- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

A black boycott of Cincinnati is focusing on a summer appearance by the Rev. Billy Graham, whose June 27-30 appearance at Paul Brown Stadium is expected to draw 200,000 people.
Mr. Graham's appearance would be a huge boost to the city of 331,000 people, which despite several concessions has been unable to convince boycott backers to call off sanctions imposed after the fatal police shooting of a black man and three days of resulting riots.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who visited the city over the weekend, said that as a minister, Mr. Graham should consider the circumstances before coming to Cincinnati.
"He can see what kind of controversy is going on there," he said. "He doesn't need to get himself involved in that."
The Rev. Clarence Wallace of Carmel Presbyterian Church, one of a 24-member group of ministers who formed Concerned Clergy after the riots in April, said that "if he does decide to come to this city, he needs to make a statement on the issues here."
Mr. Graham says he will hold his services as scheduled and will address the racial climate in Cincinnati.
The flap over the Graham visit comes after the boycott won a big victory last weekend by prompting the cancellation of a convention that would have brought $8.6 million to the city.
The withdrawal of the annual meeting of the Progressive National Baptist Convention is the latest in a series of cancellations that is slowly crippling Cincinnati's economy.
In addition, the Cincinnati Jazz Festival, an annual event that began in the late 1960s, lost its sponsor when Coors Brewing Co. pulled out earlier this year.
The Colorado brewer said its action has no ties to the boycott. But city officials said the loss of sponsorship was related to sluggish attendance last year, which they attribute to the boycott.
Several local black groups imposed the sanctions after the April 7 shooting of a fleeing 19-year-old black man the 15th black suspect killed by police since 1995.
Police and city officials point out that most of those killed had been carrying weapons, but the black community has refused to let the issue go away.
"The city needs to get together with these [boycotting groups]" Mr. Sharpton said. "These sanctions are hurting the city, and yet the city leaders won't even come to the table."
The boycotters are demanding more "economic inclusion" for blacks, which they say must include the creation of 10,000 jobs for inner-city youth and a "living wage" requirement that would raise the minimum pay rate. They also demand amnesty for the hundreds of rioters arrested, which Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said was "impossible."
The convention of the mostly black Baptist body was booked four years ago. The five-day event was expected to draw 8,000 people from out of town this summer.
To add irony to the economic slap, the 2.5 million member church was founded in Cincinnati in 1961. Talks bogged down when the Baptist group said it would cancel unless city leaders met with boycott supporters in "unconditional negotiations."
"We were willing to come to the table, but not willing to turn over a $1.8 billion city," said Vice Mayor Alicia Reese, the city's highest-ranking black elected official. "We've had public meetings and over 45 private meetings with them."
The Millennium Hotel, which was to host the convention, will be forced to lay off some of its 400 mostly black employees because of the economic blow.
"This was worth $750,000 to our hotel," said Rob Gauthier, general manager of the 872-room inn located in the heart of downtown. "It creates an economic gap that is almost impossible to close."
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Arts Association filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, one of two boycott organizers. The association which books national entertainment acts into the city claims that the boycotters have contacted several scheduled performers and successfully lobbied them to cancel performances.
The suit seeks $77,000 for lost revenue and a court order prohibiting the boycotters from contacting scheduled acts.
The lawsuit was expected; the coalition filed a pre-emptory legal strike Friday by filing a suit in U.S. District Court that argues that the arts group's lawsuit would violate the boycotters' First Amendment right to free speech.
Bill Cosby, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the O'Jays and Wynton Marsalis have cancelled shows or refused to consider the city for appearances since last spring. Of those performers, at least Mr. Cosby and Mr. Marsalis had received a letter from the coalition requesting that they skip Cincinnati.
The arts association books black performers routinely, said lawyer Ed Marks, who is representing the association. The boycott is preventing people from seeing that talent.
"And the crux of it is that this boycott is making us unable to fulfill our commitment to the community," Mr. Marks said. "We have no dog in this fight, in this boycott, but they are targeting us anyway."
Association directors met with some of the boycott leaders in hopes of working something out, he added.
"They told us, 'sometimes you have to destroy something in order to rebuild,'" Mr. Marks said. "So they will destroy everything if they have to."

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