CINCINNATI — Janaya Trotter Bratton fully admits she has no idea what it was like to work for Jeffrey Blackwell when he was Cincinnati's police chief.
But she knows what she saw.
She saw Blackwell playing tennis with kids during Bond Hill Day. He was at a barbecue in Avondale and attended kids' football games in the West End. She saw him reaching out to members of the community — particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods — treating them with respect and earning respect as a result.
"He has worked to garner respect in a community that is largely distrustful of law enforcement," said Trotter Bratton, a former city prosecutor who is now an attorney with Trotter Law LLC. "Some of that good work came from the collaborative. But he continued the model."
For weeks, Blackwell's supporters have feared he would be pushed out of his job, and on Wednesday it happened. Black Cincinnati residents, in particular, protested the firing at Wednesday's Cincinnati City Council meeting.
Those protests came, in part, because city residents never had an opportunity to read a report critical of Blackwell's leadership of the police department before City Manager Harry Black fired him, Trotter Bratton said.
"It's the process that's upsetting," she said. "This report comes out at 11 a.m., and he's terminated quickly. There's not even a word for how quickly he was terminated."
Blackwell won the loyalty of black Cincinnati residents by showing them he cared, even when there weren’t reporters or TV cameras around, said Shequita Lail of Bond Hill.
"Out of all the chiefs we have ever had in the city of Cincinnati, Chief Blackwell is the only chief that has been in contact with the families after a tragic incident has happened in their family," Lail said. Her organization, Sisters Engaging Residents of Cincinnati, helps the families of homicide victims pay for burial services.
"He will come to the door. He will come talk to the families. He will reach out," she said.
For weeks, Lail said she and other Blackwell supporters have watched what appeared to be a concerted, public effort to discredit the chief. She said she is dismayed to see him go.
"He's remarkable," she said of Blackwell. "He's the best chief we've ever had."
With Blackwell out, Pastor Ennis Tait said he's worried about the future of police-community relations in the city.
"The work in the community that the police department has done, it's been stabilized since Chief Blackwell has been here," said Tait, overseer of Church of the Living God in Avondale and a vocal anti-violence community activist. "It's been on life support — let's be honest."
Tait said he knows some people will think Blackwell's support in black neighborhoods means he was working "for black people only," but he said that's a fallacy.
"I think in my heart that he did a great job working for the city of Cincinnati," he said. "The issue now is, will we allow this to further magnify the broken race relations in our city?"
The answer to that question will play out in the months ahead.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.