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OPINION

FC CINCINNATI MUST DELIVER ON ITS COMMITMENT TO BLACK RESIDENTS OF WEST END

Clay Winstead  June 9, 2020                                                                                                             

"If FCC intends to stand by their agreement with the West End, they should be providing opportunities for Black owned businesses to be featured in the new stadium, and be able to benefit from the increased foot traffic that game days will bring to the neighborhood."

   The unrest caused by the death of Timothy Thomas in 2001 made Cincinnati infamous. When I enrolled in Northern Kentucky University eleven years later, people were still saying “If you ever go to Cincinnati, don’t drive through Over-the-Rhine.” Cincinnati was great if you were going to see the Reds play ball, or take a school field trip to Union Terminal, or even spend an afternoon at Fountain Square. Just don’t cross Central Parkway. The protests that followed Thomas’s death and resulted in nearly 1,000 arrests (the vast majority of which were for breaking curfew) and $3.6 million dollars in damages remained a stain on the city’s reputation. You can still see the scars of that moment today, but you have to squint to find them among the upscale condominiums, fancy boutiques, and fine dining. Over-the-Rhine is now called “OTR” by the new tenants and the suburbanites who finally feel safe enough to spend a Saturday north of Central.
 

   Then in 2015, as OTR was establishing itself as the new bustling hub of the city, Samuel DuBose was killed in Clifton. His death and two subsequent murder trials occurred as I finished my undergraduate studies and began an internship in Over-the-Rhine. DuBose’s death came a year after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson and Eric Garner was killed in New York, and mere months after Freddie Gray was killed in Baltimore. But it feels different when it happens in your own city.
 

   Timothy Thomas and Samuel DuBose were not the only senseless killings of Black men in Cincinnati. They were just the most well known. The wounds that were opened by their deaths haven’t truly healed either. Stephen Roach was acquitted on the charge of negligent homicide and retired. Ray Tensing was fired from the University of Cincinnati Police Department but walked free as a hung jury led to a mistrial, twice.
 

   George Floyd did not die in Cincinnati. Neither did Ahmaud Arbery or Breonna Taylor. Yet their deaths have sparked unrest here, and across the country. 140 cities in every state of the union have seen protests every day since May 28. In Cincinnati alone, hundreds were arrested for breaking curfew while the city government tried to maintain order. We have not seen this kind of movement here since 2001 and for the first time in decades, outrage over the killing of Black people by officers of the law isn’t localized to one place. This time feels different.
  

   If I’ve learned anything over the past week, it’s this: to be silent is to be complicit.
 

   FC Cincinnati needs to be held accountable for its relationship with the Black community. Most recently, we have to only look at the statement released by the club on social media in response to the nationwide protests.
 

   “FC Cincinnati opposes racism and prejudice as there is no place in society for inequality and hatred. We add our collective voice for a better world, and to ensure social justice and equality for all. ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ - Martin Luther King Jr.”
 

   The statement is rather short, and ultimately inoffensive. But look to the Cincinnati Reds or the ice cream company, Ben & Jerry’s and compare the statements. Unlike the Reds or Ben & Jerry’s, FCC couldn’t be bothered to mention what people are protesting. The words “police,” “violence” or “murder” are nowhere to be seen. And they couldn’t even take the time to include George Floyd’s name. The statement says they add their voice, yet their words are lacking. But ultimately, I think the best judge of character is action.
 

   When 26,000 people march to the West End Stadium to watch FCC play soccer next season, many will do so without sparing a single thought on what the organization did in the West End neighborhood to make it all happen. I don’t want to be unfair; FCC did sign a community benefits agreement with residents of the West End which include measures to support businesses in the area, hire local residents, provide scholarships, and set up an affordable housing trust.
 

   However, West End residents were opposed to building a stadium throughout the process. They attempted to impeach their community council president after he signed onto an early draft of that agreement without their consent and after they voted overwhelmingly against building the stadium. Of the 100 people who attended the community council vote, 65 voted. Fifty voted against, 10 voted in favor and five abstained. Two years later and many still remain in opposition. It’s easy to see why.

 

"Racism doesn’t just display itself when an unarmed Black man is killed by police. It can be subtle in the way it removes people from their homes and their neighborhood. We may not be aware of that affect, but it happens and we contribute to it, even unknowingly."
 

   The construction of Interstate 75 cut through the heart of Cincinnati’s West End, displacing Black residents. As White people moved out to the suburbs they began to rely on interstate highways, like I-75, to help them commute to and from their jobs in the city by car. Pictures of the neighborhood before 1958 are completely unrecognizable to what we see today. The neighborhoods that disappeared after this construction and the urban renewal that followed were predominantly Black, then redlining starved them of the resources, favorable bank lending, and housing opportunities enjoyed by white Americans. With so many residents gone, the tax base was drained which furthered the decline. It was once an underserved Black neighborhood. Now it barely exists.
 

   That is the history and legacy FC Cincinnati is now a part of. The organization has paid undisclosed settlements to help residents already displaced by the new stadium construction, but the effects of the stadium reach beyond its physical boundaries. And the organization might be benefiting from it. FCC appears to have bought property just north of the new stadium in the past two years.
 

   West End Holdings LLC, reported as an affiliate of FCC by WKRC in Cincinnati, purchased Revelation Missionary Baptist Church on the corner of Liberty and John Streets one year ago. Keith Blake, the West End community council president, who was nearly impeached, said of the

deal “[FCC] haven’t expressed any firm plans beyond ‘We want to have the ability to control property that’s within close proximity to the stadium.’ It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.”
 

   In April of 2019, CityBeat reported on West End residents who were facing relocation. They reported that Fred Berger of Historic LLC sold two properties, residential buildings on Wade Street and Central Avenue, because they would be too close to the stadium for people to live in. According to the Hamilton County Auditor’s site, both properties are now owned by West End Development LLC. The company is registered at 14 East 4th Street - the address of FC Cincinnati’s offices.
 

   According to the West End Housing Study, published by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Authority and Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses in September 2019, 44% of households are considered “extremely threatened, very threatened or threatened” by displacement caused by increasing rents and housing costs. The study, paid for by FCC, goes on to say that doing nothing could increase the risk, particularly for those who live in subsidized units set to expire.
 

   It’s a story very familiar to inner cities across the country. You can read about it in Brooklyn, New York, Santa Monica, California, or here in Over-the-Rhine. Once property values become cheap enough, people and businesses who can afford to pay higher prices are going to purchase those properties. This creates a domino effect that continues to drive up prices overall. The new stadium is bound to attract a lot of amenities: coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. If FCC intends to stand by their agreement with the West End, they should be providing opportunities for Black owned businesses to be featured in the new stadium, and be able to benefit from the increased foot traffic that game days will bring to the neighborhood.
 

   In 2000, Over-the-Rhine was 19.4% White and 76.9% Black. Two decades later, it is estimated that the population in OTR is 34% White and 54% Black. Our favorite bars and restaurants displaced those people, who struggled to pay rent as the value of their neighborhood continued to rise. Without intervention, the West End is destined to become OTR 2.0. Unless this organization ensures current residents and businesses are the ones profiting off the renewal, the Black people of the West End will lose their neighborhood too.
 

   Racism doesn’t just display itself when an unarmed Black man is killed by police. It can be subtle in the way it removes people from their homes and their neighborhood. We may not be aware of that affect, but it happens and we contribute to it, even unknowingly. FC Cincinnati does not have the excuse of ignorance. If Carl Linder III, the team’s owner, owns property near the stadium and profits from the sale of those spaces, he would be directly contributing to the gentrification and displacement of the West End neighborhood. This organization knew what they signed up for when they declared the site of their new home, and it was confirmed to them by the West End Housing Study last fall. They are responsible.