Michael Brown shooting: How lessons from other cities may help Ferguson heal

Los Angeles and Cincinnati recovered from riots. Can their experience show Ferguson the way to move forward after nightly violence?

'At the end of it, we wanted better police community relations,' says Cincinnati pastor

Ferguson, Mo., may take lessons from cities like Los Angeles and Cincinnati once the media spotlight has dimmed and the riots sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown have subsided. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

When Richard Riordan became mayor of Los Angeles in 1993, and with racial wounds still festering in the city following the Rodney King verdict the previous year, forging strong relationships with top black community leaders became one of his top priorities.

"I remember distinctly a bunch of major African American [leaders] came to my office and the first thing they asked me to do was to hold hands in a circle and say a prayer," Riordan told CBC News from Los Angeles.

That meeting, suggested the former mayor, signifies part of the healing process that Ferguson, Mo., must undergo when the media spotlight has dimmed and the riots sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown have subsided.

While Riordan wasn't mayor during the 1992 riots, he came to power just under a year later, as emotions remained raw.

While the King verdict may have fuelled animosity against the police force from members of the black community, it also brought out racial tensions among white, black, Korean and Hispanic groups.

L.A.: 'It's worked magically'

Riordan said he immediately formed a committee that included representatives from different minority groups and top businesses of the city to help with economic development, and concentrated on building community policing initiatives.

"It's worked over a period of time. It's worked magically."

Paul Bardack, a former deputy housing and urban development assistant secretary, said he was asked by then U.S. President George H. W. Bush, to form a team and try to defuse tensions in the city.

"They were all blaming one another. I found it was unproductive to look backwards at who really started this," he said. "They couldn't get past their positions. They weren't really listening to each about what happened in the past."

"However, they were very willing to look forward to the future," Bardack said. "By changing the psychology from looking backwards — who did what bad thing first to whom — and make it to looking forward, we were able to change the dynamic on the ground."

Part of that solution was working together with diverse groups, aided by federal money, to create business enterprises, that, "seemed to work to some extent," Bardack said.

Cincinnati's 'collaborative settlement agreement'

Cincinnati dealt with its own riots in 2001 when Timothy Thomas, a black and unarmed 19-year-old, was shot and killed by Cincinnati police, setting off nearly a week of civil unrest. The riots were a culmination of the poor relationship between Cincinnati's black community and law enforcement, as 15 black men had been killed by police in the previous 10 years.

"What we did in Cincinnati, we made policing a community-wide project and a community-wide effort,"  said Pastor Damon Lynch III, who just returned from Ferguson. "Because before that, it was adversarial. Police and the black community were in an adversarial role."

Even before the shooting of Thomas, the Cincinnati Black United Front and the American Civil Liberties Union had launched a class action lawsuit against the police force, alleging discrimination against the black community.

But that was abandoned following the riots. Instead, the Justice Department oversaw the creation of a "collaborative settlement agreement" that included the police union and representatives from the black community.

"And the real key is this was done under the oversight of a federal judge, so nobody could leave the table, and we fought it out," said Lynch, who was part of crafting the agreement.

"We wanted reform, we wanted justice. But at the end of it, we wanted better police community relations," Lynch said. "We didn’t want a divisive litigation process where one side wins and one side loses, and so there's still this tension. We wanted a process that if done right, the entire community wins."

The agreement laid out a plan on how to foster better relations, which included community problem-oriented policing "to help the police and community work together to address crime, disorder, and quality of life issues in the Cincinnati metropolitan area."

It reformed the police's use-of-force policy with the goal "that arrests will be the last resort and we look at what the problem is and try to solve it," Lynch said.

Part of the agreement was to establish a community complaint authority, a forum that had subpoena power and where citizens could take their grievances. So when police were involved in an incident, they were not only investigated internally but by the complaint authority that had a paid director, investigator and a board made up of community members.

Now, officers meet with members of the black community every month and "there's really not much that happens in policing that the community is not engaged in," Lynch said.

"I can tell you Cincinnati's not perfect but we’re a lot farther than we were in police community relations," he said.

"The residents of Ferguson need to be part of the process of how Ferguson is policed."


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