Boycott backers: Bruce is hypocrite

Cincinnati Post, 2002-11-12, by: Craig Garretson
Two years ago, two police groups unhappy with Bruce Springsteen's song "American Skin (41 shots)"--inspired by the fatal shooting of a West African immigrant by four New York City police officers--led a boycott of his concert in that city. Tonight, when The Boss plays a much-anticipated date at U.S. Bank Arena, there will be boycotters outside again, in this instance prompted to action by the deaths of two black men at the hands of Cincinnati police.

The irony of a Springsteen boycott from the other side of the coin isn't lost on the Rev. Damon Lynch III, leader of the Black United Front, one of three groups spearheading the 16-month boycott of downtown. "He was a vocal supporter of justice in New York, and he did anger the police and the leadership in New York with his support," Lynch said Monday. "Our wish is that he would have considered the stance he previously took before he agreed to come to Cincinnati. Obviously, if he plays here (tonight), then that was only a one-time sense of activism for him." "It's ironic, and to a degree, it's hypocritical," said Amanda Mayes of the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati. "He claims to be concerned about police brutality issues, he knows that there is a boycott on the city, but he is choosing to disregard that boycott. It calls into question where his sympathies really are."

Boycott organizers said supporters will be outside the arena with signs and literature about the reasons for the boycott and their demands for ending it, which include overhauling police disciplinary rules and altering the city's electoral system to elect City Council members by districts rather than citywide. Increasing redevelopment funding for inner city neighborhoods and the ouster Police Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. are also being sought. The boycotters also want the city to settle three lawsuits filed by the families of blacks killed by police and additional legal or administrative sanctions against former or current officers involved in those deaths.

Two of those deaths--of Roger Owensby Jr. in November 2002 after he scuffled with police trying to arrest him at a Roselawn gas station, and Timothy Thomas in April 2001 at the end of a police chase-helped spark the boycott. "There will definitely be some people at the concert," said Victoria Straughn, chairwoman of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for Justice. "We've been making sure we have a presence at these events and we will continue to do so."

The failure to keep Springsteen from coming to Cincinnati at all could be seen as the latest in a string of reversals for the effort. The boycott didn't stop teenage rappers Bow Wow and Mario from performing here two weeks ago, and in September it didn't prevent the Procter & Gamble River Front Classic, a match-up of two historically black colleges, from being played at Paul Brown Stadium. The Billy Graham Mission, Oktoberfest, A Taste of Cincinnati, Jammin' on Main and the Black Family Reunion also drew hundreds of thousands downtown this summer, despite the boycott.

But organizers said the boycott's impact can't be measured just by looking at the concert and convention calendar. "There is more than one way to measure the effect of a boycott," Lynch said. "We hear from many people who just won't play Cincinnati. "After talking to us, they say they would not even consider coming here." "We have a number of artists who won't come to Cincinnati because they learned about the boycott on their own. They're just skipping over this city to go somewhere else," Straughn said. Keith Fangman, vice president of the Queen City chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the police union has "no opinion" about Springsteen's concert.

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2002-11-12 US Bank Arena, Cincinnati, OH