Ferguson riots bring back painful memories of Cincinnati in 2001

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"It looked like a war zone" one witness told FOX19 NOW. (FOX19)
"It looked like a war zone" one witness told FOX19 NOW. (FOX19)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The riots in Ferguson are eerily familiar for people who watched the unrest unfold here in Cincinnati 13 years ago.

Cincinnati's riots began in April 2001 after a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager in Over-the-Rhine.  It wasn't the first time.

Between 1995 and 2001, 15 black males suspected of crimes were killed by Cincinnati police, but the death of Timothy Thomas touched off a powder keg of violence. 

Greta Benton says she lived in the center of the violence.

"It was just unreal.  Unreal that that was going on right outside my window because when I looked out there…my grandchildren said it too... it looked like a war zone," Benton said. 

During a 2011 interview, Greta Benton told FOX19 the black community had serious trust issues with Cincinnati police and racial tensions were already at a breaking point. The riots, vandalism and looting caused an estimated $3.6 million in damage and there were hundreds of arrests. Plus, there was $10 million in lost revenue because of a boycott of downtown businesses after the officer who shot Thomas, officer Stephen Roach, was acquitted on charges of negligent homicide.

But former county prosecutor and FOX19 NOW legal analyst Mike Allen says peace was restored after a collaborative agreement was worked out. He says it was an agreement he initially opposed.

"The initial reservations were here comes the justice department is going to come in and tell the Cincinnati police department how to do their job and that's the way a lot of line level police officers and some in the police administration felt and that really wasn't the case," Allen said. 

Allen says that agreement brought about positive changes.

"It became apparent to me and a lot of other people in law enforcement it was a good thing," he said. "It changed police procedures, it changed communication methods between police and the community."

The agreement also led to the creation of The Citizen Complaint Authority to conduct independent reviews of all serious uses of force by police.

Allen says one of the lessons Ferguson police can learn from Cincinnati's experience is that the justice department can be helpful in bringing about peace.

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