'Crucial day' begins in Cincinnati
Funeral today for black man slain by white police officer
CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- With two nights of curfew-imposed quiet behind them, Cincinnati police prepared Saturday for their next challenge: the funeral of the man whose shooting death sparked four days of violent protests.
Unarmed Timothy Thomas, a 19-year-old African-American, was shot to death last Saturday while fleeing a white police officer.
Police Chief Thomas Streicher said on Friday that Saturday would be a "crucial day" and that the funeral itself could be "a turning point" for the troubled riverside city.
A wake for Thomas was to be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, followed by the funeral at 1:30 p.m. and then a private burial. Both services were to be held at the New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine, an impoverished neighborhood not far from where Thomas was killed.
City and state police said they planned to remain in the background for the funeral out of respect for Thomas' family.
"The actions of the police division today will be to assist the church for the funeral. We anticipate that a fairly large crowd will be outside the church and the general area," said Streicher at a Saturday briefing. "We're trying to approach everything with common sense."
Police made 218 arrests overnight Friday and Saturday -- 212 for curfew violations. The arrests were nearly identical to the 216 -- 153 for violations of the curfew -- made on the restrictions' first night.
"Overall ... we're extremely encouraged by the cooperation of the citizens in this city and believe that the operations were a success overnight," Streicher said.
Mayor Charles Luken imposed the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew when angry, violent protests over Thomas' death -- and the wider issue of race relations in the city -- showed no signs of abating.
Police union denies racism charges
Thomas was the fifth African-American man to die at the hands of police since September, and the 15th since 1995. Officer Stephen Roach, the man who shot him, has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Roach was trying to serve outstanding warrants on Thomas when the 19-year-old fled down an alley. The officer shot him once in the chest.
Thomas had 14 outstanding warrants -- three for driving with an expired license, four for seat belt violations, five for driving without a driver's license and two for obstruction of official business.
City officials acknowledged that Cincinnati has a troubled record on race relations, but a police union spokesman emphatically denied that law enforcement officers fueled racial tensions.
"Our police officers are not some band of rogue Nazis roaming Cincinnati, hunting down and killing black men," said Officer Keith Fangman, Fraternal Order of Police president. "That is inflammatory, it's racist and it's wrong -- absolutely wrong."
But, Fangman told AP, the circumstances of Thomas' death warranted close scrutiny and disciplinary action if the officer involved is found to have been at fault.
"From what we've been told, the suspect was not armed," Fangman said. "So it's natural that there should be questions. The community has every right to get answers to those questions."
According to a spokeswoman for the city manager's office, the police force is 70.3 percent white and 28.4 percent black. The city's population -- 331,285 according to the latest census figures -- is 43 percent African-American.
Three police officers killed since 1997
According to a police document, seven of the 15 men killed since 1995 were armed with guns, one threatened officers with a brick, one waved a board with nails in it at officers and one had a knife.
A police union spokesman said two people, including a 12-year-old boy, used their cars as weapons against police. Three -- including Thomas -- were unarmed.
Both black and white officers were involved in the shooting deaths. Police were exonerated in nine of the shooting cases.
In the shooting of the 12-year-old, a police officer was killed when the car driven by the suspect dragged him. The officer was able to shoot the boy before he was killed.
In another case, an officer was disciplined with a written reprimand and had to undergo 40 hours of training.
Investigations are pending in the other four cases, including the Thomas shooting.
Additionally, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft sent representatives from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to Cincinnati on Friday to "conduct a review of the practices, procedures and training" of the city's police force in the wake of the recent police killing.
Three Cincinnati police officers have been killed in the line of duty since 1997.
CNN Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report.
Cincinnati under curfew on eve of funeral for man slain by police
Cincinnati Police Division
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