2001 Civil Unrest

Ronny Salerno / WVXU

It's been 20 years since a Cincinnati police officer killed Timothy Thomas, an unarmed Black teen in Over-the-Rhine – at the time, one of many deaths of Black men by police in the city – sparking demonstrations and protests. Last summer, police use of force was pushed into the national spotlight again after officers killed Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Earlier this month, several young people spoke in a roundtable discussion about how the 2001 civil unrest intersects with similar calls for justice now.

keith fangman
Courtesy of WCPO

In 2001 when Officer Steven Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, the Fraternal Order of Police President was an outspoken 36-year-old ready to defend the actions of his officers seemingly at all costs. Fangman went toe to toe with reporters and activists in the community.

2001 civil unrest
Tom Uhlman / AP

April 7, 2021, marked 20 years since white Officer Steven Roach shot and killed Black 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in Over-the-Rhine. The shooting, along with 14 other killings of Black males at the hands of police from 1995 to 2001, led to nearly a week of unrest in Cincinnati. The protests, lootings and chaos garnered national media attention.

2001 cincinnati riots
Tom Uhlman / AP

The civil unrest in 2001 sparked by the deaths of Black men at the hands of Cincinnati police did more than grab international attention. It also accelerated advocates' efforts for systemic reforms to the city's police department.

Local 12 WKRC

If you ask anyone in Cincinnati who lived through the events of 2001 to describe what happened after the officer-involved shooting death of Timothy Thomas, you'll get many different accounts. To some, riots broke out in the streets with days of looting and violence and buildings vandalized. Others saw protesters striving to raise awareness for an injustice, and in doing so, disrupted the typical social order. We would call this civil unrest.

timothy thomas district 1 protest
Tom Uhlman / AP

A 2001 lawsuit led to what's now known as the Collaborate Agreement among the ACLU, the Cincinnati Black United Front, the city of Cincinnati and the Fraternal Order of Police. It required police to adopt community problem oriented policing, including the establishment of one of the first independent police oversight boards in the country: the Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA).

timothy thomas memorial
Jason Whitman / WVXU

People sat outside an eatery sipping beer near the alleyway where Timothy Thomas was killed by a police officer 20 years ago. Bright lights beamed onto the streets. And a few blocks away at Washington Park, a yoga class had just finished when demonstrators arrived, Wednesday night. Organizers who were among the first to respond to Thomas' death 20 years ago say the gentrified neighborhood and continued police violence against Black people are in stark contrast of each other.

Nick Swartsell / WVXU

Over-the-Rhine looks a lot different than it did 20 years ago when some say disinvestment in the community helped further the civil unrest that happened there in 2001 after the deaths of multiple Black men by Cincinnati Police. Following those events, were the decisions to renovate blocks at a time the right ones? And what does the future hold for what is now billed as one of the coolest neighborhoods in North America?

over the rhine
Nick Swartsell / WVXU

The unrest that tore through Over-the-Rhine in 2001 was, on the surface, about the death of Timothy Thomas and other Black men at the hands of police. But its roots went much deeper, some activists say, involving economic frustrations among Cincinnati's Black residents that continue to this day.

Bill Rinehart / WVXU

The police shooting of Black men — culminating with the death of 19-year-old Timothy Thomas — sparked days of civil unrest in Cincinnati in 2001. Protests, in some cases, turned destructive. More than 800 people were arrested for violating a curfew imposed by the mayor. An economic boycott put a financial dent in Downtown events.

Local 12 WKRC

Since the 2001 civil unrest, changes to policing in Cincinnati have served as a national model. In 2002, the city of Cincinnati signed the Collaborative Agreement and declared community problem-oriented policing would be the strategy for police services in the city. The strategy shifted the focus to prevention. Cincinnati has seen a dramatic reduction in use of force and arrests over the past 20 years, which mirrors a national trend.

2001 cincinnati riots
Tom Uhlman / AP

Some people think the tensions between Cincinnati's Black community and the city's police force began on a night in April 2001, when a white police officer chased a 19-year-old Black man into a dark Over-the-Rhine alleyway and killed him with a single shot to the heart.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Local 12 WKRC

It was 20 years ago that Cincinnati captured the attention of the nation and the world after the killing of a 19-year-old at the hands of police. Timothy Thomas was the 15th Black citizen killed by police since 1995 and tension boiled over into the streets.