To continue the fight against police brutality when an officer is killed on the job.

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Cincinnati is undergoing a crisis of policing. In the past two weeks, there have been two officer-involved shootings where a black man was killed. In the second shooting, just today, the officer also died. There are few details about today’s shooting, I’m writing this on my lunch break, just an hour after the news of the cop’s death was made public, and just a day after a Black Lives Matter rally calling for answers surrounding the earlier killing. It is being implied that the shooter in today’s case had a death wish, but we have seen how, even in the absence of any discernible intention, they will justify the force in whatever way they can while condemning any and all of the actions of the civilian dead.

Prior to these shootings, the early summer heat brought on a series of highly publicized incidents of gun violence around the city, which bubbled over into a political crisis. Chief Blackwell’s job is currently in question, and he has even expressed his own desire, however small, to resign under this hostile climate.

Not in question is the role of the police in the first place, and we’ve seen the first of the reforms put forward to curb with apparent uptick in violence. The reform getting the most attention is the curfew imposed on teenagers out late at night and the introduction of holding centers for parents to pick up their kids, a measure meant to, depending on who you ask, either get violent youth off the street, or to protect them from the violent around every corner. The city budget called for dozens more police to be hired on top of the over 1000-strong police force. And as the state power begins to assert itself, we are beginning to see what that looks like. On June 9th Quandavier Hicks was killed in his apartment after the police entered under dubious pretenses, giving changing stories of what ensued and describing events physically impossible given the house’s architecture.

In Fairfield, a suburb of Cincinnati, a 12 year old girl was forcefully ejected from a pool, her jaw and several ribs broken in an incident which started when another pool goer didn’t have the correct swimwear. Her pregnant mother was also roughed up by the police and a white bystander who was helping the responding officers hold the suspects down. The matter evokes images of McKinney, Texas, where a similar incident occurred just a week prior, leading to the resignation of one of the officers involved. Some who are familiar with the Fairfield complex claim that the pool’s attire rules have been selectively enforced as a means to control the race of patrons.

The recent events and the national movement around police brutality has led to a renewed milieu of serious distrust of police in the city, which, as Baltimore rioted, was remembering the 14th’s anniversary of the April 2001 riots after Timothy Thomas’s murder by Officer Stephen Roach.

But when a cop dies, the conversation changes.

We know what the immediate fallout will be. When two cops in New York were killed in during the period of national response to the non-indictment of a third officer that had previously choked Eric Garner to death, the movement entered into minor crisis. The police union in New York, performed a kind of work stoppage and literally and figuratively turned their backs to Mayor de Blasio who they claimed had, via a lack of action and minor sympathy for protesters (de Blasio has two black children), had helped create a situation that was hostile to the police in the city.

This also comes during a week when the criminal justice system will be lauded for the handling of the case of the racist Charleston murderer who killed 9 blacks gathered at a church known for its founder Denmark Vesey. In 1822, Vesey was killed by the state for a plot involving hundred of slaves and supporters to overthrow the system of bondage in the southern stronghold. The shooter, a young white man, was caught within a day and will no doubt be sentenced to life in prison, or death.

Though separated by almost 200 years, the case of Vesey and the Charleston shooter, speak to the current racial situation of policing in america. After a hasty trial, Vessy was put to death over intention. Vesey’s crime was threatening the system, the Charleston shooters crime is reinforcing it. In this way, the actions of the police in doing their jobs are not so different.

Blackwell is an apparent expert on “community policing,” which is simply the the postmodern reorganization of the police force following the decades of the urban crisis. While the police are, perhaps, less hostile in Cincinnati, having undergone reforms following 2001, their role remains unchanged. Also unchanged is the general rate at which they are killing blacks in Cincinnati, 3 to 4 a year, a similar number in the lead up to the riots.

The death of the officer in Cincinnati comes at a politically important time, when the Cincinnati Police have a growing need to both consolidate their power and justify their existence. The police are there not to protect life or protect property, they are there to protect the system as it currently exists.

We should expect more reforms, and more task forces. More police and more criminalization of everyday life, all in the name of addressing these issues. More Citizens On Patrol, a cornerstone of the top-down model of brand of community policing so lauded in Cincinnati, will roam the streets. In Northside, my neighborhood and the neighborhood where Quandavier Hicks was killed, white COP members will observe the normal actions of their young black neighbors from afar and file reports of what they see to the police at the end of their excursions. There will be more “good guy loitering” as the white petty bourgeois call it, to displace the problematic loitering; read: young, black and male.

The police and their violence is the glue holding together our racist city as a whole, the sugar baked into the cake. Cincinnati’s segregation, a product of both natural and human geography–of race and class and hills–will be enforced and amplified under the guise of being tough on crime. The praxis of community policing will be thrown out of the window in the pursuit of lower statistics in the important areas, but the marketing of a friendly police force will continue.

The movement itself can expect to bear some of the brunt of this heightened policing, our actions will be called inappropriate and in poor taste. We will be labeled criminals and thugs for holding peaceful rallies and demanding accountability of the institutions of power.

And everyone will be called on to do their part. Also this week, 3CDC, the public-private redeveloper responsible for the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine (which recently reached new heights as $650,000 homes came onto the market in what in 2010 was declared the country’s most income disparate census tract), announced plans to renovate the well used Ziegler park. Just as with the renovation of Washington Park, a few blocks west, the discussion around this renovation revolves around apparent criminal activity and the need to make the park more safe and accessible for regular people.

Several weeks ago, Black Lives Matter had a rally that started in Zielger park. While some regulars were initially hostile, saying the rally needed to be several blocks south “where the white people are,” they came around, and several young mothers and their children joined the event, while dozens of others, mostly black, continued with their business, either unfazed or supportive. Outside the park, the police kept close watch, but not because of the rally, but because they are always there.

Nothing the police are doing is out of the ordinary, they are acting completely normally within their role in our society. The people at Ziegler park know this. No amount of additional police, no next day press conferences to explain their actions, no heightened levels of surveillance, no lrads or armored vehicles, no boot camp days for troubled youth, no additional patrols, no meetings with community councils–nothing that serves to bolster the effectiveness or public image of the various institutions of social control will relieve the underlying cause of the troubles we face.

What we should, perhaps, try to imagine is a world where the police are never there in Ziegler park. Not in some sense of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but a world where the historic role, and apparent necessity, of the police is brought to an end. Good policies, and good police, will only go as far as they are able to under the general conditions in our system. A system of racism and capitalism, directing violence downward toward the working masses, where blacks disproportionately find themselves. The daily violence of poverty and hunger, of want, is ignored, while the control of the problems born out of it are focused on to the tune of $130 million each year in Cincinnati. Police budgets are blindly increased while social services, school, jobs, recreation and housing are all subjected to reviews and cutbacks.

Poverty and racism, central to our system, can’t be reformed out of existence, and no level of investment in think tanks or task forces will fix these issues. Policing is a problem of geometry–the solutions are always forced down from above. A movement rooted in the masses is the only force with the ability to can manifest that imagined society where, instead of the boot forever stamping on the human face, the boot is nonexistent.

We can not let the events of today take us off the streets. If anything, they are another example of the necessity for our movement to go further, to challenge not just the actions of the police, but the grotesque society they defend.

Gentrification is not an “Experiment”

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On Monday, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran a story about Republic street, focusing on the divisive elements of the changing social makeup of OTR. Last fall, I wrote about the same location, more or less, focusing on the northern half block bounded by Vine, Republic, 12th and 13th.

The article is interesting, and goes into more detail that I was able to, being constrained somewhat by a requirement in the assignment to base the presentation I gave (the notes of which the piece was adapted from) on quiet observation of the space in the spirit of Bill Cronin’s “place paper” assignment. (Incidentally, this is the second time Bill Cronin has been impactful in my life: in 2011 he blew the lid off ALEC’s role in the anti-union legislation in Wisconsin and elsewhere. When the right-wing backlash to his research exploded, a few of us in Cincinnati organized the first protest against ALEC, after which we were leaked all of the organization’s model legislation–leading to an expose in The Nation and other liberal media outlets).

The Enquirer’s story radically diverges from mine in what it draws out of the space. By claiming the street, along with the rest of the neighborhood, is an “experiment,” it conveys a sense that it’s premature to make conclusions about the course and future of gentrification in the area. “This is the type of street where the city could lose its soul,” the article states. It goes on to explore about the divisions between old residents and new ones, but misses the mark when it ignores the reality of the separation. While the new residents interviewed wax poetically about the changes occurring, the story neglects both the ideological role it has played in the transformation, especially in the obfuscation of the workings of gentrification (probably somewhat due to the presence of the paper’s editor on the board of 3CDC, the corporation overseeing the redevelopment), and the fact that Republic street is an anomaly in the neighborhood south of Liberty street, one of the last places where there are large developments of affordable housing still in existence.

The language is equaling troubling; here’s how the story summarizes the immigrant history of the neighborhood: “It is a street of beginnings. It is where German immigrants first arrived. It is where the Appalachians unpacked their bags when they moved to the city. It is where poor blacks came to replace them both.” In other words, Germans built the space, Appalachians stopped off for a stay in the vacant neighborhood, but blacks actively replaced them. There is a subtle hint of the language of dispossession, necessary for understanding the history of the neighborhood, no doubt, but it implies that blacks were the agents of that dispossession.

But we can see the more recent, arguably more relevant black history being overwritten. As I noted in my earlier piece, the remaking of this space included the bulldozing and paving over the memorial to Timothy Thomas in the alley where he was shot, while a plaque commemorating the de-Germanification hangs on a pole just 100 feet away.

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The residents of the affordable housing on the block tell a different tale. Antoinette Jones, highlights the divide and draws attention to what the Enquirer misses about gentrification even while it’s right in front of them. “She said the restaurants and bars on Vine can sound and feel like an amusement park dropped into her neighborhood. “You see them coming out and they’re having their fun,” Jones said. “Where’s our fun at?”” While the fate of Republic is apparently is still being determined, this is not the case for any of the other North-South streets running parallel. With the pending relocation of the Drop Inn Center to Queensgate, with the Washington Park renovation and 3CDC’s move from Elm to Walnut, renting out their old office space to startups and restaurants, the blocks west are all but gentrified. And none of that compares to the scale and effectiveness of the transformation from apparent slum to high price playground of Vine and Main streets, and seeping into the cracks (Walnut and Clay) between. We know what gentrification leads to. We can analyze the data before our very eyes. Capital has won, poor people have lost.

But I don’t know that we should expect republic to be much different than anywhere else. The clashing divisions written about in the story are today really shades of what they once were, and, perhaps, are more farcical proof of diversity than the reality of such divisions. Two blocks east of Republic illustrate this best, perhaps, with 3CDC’s new offices on the corner of Walnut and 12th opening up just across the corner from the offices of the Homeless Coalition, the most advanced social service agency in the neighborhood, both in terms of the radical nature of the staff and their willingness to challenge the powers behind gentrification (pick up any copy of streetvibes to understand this). Now they are to be permanent neighbors. But bubbling beneath the surface is the contradictions of the neighborhood as a microcosm of society, these two organizations are diametrically opposed and dialectically intertwined; one grows out of the other, just as the poverty of the residents in the section 8 housing on Republic flows from the wealth of their neighbors living in condos one building over. This diversity can’t be permanent. Nothing is.

Soapbox hosts Screening of “Condemned”

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keithhighscansKeith LaMar has been on death row for 20 years. He spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and has little contact with the world outside his cell. He is facing capital punishment for a crime he did not commit. LaMar is among the 5 prisoners sentenced to death after the Lucasville prison uprising in 1993, one of the largest prison rebellions in history. Like the other 5 prisoners, LaMar’s refusal to cooperate with state prosecutors and correctional officials, whose actions prior to the uprising escalated tension to the breaking point, led him to be singled out, given an unfair trial and convicted on unsupported witness testimony.

On Monday, “Condemned,” a film about LaMar’s case, was screened at Soapbox Books & Zines, a lending library in Northside. The documentary made by local filmmaker Barbara Wolf examines the flimsy evidence against LaMar and exposes an array of misconduct before, during and after his trial. For example, LaMar was convicted of a murder during the uprising that another person admitted to in earlier testimony. The state swept the admission under the rug in return for that individual’s cooperation. In another instance, a witness first testified that he didn’t know who LaMar was and that LaMar wasn’t active in the uprising, then later testified that he saw LaMar leading an apparent death squad that killed 5 inmates. The defense were never provided with any information about the dubious testimonies, a violation of LaMar’s constitutional rights.

LaMar’s is now in limbo. In November, a hearing of oral arguments was held in the 6th district court in Cincinnati to determine whether Keith will get a new trial in light of all the misconduct 20 years ago. By all accounts, the hearing went well, but LaMar was barred from attending to defend himself, the latest in decades of injustice. It may be as late as spring 2016 before a ruling is made. The hope is that LaMar’s original conviction will be thrown out, and the state will not attempt to retry allowing him to finally walk free.

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Uses and Users in The Gated District

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Written as the final to a urban sustainability class I took in my spare time this fall. I republished it with slight modifications here.

It’s not just us keeping them apart. It’s everyone in Besźel and everyone in UI Qoma. Every minute, every day. We’re only the last ditch: it’s everyone in the cities who does most of the work. It works because you don’t blink.-China Mieville, The City & The City.

The buildings, parking lots and alleys in the northern half of the block between Cincinnati’s Republic and Vine, 12th and 13th streets, offer a unique perspective to look into issues of race, class and the way that we understand and talk about history in a changing urban environment. It’s not an uncommon block in the neighborhood, Over-the-Rhine (OTR): on the Vine street side, a row of three and four story buildings with storefronts below and housing above sit adorned with the vestiges of their Italianate style. On the Republic side, a single housing development is all that’s left of what were probably similar buildings all constructed in the late 1800’s.

This is the heart of the Gateway Quarter, the ideological entry point into a revitalizing OTR. This is OTR with all its romantic heritage of german, beer loving, culture. On the corner of Vine and 13th, the Lackman, named after the brewer who paid for the building over 120 years ago sits with its big open doors welcoming crowds into the cramped bar. Lackman’s operation would be sold to Hudepohl, a mainstay of Cincinnati brewing history, in the 1930’s, but today the bar harkens back to the turn of the 20th century, even using the old winged-L logo.

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