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Cincinnati Mayor Announces Curfew in Wake of Violence

By Stephanie Simon and Eric Slater
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- CINCINNATI

Following three nights of rioting, looting and gunfire, the mayor here issued a “proclamation of emergency” and imposed a citywide curfew Thursday, but the action appeared only to inflame the racial tensions that erupted when a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man.

In a scene reminiscent of 1968, when racial violence swept through this Ohio River city following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Charles Luken stood before community leaders, police and reporters and declared that Cincinnati has “a very legitimate and real problem with race relations” but said his first priority was restoring the peace.

“The only issue we are focused on today is getting the criminal element off our streets,” Luken announced. “Black citizens are tired -- they’re scared in their homes. White citizens are tired -- they’re targeted in their cars. I think we have to exercise unprecedented, and a week ago unthinkable, measures to protect those citizens and to protect our police officers.”

As evening descended and news of the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew spread, however, many blacks railed against the crackdown and predicted widespread violations.

“They are restricting black folks once again. They’re setting rules on us but they’re not setting rules on the police force,” said Yvette Hall, 25, at a rally led by NAACP president Kweisi Mfume. “Saturday, when they bury that boy there’s going to be hell to pay.”

She referred to Timothy Thomas, 19, who was shot to death after a police chase Saturday. He was the fourth black slain by Cincinnati police since November. His funeral is Saturday.

Mfume found himself nearly alone at the rally of 200 in calling for people to respect the curfew, and urging them not to break the law even if they don’t agree with it. Many at the gathering outside the New Friendship Baptist Church near downtown said tempers were rising and still had a way to go.

The curfew will remain in place as long as necessary, city officials said, making it illegal to be on the street unless traveling to or from work. And as the rally broke up -- early because of the curfew -- police in full riot gear, on foot, horseback and in cruisers, began fanning out across the city to enforce it.

The streets were quiet early Thursday evening. Taxis stopped running, restaurants shut down, and the local Roman Catholic Archdiocese canceled its popular Good Friday midnight service for the first time since the tradition began in 1859.

The city police were augmented by state troopers sent in by Gov. Bob Taft, and city and state officials left open the possibility of calling in National Guard troops.