CINCINNATI — April 7, 2021 marks the 20-year anniversary of the death of Timothy Thomas. His fatal shooting by a Cincinnati Police officer led to civil unrest in the city and – ultimately – the Collaborative Agreement, designed to improve relations between police and the public they serve.
A crowd gathered in Washington Park Wednesday night to mark the solemn occasion and ask the question: “What’s changed in the two decades since he died?”
“I want to get this story right, because history cannot be told by other people,” activist Iris Roley said. “It has to be told by the people who were here.”
The years may have passed, but for those who lived through it, the death of Timothy Thomas is still close to the top of their mind – because of a cause that persists to this day.
“We thought that Black life was of value and mattered then,” Roley said. “It wasn’t a hashtag. It was real – and it still is.”
Recent events like the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the police in Minnesota have illustrated that there is still more work to be done.
“You did not see what you thought you saw,” activist Victoria Straughn said. “How many times have we seen that? And that’s happening right now in the Chauvin case.”
Timothy Thomas’ younger brother, Terry, spoke to the crowd over the phone.
“My brother lost his life 20 years ago and, to be honest, there’s nothing I can say about it that’s going to make it make sense to anybody else,” he said. “He was 19. He was just a kid that lost his life outside of plenty other young, Black brothers who have lost their lives.”
Terry Thomas said he’s still waiting for meaningful change nationwide and believes it starts with unity.
“It’s just time to start working together, sticking together, because it’s obvious that 20 years has passed by and a lot of stuff is still going on,” he said.
Event coordinators said that’s the exact reason they want to make it clear that while the collaborative agreement was an important step, a solution remains a work in progress.
“We are in trouble,” Straughn said. “This nation is at a reckoning point. It’s not just here in Cincinnati. It is across the nation.”