Cincinnati Civil Rights activist recognized for her community efforts
CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A longtime Civil Rights activist in Cincinnati is now being recognized for her community efforts across all of Ohio.
Iris Roley is known for pushing forward police reform at the Cincinnati Police Department with the Collaborative Agreement.
She was also recently hired to work for the city as a consultant to continue to make improvements to the Collaborative Agreement.
Just last month, all of Roley’s hard work was recognized as she was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
It’s a scene that we have watched play out in different cities across the country in the past few years. A city uprising against law enforcement after frustrations and accusations of excessive use of force.
Cincinnati hit its boiling point in April 2001 after Timothy Thomas was shot and killed by a Cincinnati officer while he was reportedly out buying a pack of cigarettes.
“I don’t think people understood how it looked for Black citizens in the city of Cincinnati until a very bright light was shown in Cincinnati,” explained Roley.
She says the fight for police reform started before Thomas was killed.
Roley says 15 Black men were killed by Cincinnati police officers between 1995 and 2001 with five dying in police custody. Among those is Roger Owensby Jr. who died in 2000.
The deaths led Roely to form the Cincinnati Black United Front and take the battle for change to court.
“Timothy Thomas’ death we tried to stop that,” Roley says. “We were hoping if we filed in federal court, bringing in the DOJ, looking at patterns and practices that CPD would not kill another Black man. That is not true. Then we had Timothy Thomas in April of 2001, when we already filed in March of 2001 in federal court subsequently out of all of that darkness, not that we’ve not had any deaths in custody, but we’ve had a difference of being able to see body-worn camera to change policy.”
That policy change is the Cincinnati Police Department’s Collaborative Agreement that is in place to this day due to a federal court order.
The agreement helped establish an independent board for citizen complaints, police problem-solving, and data collection on police actions, including the use of force.
Roley, who is the granddaughter of activist Vivian Kinebrew, says she was taught early on to stand up for her rights.
“I was born on the front line,” explains Roley. “I’ve been protesting my whole life surrounded by leaders from all over the country who would come into Cincinnati and who would strategize on how to fight for the voiceless.”
Now, her force for change is being recognized across the state after being inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
She says the honor has been a humbling experience.
“At first, I was like little ole’ me from Cincinnati, Ohio. It feels surreal,” Roley describes.
She says her work is far from over, but looking back, she’s proud of the change she’s helped to implement so far.
“To actually put in place provisions that will save lives, that will reduce trauma, that will help families figure out if they were wronged by the people that are paid to protect and serve them, I think it is the ultimate for me,” Roley says.
The Collaborative Agreement is a policy that had been reviewed by other police departments across the country as well.
When Roley isn’t fighting for justice, she spends that time with her family and grandchildren.
This story is part of a weekly segment called Breaking Through.
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