstrations that followed the shooting were painful and costly. Rioters burned cars and attacked stores. They pulled white drivers from their cars and beat them. More than sixty people were injured. Hundreds of others were arrested.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought legal action against Cincinnati before the killing. The group says the city's Police Department lacks rules to guide officers or punish them for wrongdoing. The A-C-L-U says the Department has failed to employ more blacks. And it says the Department uses racial profiling to enforce the law. This means police consider a person's race to help identify crime suspects.

Law-enforcement agencies across the United States stop many more minority group members than whites as suspects. Over the past two years, ten states have approved laws to stop such profiling. Other states are considering banning racial profiling. However, some police officials say profiling helps them do their job.

This VOA Special English program In the News was written by Jerilyn Watson.

Voice of America Special English