LIMA — “Justice must not be a word to be mouthed, but actually all citizens of Lima must strive together for a total society.”
Chief William Davenport — Lima’s first and last black police chief — spoke these words in 1968. More than five decades later, yet another wave of mass protests across the country and in the city have renewed the call to action.
But will it be enough to change decades-long trends?
By any economic measure, the disparity between the white and black populations in the United States is staggering. For every dollar of wealth accumulated by black families in 2016, white families have 10 more, according to data from Survey of Consumer Finance.
Only 44% of black households own their homes, yet 74% of white households can claim the same.
White median household income sits at $70,642 in 2018. For blacks, that number is $41,361, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Unsurprisingly, an Economic Policy Center study looking at Bureau of Labor Statistics data found stark differences in unemployment rates for people of color in each state. For Ohio, the white unemployment rate sat at 3.4% in the final quarter of 2019. For blacks, the unemployment rate was 8%.
“The statistics are striking,” said John Navin, Ohio Northern University’s Dean of the College of Business. “It’s consistent. You can look back 40 years. There’s always been substantial differences.”
As for rooting into the cause of such continued discrepancies, you get different answers depending on who you ask. If you’re looking for statistical evidence, academics have tracked a number of institutional factors that touch multiple fronts through myriad studies. The list is long, but here are just a few of topics that have been identified over the years: racial profiling, education funding, use of force discrepancies, unfair credit lending policies, sentencing discrepancies, housing discrimination, lack of representation in government, lack of representation in education, lack of representation in business, lack of representation in media, generational poverty, lack of urban renewal, health discrepancies and community violence.
In the future, The Lima News plans on digging into some of the local manifestations of these issues in more detail in order to see how the region has been affected.
In the meantime, community leaders have begun to push for action.
A legacy of motion
Last Thursday night, a group of 15 sat in the cafeteria of Heir Force Community School to hatch a plan for action.
“This nationwide crisis has now forced local communities to join the crusade in addressing systemic racism, racial inequality and police brutality,” the committee’s agenda read. “We, as citizens in Lima, Ohio, are ready to take the serious charge of working to develop action strategies as part of our civic responsibility to change, enhance and improve our community.”
Similar efforts have been made in the past in Lima. Protests over shooting deaths of men and women at the hands of the police have happened on multiple occasions in the city’s past, but they’ve all ultimately failed to upset the status quo in any major way. In the past, the resistance to the change has been due to a failure to notice a problem.
Newspaper print from the ’60s and ’70s, for example, shows a community clapping itself on the back for solving “race turmoil” back then.
“Responsible leaders indicate that perhaps a large percentage of segregation is an unnoticed thing, not an actual policy of an organization,” an article printed Aug. 1, 1963 reads. “Business leaders have assured ‘The Lima Citizen’ employment is a basis of qualification regardless of race, creed, or color.”
Over a decade later, the city’s Human Relations Commission, which is created to deal with potential discrimination cases, resigned en masse in 1976 because it could find no public support from city officials.
By the ’90s, another city-wide initiative to gather the community and solve racial issues came to fruition. Discussions were held across the city involving 1,250 people to hash out better understandings between white and black churches, but the problem stayed around.
By 2008, another protest emerged after the shooting death of Tarika Wilson. Again, the community made the call to come together at the urging of area churches, and some political forums were organized as a result.
Now in 2020, yet another protest has shaken the country.
Curiously, Chief Davenport in 1970 provided some solutions to what he called “a community of neglect” that rose in parallel to a flourishing Lima. At the time, he called for fixing dilapidated and empty buildings in downtown Lima, enacting a housing code, providing low-income housing and encouraging training for the unemployed and underemployed to address symptoms of neglect.
Admittedly, all of these efforts have been improved upon in the last five decades. At the same time, empty buildings still sit in downtown Lima, the current housing code is deficient in regards to eliminating blight, quality low-income housing is in short supply, and workforce issues still drag on the regional economy.
“I think in the final analysis, this tells us we are not coming to grips with reality, and in not doing so we are not giving our community a fair shake,” Davenport said. “The pervading emotions are fear and hate. Lima has lived with these too long.”
“Fear and hatred stifle progress and tend to destroy the working relationships necessary if the community is to achieve its objective of providing the best for all its members. … This collective thinking must be the springboard from which to launch the efforts that lead to a good cohesive community.”
Aiming for action
Now 50 years later, Heir Force Community School Director Dr. Willie Heggins said he has hope that Lima is ready for addressing persistent issues now that support for what has been historically been considered black issues has been expanded.
“The people who are protesting don’t necessarily look like me, you know, and that’s when you begin to start hearing institutions — whether it’s in business and industry, entertainment, sports — saying, ‘Now, I hear you, I’m listening to you. Yeah, I hear your cries. I hear your frustrations. feel your pain, I have empathy.’ You know, that’s way different than where we were where we are before,” Heggins said.
But while more people are taking notice, there’s still a potential that the energy gained by local protests festers. To combat that outcome, organizers are looking toward action.
During Thursday night’s meeting at Heir Force, suggested actions ran the gamut. From simplifying the filing of police complaints to creating stipulations to encourage minority hires through tax abatement incentives, the ideas thrown around Thursday hit a wide array of different societal factors that participants identified as in need of change.
One of the bigger takeaways from the night, however, was the need for more political activism among disenfranchised groups.
“If you don’t practice your citizen’s rights through voting, then your active voice becomes dormant. You’re not a part of the political process,” Heggins said. “So the first thing is this whole idea of encouraging people to be active in the political process.”
Councilor Derry Glenn, who helped organize the Committee on Racial Injustice and Reform’s first meeting, said he’ll be working to encourage registration up until the Oct. 7 deadline. In fact, the next committee meeting’s agenda, scheduled for 5 p.m. next Thursday, June 18, is to draft the plan to do so and to identify volunteers.
Even that step, however, may be an uphill battle. Voter registration among precincts with concentrations of minority voters has been historically low in Lima due to widespread disillusionment with the wider political system and what many on Thursday said is unfair treatment by the powers that be.
NAACP Local chapter President Ron Fails gave a litany of examples that he’s heard through the years. He explained that because police are often deployed in higher numbers to higher crime areas, innocent residents are often unfairly targeted as a result, which leads to a population that feels under siege.
“Somehow, we’ve got to police every community the way that we police every community. You cannot single one community out and not have problems, because ultimately, you’re going to find what you’re looking for,” Fails said.
Through a review of municipal court filings, Fails said he found that half of all offenders moving through court proceedings were people of color despite being 13% of Allen County’s population.
With additional energy being focused toward combating these longstanding issues, other groups are also looking to take measurable actions. Rev. Dr. Brian LaMont Monford, Sr. and Rev. Bryan Bucher co-authored a letter that derided past efforts meant to spark conversations and instead encouraged political activism, such as advocating the need for countywide body cameras directly to the Allen County commissioners, organizing political movements to encourage more diverse hiring and working toward gaining support for more community-oriented programs and policies, among others.
Similarly, Mayor David Berger’s statement on reversing systemic racism, released a week and a half ago, also set up a number of policies that could be pushed forward if the political will was in place.
At the Ohio General Assembly, Democratic lawmakers have been working to declare racism a “public health crisis” for the state. If the resolution moves forward, the state would adopt 11 items that would help push funding toward combating system racism. Cities throughout Ohio — including Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton — have already done as much.
With all the energy up in the air, however, it remains to be seen how local decision-makers will respond to local leaders hoping for change.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.