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Timothy Thomas, civil unrest and a quest for equality: Where are we now?

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-11 12:15:36-04

CINCINNATI — Twenty years ago, in the early morning hours of April 7, 2001, Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas in an Over-the-Rhine alley. Thomas was the 15th Black man killed by police since 1995, and his death sparked days of unrest that highlighted a deep divide between Cincinnati’s Black community and the police.

That mistrust, along with lawsuits accusing the department of a decades-long history of racial profiling, helped shape the nationally recognized Collaborative Agreement between the city, the police union and Black community and civil rights leaders.

But the story goes far deeper and stretches far wider than a contract between the police and the people they serve.

Every newscast we ran on Thursday included a different angle, a different chapter in this complex story that had such a profound impact on our city. We've edited all of those segments together here to watch in a single place:

Timothy Thomas, civil unrest and a quest for equality: Where are we now?

As we were shaping our coverage of an event that has turned our city into what it is today -- for better or worse -- we thought a good starting place would be to look at how to measure the health of a city.

In the aftermath of Cincinnati’s civil unrest 20 years ago, business leaders, pastors and politicians discussed the anger and frustration of many Black Cincinnati residents over the disparities they faced in employment, education and opportunity. Community reporter Lucy May examined what progress Cincinnati has made in three areas since 2001 and how those areas can show whether our city is healthier than it was: infant mortality, affordable housing and poverty. Read Lucy's story here and learn about whether LaVenia Jones, a mother who was 12 at the time of the unrest, believes we are any closer to achieving equality.

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LaVenia Jones, center, with her four children in this family portrait.

Next, senior reporter Larry Seward, who was in college at the time but is from Cincinnati, spoke to Black men who lived here during the unrest in 2001. For some, the killing that sparked the unrest hit close to home. For others, the events were a turning point. But 20 years on, Larry wanted to know: Has anything changed? Read Larry's story here and watch his interviews with some of those men. You can also listen to this special episode of our podcast, Hear Cincinnati:

PODCAST: 'That could've been my family ... that could've been me': Timothy Thomas' death still aches Listen to the full conversation in the podcast player above.

Reporter Lisa Smith spoke to Terry Thomas, Timothy's brother, who wants to make sure that his brother is remembered, and not just because he was shot by a police officer. Now that Terry Thomas is an adult with a wife and children, he is taking advantage of his second chance to create a legacy that makes them proud.

Smith also spoke to key stakeholders in the Collaborative Agreement about how it came together, the impact it has had both locally and national and what it looks like today.

Anchor Julie O'Neill spoke with two figures -- Keith Fangman, former Cincinnati FOP president, and Reverend Damon Lynch III, former president of Cincinnati's Black United Front -- to discuss how the worst unrest in city history changed the landscape of policing and activism.

Anchor Tanya O'Rourke spoke with police chiefs then and now about CPD's response after Timothy Thomas was shot and killed, and how they agree that that's when things went from bad to worse.

O'Rourke also looked back at the tense April 9, 2001, City Council meeting, when Thomas' mother and her attorney directly and candidly asked leaders a simple question: Why did this happen? Four days of unrest began later that night.

Gentrification reporter Monique John looked into why the development in Over-the-Rhine sparked by Timothy Thomas' death hasn't yet made its way up Vine Street past Liberty.

Finally, investigative reporter Dan Monk looked at how the next big thing in Over the Rhine is shaping up to be a lot like the first big thing the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. accomplished in the neighborhood: a civic space re-imagined in a way that makes city leaders gloat and 3CDC critics glower.

West 12th Street and Race Street shown during the civil unrest in April 2001 and 20 years later in April 2021
West 12th Street and Race Street shown during the civil unrest in April 2001 and 20 years later in April 2021.

GALLERY: Over-the-Rhine's 20-year transformation from civil unrest to gentrification