Cincinnati arrests soar as police brace for funeral

CINCINNATI, Ohio, Reuters

Cincinnati police cracked down hard on curfew violators overnight as they braced for possible violence at the funeral later on Saturday of a black youth killed early this week by a white policeman.

Arrests soared to 201 between dusk on Friday and dawn on Saturday as police took advantage of the second night of a city-wide curfew to nip potential racial violence in the bud.

Authorities were apprehensive that the relative calm of the past two nights — which followed three nights of rampant looting, arson and racially motivated assaults — could be shattered by Saturday’s politically charged funeral for 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was unarmed when he was shot by an officer who said he thought he was reaching for a weapon.

Police Chief Thomas Streicher called the funeral a “potential turning point” in a turbulent week for the racially divided Midwestern city and said the way it unfolds could determine whether it returns to peace and order.

Arrests overnight included 185 for curfew violations. No major incidents of violence were reported, although there was some looting and vandalism and random shots were fired.

The Thomas shooting touched off three nights of rioting this week by roving gangs of black youths and prompted city officials to put the citywide curfew into effect Thursday. Only people traveling to and from work or involved in medical emergencies were allowed on the streets.

While city officials hoped the worst was over, the 1,000-member police force was bracing for trouble when large throngs were expected to gather for Thomas’ funeral at 100 p.m. EDT (100 a.m. Taiwan time).

In Washington on Thursday, President George W. Bush said through a spokesman that he joined civic leaders “in their appeal … for calm and a nonviolent resolution to the current situation.”

U.S. Attorney John Ashcroft announced on Friday that U.S. Justice Department lawyers would launch a review of the practices, procedures and training of Cincinnati police. He said they would meet as soon as possible with city officials and community leaders to focus on the problems that led to the rioting.

Evidence from the shooting will be examined next week by a grand jury to determine whether it was justifiable. The FBI has also opened its own inquiry into the case.

Cincinnati’s police force was bolstered by the arrival of 125 Ohio state troopers to help to preserve public safety for the city’s 330,000 residents, 43 percent of whom are black.

In a late development on Friday, City Public Safety Director Kent Ryan, 50, announced he was stepping down from that post immediately for reasons of health.

Some black city council members had been calling for his firing because of the tensions in police-community relations.