CINCINNATI -- Several community members called on Mayor John Cranley Wednesday to remove Councilman Chris Smitherman as the chairman of council's law and public safety committee following comments he made about blacks and crime.
During the April 14 committee meeting, Smitherman said "black people must take ownership" of their behavior in light of the fact that the majority of this year's homicide victims were black men.
T. Rucker, a man who spoke for a group at Wednesday's full council meeting, said Smitherman should be held accountable for his words.
"We're not asking you to take him off of everything, to kick him off of council. We know you can't do that," Rucker said to Mayor John Cranley. "But, you are responsible for his appointment which makes you responsible for his behavior."
Homicides are up by 50 percent this year, when compared to the same time period last year.
The escalation led council and others to question how police can get tougher on crime. Smitherman suggested during the Jan. 7 law and public safety committee meeting that the police department adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy.
Many in the police department, including Blackwell, believe zero-tolerance policing is an archaic tactic that does more harm than good. Yet, Smitherman stands behind it.
“We want to be aggressive, but we also want to be right,” Blackwell told members of the committee during a January meeting. “We don’t want to be aggressive for the sake of aggression and violate people’s constitutional rights, while we try to get it right. We’re not going to go back to those days where we get somewhat reckless in our approach.
“We’re going to be targeted and focused and know who we’re going after,” he said.
The arrest-first policy associated with zero tolerance has filled the courts with first-time, minor offenders, police officials have said. Even when cases are dismissed, people can be shadowed for years by error-ridden criminal records, discouraging them from helping police in the future.
“The African-American community has accepted this as a cancer in the black community,” Smitherman said. “We have young black folks killing other young black folks and not just in Cincinnati, but across this country. And for me, it is silent as hell – I don’t hear the outrage."
But that wasn't what irked many. It was what came next.
“Black people must take ownership of these murders across this country. Our children are dying, so I have not gotten to the point that I think the moral voices are crystal clear that we’re going to find you and hold you accountable.”
The majority of the public comment during the council meeting was directed at Smitherman.
"I've had people close to me murdered. It's not a joke," Frankie Butler-Kidd, a citizen-on-patrol in Avondale, said. "It hurts me."
After Wednesday's meeting, Smitherman told WCPO that his reaction to the comments toward him were "very positive."
"I'm glad I've captured the attention of the community," he said.