The city of Cincinnati does not have a particularly awe-inspiring civil rights record. Local talk radio callers often begin sentences with "I'm not a racist or anythin', but..." and end them with "I'm just sick of these damn black people." The Chief of Police, Tom Streicher, was censured for his use of racial slurs1. Political ads for City Council candidates often contain open (or thinly-veiled) race baiting. Cincinnati is the seventh most segregated city in the United States, and, by all appearances, will continue moving up the list. Disaffection with city business and government leaders has long been growing amongst the substantial low income and African-American communities. All this was brought to a head in the spring of 2001, when Cincinnati Police officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed, married African American man with a young son, the fifteenth Cincinnati police killing of an African American man in the past few years. Protests broke out on the streets in African-American neighbourhoods such as Over-The-Rhine, but soon, due to a mixture of police provocation and outraged youths joining the marches, they turned into a full-scale rebellion.

It lasted several days, with Mayor Charlie Luken spouting slogans such as "Cut it out" and hoping things would be "hunkey-dorey" again. State police did little to improve the situation, as they broke up Timothy Thomas' funeral by shooting at a schoolteacher and two young girls, age six and eleven with "less-lethal" ordnance

Out of the wreckage of April 2001 came several grass roots organisations, differing on some issues, but generally unanimous in the belief that something had to change in Cincinnati. Two of the principal organisations, the now-defunct Coalition for a Just Cincinnati and the Black United Front, decided that the best available tactic was to proclaim a boycott of the city.

This was, in fact, only an expansion of an existing boycott. The city's main gay rights organisation, Stonewall Cincinnati, had successfully implemented a travel and convention boycott in 1994, when an anti-gay ordinance2 was passed by referendum. The new boycott had two principal components. Those who did not live in Cincinnati were to stay away. The CJC, in particular, actively lobbied entertainers planning appearances in the city, as well as organisations seeking to have conferences and conventions in Cincinnati, to change their plans. The boycott organisations requested those who lived in Cincinnati not to spend money in the downtown area.

The organisations' demands were different, but overlapping. The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati divided its demands into four main categories: discrimination in economic life, police accountability, civil rights, and government reform. The CJC demanded that the city make good on the commitments it made to the federal government when requesting Empowerment Zone funding, and to promote equitable economic development programmes in low-income neighbourhoods, instead of limiting development aid to the business districts. The Coalition also called for the city to strengthen the Citizens' Police Review Panel (later replaced pursuant to federal court order by the Citizen Complaint Authority, to enact campaign finance reform, and to elect City Council members by district, rather than the current at-large system, which has historically favoured the downtown business districts.

The Black United Front's demands focussed entirely on the issues of economic development, police accountability, and the uprising of April 2001. The most significant distinction between the BUF demands and those of the CJC is the call for amnesty for all people arrested either for violating the selectively-enforced curfew ordered during the riots, as well as anyone arrested during the riots.

While the boycott movement has been quite successful in causing such entertainers as Whoopi Goldberg, Winton Marsalis, and Bill Cosby to cancel performances in the city, city officials have had nothing but derision for the movement. Mayor Charlie Luken, for example, has claimed that the demands change so frequently that it is impossible to follow them. In fact, the demands have remained the same for years, and have been available online and in press releases for all that time.

The city's derision was compounded by the threat of litigation, after several entertainers changed their travel itineraries in response to the boycott. The Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA), which sponsored the appearances of Bill Cosby and Winton Marsalis, filed suit against the CJC for tortious interference with contract, alleging (accurately) that the CJC had prevailed on the entertainers to reconsider performing in Cincinnati. The complaint itself was quite dodgy, as the Supreme Court had already ruled in 1982 that the First Amendment prohibited suits against political boycotters for tortious interference. Although many expected the city's almost all-Republican judiciary to side with the CAA and allow the suit to go forward, the suit was eventually dismissed as barred by the First Amendment. The CAA later settled out of court.

The Full Text of the Boycott Demands

I. End Social and Economic Apartheid
The city’s own application for "Empowerment Zone" status in 1998 accurately described the poverty rooted in the nine neighborhoods it asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare ‘urban disaster areas.’ Most of these neighborhoods are pre-dominantly African American. The 1990 census showed that in parts of Over-the-Rhine and the West End more than 83 percent of the population live at or below the poverty level. Clearly business leaders, and political leaders at all levels of government, must keep the many promises delivered over the years to address this issue. Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati must put a high priority on and demonstrate progress in the economic development of low-income neighborhoods. They must recognize that neighborhood development is essential for a strong, viable, and stable Cincinnati.This effort must be no less than that currently devoted to the development of the downtown business district, the riverfront, and high-income neighborhoods.
Specifically, we demand that:
A. Economic Development
  1. The city of Cincinnati and its corporate partners must keep the promises made in the 1998 application to HUD for Empowerment Zone status. As detailed in the application, these promises include spending, over a 10 year period, $100 million in federal grant funds, $208.2 million from city funds, and 2.3 billion dollars overall in grants, loans and services from the city, the private sector and non-profit organizations. The financial commitments made by the city government and several Cincinnati corporations in the 1998 application must be honored as originally pledged, meaning that real dollars must not be changed into equivalent services. The specific community proposals included in the application and its attachments must also be funded.

    Background: After almost three years, promised corporate and government funds have not materialized. A Council member made a motion on August 1, 2001 calling on the City Manager to develop a plan outlining the steps that the city will take to keep its $208.2 million commitment. The motion has been referred to the city Finance Committee, which as of September 7 had not yet acted upon it.
  2. State and federal authorities must investigate the allegations made by Dr. Stanley E. Broadnax in the report entitled Request for Civil Rights Investigation and a Mandate for a Plan of Corrective Actions Involving the City of Cincinnati's Housing and Community Development Programs, dated May 12, 2001, and sent to President G.W. Bush and Ohio Governor R.A. Taft.
  3. Cincinnati must create a meaningful, continuing job training and job creation program targeted to Cincinnati’s populations with the highest levels of unemployment.
  4. The Cincinnati and Hamilton County governments must reprioritize their budgets to eliminate biases towards development of the downtown business district, the riverfront, and high-income neighborhoods at the expense of low-income neighborhoods.
  5. Cincinnati must create a program to identify, stop, and prosecute discriminatory lending patterns by local lending institutions.  It must create effective economic development programs, partnering advocates for low-income residents with businesses and lending institutions, and encourage the creation of a local development bank.  In short, it must identify and remove barriers keeping low-income residents from borrowing money.
B. Housing
  1. The city of Cincinnati must place a high priority on the revitalization of low-income neighborhoods by increasing home ownership, rehabilitating run-down housing, enforcing building codes and fair housing statutes, and promoting mixed income neighborhoods without displacement of low-income residents.
C. Labor Rights
  1. The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County governments must pay a ‘living wage’ to all city and county employees, and employees of firms doing business with these governments, based on the cost of living in Cincinnati.  No one who works 40 hours a week should live at or below the poverty level.  The Living Wage must be based on the cost of living in Cincinnati.

  2. The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County governments must support the "card check" method in all union organizing campaigns for city and county employees, and employees of firms doing business with the city or county.  (Card check is an election method that determines whether or not the majority of employees in any particular agency have a desire to be unionized.  Employer neutrality is required during this process.  When 50% of all employees sign cards authorizing a union, the union has won the election.  The alternative is a government-supervised process that can take years.)
D. Public Schools
  1. City, state and federal government authorities must place a high priority on sustained improvement in all public schools in the city of Cincinnati, and must bring all school buildings up to code, and apply the same standards to inner city and suburban schools.
E. Public Health
Health indices for Hamilton County clearly show that low-income and black neighborhoods within Cincinnati are a public health disaster.  Thirty-one percent of Cincinnati children live in "distressed" neighborhoods as compared to an average of 17 percent for a 50-city average. [Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation's "Kids Count" report]  Almost 19 percent of babies born to mothers living in Over-the-Rhine had low birth weights compared to a county average of 8.7 percent, and 29 percent of mothers in Over-the-Rhine had inadequate prenatal care compared to a county average of 9-10 percent.[...]
  1. The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County must increase spending to reduce poverty, improve access to health care and preventive services, and improve health indices among low-income and black populations in Cincinnati.

II. Restore Public Accountability of the Police

Public confidence in the Cincinnati Police Department has plummeted. After numerous and tragic incidents of police harassment, brutality and unjustifiable killings, the Cincinnati Police must be brought under citizen control and be publicly accountable. To accomplish this, the following actions need to be taken by city leaders, city government and/or the citizens of Cincinnati:

  1. The Cincinnati Citizens Police Review Panel must have: financial and administrative independence from the police department; paid panel members; a paid, professional investigative staff; direct subpoena power; and primary investigative power to look into cases of alleged police misconduct. Relevant evidence collected by the panel should be included in police arbitration proceedings.

  2. Cincinnati City Council should unanimously pass a vote of "no confidence" in Police Chief Thomas Streicher and demand his resignation.
  3. The city of Cincinnati government must reform the current ineffective discipline system for police officers. It should fund a study by a credible third party to determine why the Cincinnati Police Department is unable to appropriately discipline or terminate police officers, and it should implement the study recommendations.

  4. Cincinnati voters should pass the civil service ballot initiative on November 6, 2001, thereby making city department heads (including the chief of Police) more accountable and opening city services to outside ideas and personnel.3

  5. The Cincinnati Police Department must adopt a community-policing model, including foot patrols in Over-the-Rhine and other low-income neighborhoods.

  6. The city of Cincinnati government should fund a study by a credible third party to determine whether Cincinnati police are complying with the city’s ordinance outlawing racial profiling and have stopped using excessive force against African Americans and other minorities.

  7. The Cincinnati Police Department must adopt a better psychological screening process for police recruits to reject candidates who may be unable to control racist, homophobic or violent tendencies.

  8. The Cincinnati Police Department must increase the percentage of African American police officers to reflect the demographics of the city.

III. Support and Enforce Civil and Human Rights

Whether it’s due to the shooting of unarmed African American men, legal discrimination of gays and lesbians in housing and employment, censorship of the arts, or arrests of peaceful, leafleting protestors for ‘littering’, Cincinnati is becoming known as a city of repression. To remedy this situation, we demand the following:

  1. The U.S. Department of Justice should expand its probe into the policies and practices of the Cincinnati Police Department to include the Hamilton County Prosecutor and Department. The prosecutor has systematically conducted biased and aggressive prosecution of political protestors, in some cases denying them reasonable bail and a speedy trial, while ignoring the criminal infractions of Police Officers.

  2. The citizens of Cincinnati must repeal “Issue 3”, which is now Article XII of the City Charter, and which prohibits the city from enforcing equal protection in housing, public accommodations and employment on the basis of sexual orientation.

  3. The Cincinnati Police Department and the Hamilton County Prosecutors[sic] Office must support the right of peaceful protest without arrest or intimidation.

  4. The city of Cincinnati government should fund a study by a credible third party to determine whether Cincinnati police are complying with the city’s ordinance outlawing racial profiling and have stopped using excessive force against African Americans and other minorities. (This demand is repeated from Section II.)

IV. Enact City Government and Election Reform

Cincinnati city government must be reformed to make it more accountable and responsive to the needs of the residents of Cincinnati. The following steps will help to achieve this goal.

  1. Elect members of Cincinnati City Council by district with a single member of council elected from each district, in order to reduce the candidates’ need for large campaign funds, thereby making council members more accountable to city residents.

  2. Cincinnati voters should pass the civil service ballot initiative on November 6, 2001, thereby making city department heads (including the chief of Police) more accountable and opening city services to outside ideas and personnel. (This demand is repeated from Section II.)

  3. Require city employees to live within the city in order to increase understanding, communication and commitment to solving the problems faced by city residents.

  4. Enact campaign-finance reform, by passing the Fair Elections Amendment on November 6, 2001, sponsored by Citizens for Fair Elections4. (See:

The Cincinnati Black United Front's demands:

  1. Amend the city charter to end the city’s reliance on civil service laws allowing the selection of the best possible candidate for Police Chief and Fire Chief, assistant chiefs and captains via a nationwide search.
  2. Eliminate racial profiling in Cincinnati via federal court order to include continuous federal monitoring. This city must totally reform the police department to end all discriminatory practices and ensure all citizens are treated fairly and equally by police. The reforms must be comprehensive and range from stopping the excessive use of force against African Americans to reforming the current ineffective discipline system for police officers. The reforms must extend to end the discriminatory, disparate practices in the Hamilton County prosecution and justice systems.
  3. Fund the implementation of neighborhood development with measurable goals, e.g. Tourism multicultural proposal, Empowerment Zone, Community Development Block Grant, community council funds.
  4. Appropriate at least two million dollars annually to support CCY for workforce development.
  5. Grant total amnesty to all persons detained arrested and jailed [sic] because of the rebellion and the resulting city curfew.

1In addition to domestic violence charges filed by his wife, which did not faze him much, because "I am the chief of police."

2Virtually identical to the one struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Romer v. Evans

3"Issue 5," which allowed the city of Cincinnati to search nationwide for candidates to fill high-ranking positions in city agencies, was passed in 2001.

4This ordinance was passed by referendum in 2001, and quietly repealed in a completely unpublicised referendum the next year. It never took effect.