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Cincinnati Unrest: Mayor Luken Announces Citywide Curfew Lifted

Aired April 16, 2001 - 10:12   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: I want to take you live now to Cincinnati. Mayor Charles Luken about to start a news conference. This community, religious and business leaders talking about the curfew and the unrest that has rocked that city. Let's listen in.

CHARLES LUKEN, MAYOR OF CINCINNATI: It's time for leaders to step forward and that is happening. Out of this crisis comes an historic opportunity for our community to make meaningful progress. As you can see in this room today, a broad cross section of our community leadership is coming together in ways I have never seen before. We have an opportunity for a new Cincinnati.

As the first step, we must restore trust and confidence in our community institutions and particularly in our police department. The officers that serve Cincinnati are good people doing a tough job every day. They deserve respect and courtesy from all of our citizens.

Yet, there are issues that we must address. The solutions require accountability, true change and cooperation and commitment from every part of our community. We need solutions that create a more effective police force and that bring greater respect for our officers. We need solutions that address the root causes of longstanding racial and economic problems and that elevate our entire community.

In that spirit, we need to do four things to move forward. This city is committed to eliminating all inappropriate police violence. We will not tolerate injustice in any form. We need immediate improvement and strong city and police leadership accountability for these results. If we don't see improvement, the people responsible will be removed.

To make improvement, we need significant changes in how our police department operates. Most important, we need greater latitude for the police chief to establish appropriate policies, practices and accountability within our police department. This will require changes in our city charter. We also need changes that enable us to recruit the best police leadership from wherever they may be, not just from within our own city, as our charter requires today.

Third, we must address broader issues of racism and police- community relations. I'm calling for counsel to approve participation in a collaborative negotiation proposed in the class action lawsuit related to the issue of racial profiling. That process must move forward now to allow all stakeholders in the community to participate in crafting meaningful and enforceable police reform.

Fourth, we must address the broader issues of racism and economic inclusion in our community. I am chartering a diverse, high level commission to define how we should do this and how we should make recommendations. This commission will draw from all sectors of our community, including religious, education, business and community leaders. Unlike some past commissions, they will be empowered to oversee the implementation of their plans. I will announce the chairs of this commission in the next week.

These issues are the top priority for our community. We cannot achieve any of the other important things we're trying to do until we address all of them successfully. It is essential if we are to build our neighborhoods, attract and retain business, make Cincinnati a place where people want to live and work, fulfill our vision for the river front, Freedom Center, the convention center and downtown development and to show our respect and create opportunities for all of our young people.

As I said at the beginning, we must come together. This is a crisis and it is an historic opportunity. I am personally committed to make these and other important changes happen here. The city council members here are committed to joining me in making that commitment and I ask every citizen to support these actions and make Cincinnati a place of opportunity for everyone.

I'll now take a few questions and then, just to let you know what's going to happen, we will have a -- we'll take a minute or two break where we'll have some other people in the audience come forward and we will have another statement made. But if anybody has a couple of questions before we do that...

QUESTION: I noticed that you're working hard with community leaders, black and white, here to try to begin the healing process but I noticed that there isn't a representative from the police department. Can you address that, how can we begin to heal without having the police here?

LUKEN: Well, one of the points we want to make today is that police-community relations require that the broader community be involved in how the police department operates. I know of no opposition to what I've said today in the police department and the fact that the police department is not represented here should not be interpreted that way.

But what we are here today to say is that this group, the elected people you see, the leaders you see from the African-American community, the leaders you see from the business community are committed to this agenda.

QUESTION: Mayor, I'd like to follow up on that. Was Chief Streicher or any of their representatives invited to this meeting?

LUKEN: No. I mean it was, Chief Streicher is downstairs and I spoke to him before today about the curfew and, you know, so he is engaged in many other different issues. These are questions, these are questions of policy. These are questions about how the police department operates and questions about what elected leadership is going to do to make change.

The people who run the police department implement the policies that we create and this is about those policies and practices and so, you know, it's our responsibility to make these changes.

QUESTION: Would their input, though, not be helpful in coming to you?

LUKEN: Look, we have never made a change in the police department or safety requirements in the city without the police department involvement. But what we have said today about a specific change in the police department is that we've got to change the way the police chief is picked in the city. Now, that is not a decision for the police chief. That is a decision for the elected leadership in the city to make that decision. And what I am saying and what some council members are saying is that that system is antiquated. We should move into the, this century, and we should make that change that most cities, quite frankly, have made a long time ago.

QUESTION: Does that in any way reflect on Chief Streicher himself and the job...

LUKEN: Not, you know, my own personal view of Chief Streicher is well known. I have supported Chief Streicher and I think he has done a good job for the citizens of this city. Nate?


LUKEN: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) talk about accountability and respect, yet some people are very disturbed by the fact that you have a well qualified fire chief who's an African-American, you have a well qualified assistant or assistant to the safety director who's an African-American, yet when a decision came down to appointing someone to replace Mr. Ryan as the acting safety director, you jumped over the well qualified African-American fire chief, you jumped over the well qualified African-American assistant safety director and, in fact, you promoted Chief Streicher who's under fire, to assume that role.

How is that in line with what you just said about accountability and respect?

LUKEN: Well, Nate, I think the decision who is acting safety director and who is permanent safety director are both under ongoing consideration. The city manager made the decision when Kent Ryan resigned to make that move. I don't know how long that situation will last. Suffice it to say we had a conversation about this very issue yesterday and you may hear that things are going to change.

But I have told you my feelings about the police chief. So I am not uncomfortable with the decision to put Chief Streicher in that role on an interim basis. But I can't say that there won't be changes and I can tell you that the city manager is actively involved in looking for a permanent safety director.

QUESTION: I'd like to follow up.

LUKEN: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: You talk about police need to be held immediately accountable, there are reports that police officers over the weekend fired into a crowd. The crowd was unarmed. Have those police officers been held accountable, as you suggest they should be? Are they suspended? Can you give us the status?

LUKEN: They are not suspended. There is an FBI investigation. There were internal investigators on the scene within seconds of the incident. The police chief, you can ask him, he indicated to me that he may make reassignments as a result of some preliminary findings in that investigation. But whether those reassignments have been made, I do not know. But I do know that there have not been suspensions in that case.

It is troublesome to me, and I think anyone who has heard or seen what happened in that incident. But let me also point out to you that we have had a great deal of violence in our streets over the last few days and knock on wood or thank god, we have had no reports of serious injuries and I think that is a credit to the police department and a credit to the citizens who are acting responsibly and trying to engage in non-violent protest in our city.

We'll take a couple of more and then we're going to make this switch.


LUKEN: Yes, sir?

PALMER: You spoke about issues of economic inclusion and economic exclusion. Can you give us some substantive examples of that and can you also tell us given that the situation is so polarized at this point, you have people in the majority community, in the large -- the white community that think that pretty much economically things are the way they should be and folks should just lift themselves up by the bootstraps. Can you talk about that?

LUKEN: Well, we have behind me the leaders of the largest corporations in the city of Cincinnati, who have committed themselves and endorsed the statement that I have read to you today. The issue of economic inclusion I could talk about all day. But suffice it to say that if you look at the numbers regarding African-American employment and education, we are committing ourselves today to make improvements in the objective criteria by which success is measured -- income, education, all of those things must be improved.

Now, Cincinnati does not stand alone in those problems. I want to emphasize that. But Cincinnati, Cincinnati, because, unfortunately, of what has happened, has an opportunity to become a leader in the nation in making important changes and maybe one day people are going to come to Cincinnati and they're going to ask how did you do it and how did you make the change and can we model ourselves on what you do? That's what we're here to try to develop, a model that says this is something that all of the country one day will look at and say this is a success story.

I'll take one more, sir, and then...

QUESTION: Sir, has a decision been made about the curfew...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about the Reds game that's coming up this Tuesday?

LUKEN: A decision has been made about the curfew. The curfew will not exist as of today. The city manager, who's in the back of the room, is signed or is in the process of signing the order that will lift the curfew for tonight. The state of emergency will continue only as a vehicle if we would need to move back in that direction.

But I want to emphasize to you that I see no reason why we should have to do that, that some of the people you see behind me and some of the people you see in the audience have done a superb job of channeling the protest into non-violent areas and I want to express my appreciation, in addition to the police department, to these people, who have hit the streets. And if you saw the other day, we had a crowd that might have been termed a little unruly and people praying and people in the community, people of good will just walked in among those folks and the character of the protest changed immediately. And I am grateful to the people who did that.

I am going to take a break and I will be around afterward to answer your questions, but we want to get Mr. Love (ph) -- can we make...

KAGAN: We've been listening to Mayor Charlie Luken of the city of Cincinnati, talking about the latest progress in trying to restore calm and peace to the City of Cincinnati, the mayor announcing at the end of that news conference there that the curfew, as of tonight, will not exist in Cincinnati. Also announcing the start of a race commission, one that will look at the police department and the mayor hoping bring meaningful policy and change in the way the Cincinnati Police Department operates.

More from Cincinnati in just a bit.



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