08 April 2011

Riot Recollection

Ten years ago, my wife and I lived in a fourth floor walk-up at the corner of 12th and Race. Timothy Tomas was shot dead by Officer Roach right in our block on Republic Street. The morning afterwards, we began to hear about it. At that time, Republic Street was drug dealing dangerous, especially the corner at 13th Street, so we did not go back there much but would only pass quickly while going somewhere else. Over the next day or two, the shooting site became a shrine and attracted large crowds.

That day, I walked over to Rohs Hardware and could feel the tension rising fast. Instead of drug dealers on the corner, there seemed to be men posted at 13th Street to guard the shooting site, and in the hardware store all the guys were talking about the anger on the street. I remember one black man who was at the counter buying saw blades saying he didn’t know what all the anger was about because Timothy Thomas shouldn’t have run. Needless to say, this was not a common thought in OTR. The tension continued and then on Monday protestors took over council chambers and assembled around the police station behind Music Hall.

I may be wrong in my recollection, but it seems that the “riot” didn’t really start in earnest until the next day, which I guess was a Tuesday. On that morning for some reason, I was home with my wife and we heard a lot of yelling and cars honking. As we looked out our window, we saw cars driving from the shooting site, with guys hanging out the windows, yelling, holding beers in their hands and waving their shirts in the air. This crowd then went down and created a ruckus on Court Street and knocked over the hot dog stand. From there the rioting spread up through Over-the-Rhine and got much worse.

Our downstairs neighbor was Mrs. Young. She was an elderly white woman who was dying of cancer. She had lived most of her adult life here and raised her children at 12th and Race. In the hallway, she told me she was heartbroken that the police had “shot that poor kid.” But the riots soon affected her as rocks came through her window the next day.

That night and the following night the police did not come north of Central Parkway. We could see for example the ransacking of the 1132 Bar as it occurred. It was ransacked several times and all the liquor carried out, and each time, your could see police cars a block south, but they would not come up to 12th. Sirens, shouts and gunfire filled the night.

On the second day of rioting, in the morning while it was still quiet, a small group started to assemble across the street from our apartment, in Washington Park. One guy was getting up on the corner yelling “TEAR IT UP, RIP IT UP!” over and over again. I remember a similar guy trying to stir up action after the Rodney King verdict, and even wondered if it was the same guy. My wife went down to try to talk to the guys before he got the crowd got too big. She tried some reasoning like “your only making things worse for yourself” etc…, but they just told her to go away …or get hurt. Humorously, one guy who was very drunk was trying to protect her from the others. He was telling the others to leave her alone because she was visibly pregnant (9 months). It was the beginnings of a uncontrollable mob, and we retreated back inside.

I did gain respect for Bill Baum then. He was our landlord, and he came out the next day and replaced his broken storefront glass where the GI Joe Store had been with new glass. Other owners were putting up plywood even before it was broken, but Bill believed in keeping the glass, and I liked that about him.

When the curfew was implemented it hard for my wife to get to work, because she worked evenings. Eventually, I think on Friday, we escaped to spend a night at my dad’s house out in the country just for a bit of rest. We returned after one night away, and we continued our life in OTR, albeit more cautiously. A week or so later our son was born.

The riots were an ending ... an exclamation point ending of the half-century of decline in OTR and they were also a cry-out from the underclass in Cincinnati who had little to lose. But while the decline in OTR may have continued for a few years more, the political will to change the the neighborhood changed that week.


Joshua Fields Millburn said...

It's good to see an OTR advocate give an honest and heartfelt description of the riots, rather than downplaying it as little more than a domestic disturbance. Thank you for that; I appreciate it. Sure, the riots were difficult for the city—I'm a Daytonian, but I lived in Clifton at the time, and I had a trashcan hurled at my car while driving—but that doesn't negate all of the positive stuff that's happening in the neighborhood now. I recently started following this blog and a few others because I'm considering a potential move to OTR (from Dayton, OH) in June. Thanks for taking an honest approach in writing this.

Take care,

Joshua Millburn

Unknown said...

It was the failed City Council meeting that served as the most immediate spark. Cranley lost control that night and the rest is history.