Late in the summer of 2006, Cincinnati found itself in a dark place that junkies and drunks learn about in 12-step treatment programs: Rock bottom.

Homicides had soared to nearly two a week. Crime in neighborhoods spiked 30 percent. And chemist Philip Bates, husband of Cincinnati School Board member Melanie Bates, was shot to death in his own front yard in "safe" North Avondale as he came home from a memorial service for a young friend who had also been shot in a robbery.

That was enough. The first steps to a turnaround started in September, when hundreds of angry citizens jammed City Hall to demand more cops. One by one, they filled out yellow cards for permission to speak, and waited for a turn at the microphone. Their voices shook with anger, grief and frustration as they told harrowing stories more like Devil's Night in Detroit than summer in Cincinnati.

They talked about digging bullets out of the front doors of their apartments. About property values crashing as frightened elderly residents fled and abandoned their homes to drug dealers. About discarded syringes and condoms thrown into back yards where children played. A Kennedy Heights single mother told a vivid tale of huddling on a bedroom floor with her children to avoid stray bullets from gunfire in the street.

Like many in the crowd at City Hall that night, she was black. It should have been no surprise that black families wanted safe neighborhoods to raise their children.

But her story contradicted the blacks vs. cops script written by race hustlers, self-appointed boycott leaders, fist-pumping protesters and most of the local media. Cincinnati had its blame-the-cops story and it was sticking to it.

BOOKENDS TO VIOLENCE

That meeting in 2006 was a reply, five years later, to another jammed council meeting on April 9, 2001, when a mob hijacked City Hall, broke windows, threatened elected officials, barred the doors and announced, in the words of Black United Front leader the Rev. Damon Lynch III, that nobody was leaving "until we get answers."

The two meetings were bookends: 2001 was a descent into lawless violence, fear and crime; 2006 was the beginning of recovery as council was forced to hire more cops and finally admit that police were the solution, not the problem.

Surprisingly, neither meeting got much mention by the local media on the 10th anniversary of "the unrest" of April 2001.

Cincinnati can recite the official media version like a pledge of allegiance to political correctness:

The shooting of an unarmed black man, Timothy Thomas, by a Cincinnati cop, triggered a week of unrest that had been building up for years in response to 15 black men killed in confrontations with police. Fortunately, dialogue helped heal the city and the police department was reformed by the historic collaborative agreement and supervision by a federal monitor and judge.

But it's full of falsehoods. The accidental predawn shooting of Thomas by Officer Stephen Roach did not trigger violence. Violence only began three days after the predawn Saturday shooting, on Monday, April 9, at the Law and Public Safety council meeting. It was "triggered" by a vacuum of information, incendiary reporting and reckless weakness by city leaders.

The so-called "unrest" included looting, fires, gunshots and random beatings of whites by blacks "” a textbook race riot. It was the worst in the U.S. since the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles 10 years earlier. Cops who risked their lives on 16-hour shifts read the headlines and mocked the media, saying some beating victims were "almost unrested to death."

Yet 10 years later, The Cincinnati Enquirer still calls it the "unrest" "” code for a justified rebellion against root-cause injustice.

Phil Heimlich, who was on council at the time, says, "This was no civil rights protest. We had our problems, but frankly, the rioters were just a bunch of thugs, taking advantage of lawlessness to loot and break windows."

He was part of a small club, including Fraternal Order of Police President Keith Fangman, Police Chief Tom Streicher and a few others who dared to resist the appeasement stampede.

Another was Mike Allen, who as Hamilton County Prosecutor refused to consider plea bargains for 75 adult rioters and more than 100 juveniles. "Saying society was at fault was the wrong way to go. But City Council bought into the victim mentality to appease the same people who were stirring the pot."

As for the "historic collaborative agreement": The Cincinnati Police Department reformed itself almost in spite of federal meddling.

The decision to blame the cops and send babysitters to watch them did more damage than the riots.

Urban expert Fred Siegel of New York, who wrote the book on "riot ideology," warned immediately after the riots that if Cincinnati blamed the police, "They will simply back off and crime rates will skyrocket."

CRIME EXPLODED

Siegel was right. Morale sank. When cops saw that they could be dragged through a half-dozen layers of stacked, anti-police review panels and have their careers ruined by a single complaint, many opted for "drive-by" policing. Arrests dried up. There were days when the courthouse seemed as quiet as a church on Monday. Crime exploded.

Neighborhoods became war zones. The Lynch-led boycott damaged downtown. City Council outsourced solutions to the feds and abdicated leadership to the mayor's Cincinnati Action Now commission, where nearly 100 "stakeholders" spent months writing lists of unaffordable demands.

"I was on the CAN commission but I stopped going after I realized it was just mea culpa, mea culpa," Allen says. "The money spent was just incredible."

The city settled a flimsy racial profiling lawsuit without going to court. "It was the absolute example of caving in to political correctness," Heimlich says. "People don't want to remember, but Damon Lynch got whatever he wanted. And one of the biggest mistakes was the racial profiling lawsuit. It cost the city millions, and most of it went to the lawyers."

Of about $15 million spent by the city, hardly any trickled down to "root-cause" programs. It went to monitors, experts, consultants and ACLU lawyers.

Meanwhile, by 2006 more than 300 young black men had been killed by other young black men, nearly all drug related. Homicides rose from 53 to 61 percent in 2001, then peaked at 89 percent in 2006. Burglary, drug dealing, vandalism and random assaults on whites also increased.

WHAT WORKED

Three things stopped the crime:

First, whites and blacks in Westwood and other neighborhoods demanded more cops and rallied to support the police. More visible policing made it safe for visitors and suburbanites to go downtown again.

Second, police Chief Streicher toured every district, every shift, to tell the cops to get back to work. He sympathized with their betrayal by the city, but reminded them why they became police. The slow-down ended.

Third, in spite of scare stories by the press and half of Council, police were given Tasers that dramatically reduced fatal confrontations by providing a non-lethal use of force.

What happened in 2001 was a Fukushima-class system failure. The media fueled the racial division with kerosene cop-bashing and Rodney King reporting. Political leaders were so weak they invited violence and then blamed the police. After the shooting, the police withdrew behind a wall of silence and failed to douse incendiary rumors with fact.

The five-star Maisonette and other businesses did not survive the boycott and years of fear. "I remember the Main Street entertainment district was booming," Allen says, "then almost overnight it just stopped."

One of the biggest costs was population flight. "Even more than high taxes, even more than bad schools, it was driven by fear," Heimlich says.

Cincinnati is in a better place now.

But as addicts and drunks know, recovery depends on remembering the bad decisions that led to rock bottom. Ten years later, many in Cincinnati are still in denial.

 
THE PERSPECTIVE "WE'VE COME A LONG WAY"
 
 Peter Bronson was columnist and editorial page editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer and wrote Behind the Lines: The Untold Stories of the Cincinnati Riots.