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Beryl Love / none

It started out as a quiet Saturday afternoon at the Cincinnati Enquirer. Spring was in the air and the Reds were off to a slow start.

When our police reporter first alerted us that an unarmed 19-year-old black man had been shot and killed that morning by a police officer, I remember thinking we had a long night ahead of us. None of us in the newsroom that day could have predicted the string of long nights that followed.

A simmering period of tension between black residents in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and police boiled over into four nights of protests, riots and looting - the worst the nation had witnessed since the Los Angeles riots nearly a decade before.

The similarities to Cincinnati in 2001 and Ferguson, Mo., today are striking, even before the investigation sorts out the events that led to the shooting death of Michael Brown. When I hear his name, I immediately think of Timothy Thomas.

Thomas was wanted for 14 outstanding misdemeanors, 12 of which were traffic violations, when he was spotted by two off-duty police officers in the early morning hours of April 7, 2001. On-duty officers joined the chase, which ended when Officer Stephen Roach fatally shot Thomas in the chest. Thomas was unarmed.

Roach told investigators that he feared for his life when Thomas appeared to reach for something at his waist. The four-year police veteran was acquitted of negligent homicide later that year, touching off another tense period in the city.

But, eventually, Cincinnati healed. Meaningful changes not only addressed police procedures for use of force but also how officers engage the community on a day-to-day basis. The changes can serve as a model - and provide hope - to the people of Ferguson.

From my perspective as an editor involved in covering the story, here are the most significant actions that brought calm and change :

Stopping the rioting: Influential black leaders - preachers, elected officials and activists - made public appeals to restore calm. Thankfully, this already is happening in Ferguson. Those pleas were paired with a promise to seek justice and change.

Bringing people to the table: A collaborative body with legal authority was established, the result of the settlement of a police discrimination lawsuit filed months before the Thomas shooting. The collaboration - which included the city, the police union, the ACLU and a group known as the Black United Front - was charged with developing a strategy based on community-oriented policing.

Measuring and tracking progress: An agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice required concrete reforms, including the way the use of force was tracked. A federal monitor was appointed to oversee compliance for the next six years.

I don't want to paint too rosy of a picture. The police staged a boycott in the form of a work slowdown. Some community leaders thought the collaborative agreement was stacked in favor of the city and didn't go far enough.

But as a story published in USA TODAY 10 years after the riots declared, the changes were dramatic. One telling statistic: In the six years before the riots, 15 men - all African-American - died in confrontations with police. In the 10 years after, eight men died and six of them were black.

In that story, the Rev. Damon Lynch III, the former president of the Black United Front who called for a boycott of downtown Cincinnati, acknowledged progress has been made.

"They're clearly a lot better," Lynch said of the police, echoing the assessment of many in the black community.

Ferguson can be better, too.

Love, editor of USA TODAY's National News Desk, worked in his hometown at the Cincinnati Enquirer from 1998 to 2003.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Voices: Cincinnati riots provide lessons for Ferguson

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