CINCINNATI — It has been more than 20 years since Charles Wiley had an encounter with the Cincinnati Police Department that he feared would end his life.
Wiley said he had just gotten into his car with a woman after offering to give her a ride to her parking spot when two plainclothes police officers knocked on his window.
The officers told Wiley they had received a call about someone in a white Cadillac smoking crack, and they asked to search his car. Wiley said he told the officers the call could not have been about him because he didn’t do drugs and didn’t smoke.
Wiley said he got out of the car as the officers requested. They patted him down and repeatedly asked to search the car. After saying no several times, Wiley said he finally agreed. He told the officers he had a handgun in the car – with the gun locked in the trunk and the clip locked in the glove compartment.
“Well, that was all they needed to hear,” Wiley wrote in his autobiography. “He ordered me to turn around and put both hands behind my back. He slammed the cuffs on me. The cuffs were extremely tight and pretty painful. My request to have them loosened was totally ignored.”
The gun was registered and legal for Wiley to carry. But at the time, Wiley said, he worried he might become another Black man to die at the hands of Cincinnati police.
Months later, he became part of a lawsuit that accused the Cincinnati Police Department of a pattern of racial profiling that dated back decades. That 2001 lawsuit resulted in Cincinnati’s landmark Collaborative Agreement, which has been called a model for police departments across the U.S.
Now Wiley has rereleased his 2003 autobiography “To God Be the Glory: We Must Never Give Up.” It’s available in paperback and as an audiobook narrated by Lincoln Ware, the longtime radio talk show host on 101.5 The Buzz.
The killing of George Floyd last summer and subsequent protests inspired Wiley to rerelease his book, he said.
“It’s so important to me,” said Wiley, who lives in College Hill and owns a small business called YP Home Technician. “We’re still dealing with these situations.”
Ware said narrating the audiobook was important to him, too.
“Black men today are going through the same thing today that he went through back then,” Ware said. “Nothing seems to have changed.”
An effort to move forward
At the time Wiley had his encounter with the police, he was running a nonprofit organization to connect young boys and girls with mentors who could help them avoid trouble. Wiley had grown up poor in Lincoln Heights and experienced some rough times as a kid. By 2000, he was running his own business and wanted to give back.
He followed the advice he always gave the kids, he said, and stayed calm with the officers, despite his frustration, anger and pain.
By the time police released Wiley without charging him, he was surrounded by about a dozen officers, he said. Wiley left and immediately drove to the police department to make a complaint. Later he was diagnosed with a badly sprained wrist.
He filed a lawsuit against the city of Cincinnati. His case was merged into the larger lawsuit that resulted in the Collaborative Agreement.
That happened after Cincinnati Police Officer Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas in an Over-the-Rhine alley on April 7, 2001, and after Wiley said he took some time to pray about what would be the right way to proceed.
“I knew I needed to be a part of what was going on to help our community,” Wiley said. “So we could move forward with the situation.”
Ware said he was not surprised when community outrage, anger and pain spilled onto the streets in 2001 after Roach killed Thomas. By that time, a long list of Black men had died at the hands of police officers. A University of Cincinnati police officer and Cincinnati police officer shot and killed Lorenzo Collins in 1997, for example. Collins had walked away from a lock-down psychiatric facility and was holding a brick when officers shot him.
In late 2000, Roger Owensby Jr. died after a struggle with two Cincinnati police officers. Owensby was an Army veteran who served in the Gulf War and had no police record. Officers stopped him for questioning outside a convenience store. He cooperated at first.
Police said he tried to run and officers tackled him. He was struck several times, forced to the ground and handcuffed. He died in the back of a patrol car. The coroner determined he died of asphyxiation.
There were many others.
When Roach shot and killed Thomas in 2001, Ware said, it was the final straw.
‘We have hope’
The Collaborative Agreement changed the relationship between Cincinnati police officers and the Black community for the better, Wiley said, adding that he’s proud of the community.
“I know we do still have a long way to go,” he said. "But as long as the Black community, police officers, white community are striving to make change with what's going on with the police, you know, we have hope."
“Things were bad, you know, before the Collaborative Agreement,” Ware said. “Things are not the best in the world. But I’m telling you, without that Collaborative Agreement, who knows where Cincinnati would be right now.”
Wiley and Ware said they hope new audiences will gain that understanding from Wiley’s book at a time when the nation continues to reckon with racism, policing and justice.
“My main message with the book is that, you know, we are going to deal with a lot of different situations, a lot of different trials and tribulations, some more than others,” Wiley said. “But no matter what you go through in life, if you keep God first and you continue to work on your problems and you continue to stay focused, you will overcome whatever issues you’re dealing with.”
Wiley’s experience with the police is just one of the many hardships he had to overcome throughout his life, and Ware said learning how Wiley did that can be an example for everyone.
“I’m hoping people will get from this book that you don’t give up,” Ware said. “Keep fighting.”
Charles Wiley’s book, “To God Be the Glory: We Must Never Give Up,” is available in paperback and as an electronic book. The audiobook is available on CDs and will soon be available through Audible. The book can be purchased on Amazon or by calling 513-470-2139.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.