LIMA, Ohio - Jason Upthegrove had just left the Lima Mall on Christmas Eve when he came upon a police officer arresting a young man.
The officer raised his left hand for Mr. Upthegrove to stop, and he pulled into a nearby parking lot. Within minutes, Mr. Upthegrove said, there were more officers on the scene, one of whom spotted his idling car, ran toward him with his gun drawn, and ordered him to put his hands on the steering wheel.
"My first words were, 'Whoa' and he was just going ballistic. I say, 'My man, have I committed a crime?' He said, 'Don't you say a word. I'll ask the questions.' I said, 'Am I being accused of something?' He said, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'I'm sitting here watching what's going on.' "
Mr. Upthegrove, a local business owner and president of the Lima chapter of the NAACP, said another officer approached, recognized him, and whispered something to the officer who'd confronted him. The officer quickly apologized.
"I asked him, 'When you shined that light over here, what did you see in this car that made you think the situation was so dangerous? Let me answer that for you. You saw a black face and when you saw a black face you automatically assumed a crime had to be committed,' " Mr. Upthegrove recalled.
"I said this is why the African-American community doesn't trust you," Mr. Upthegrove said. "It's guilt before innocence."
The lack of trust, which some say has been festering for years, broke the surface in the wake of the Jan. 4 fatal shooting of a biracial woman by a veteran, white police sergeant. The FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation are investigating the shooting, which occurred during a drug raid at the home of Tarika Wilson, a 26-year-old mother of six.
Within minutes of the Lima police SWAT team's arrival at Wilson's Third Street home, her boyfriend Anthony Terry was arrested on drug charges, Wilson was shot to death by Sgt. Joseph Chavalia, and her 14-month-old son Sincere, whom she was holding at the time, was wounded by the gunfire.
In the weeks after Wilson's death, members of the African-American community have led weekly marches on the police department. Black and white residents alike turned out for a lengthy meeting with Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, where many complained of police misconduct and racial profiling, and community leaders began calling for answers, for dialogue, and for change.
"We can take this negative and make more negatives or we can take this negative and turn it into a positive," said the Rev. B. LaMont Monford, Sr., pastor of Lima's largest African-American church, Philippian Missionary Baptist.
He said he believes the vast majority of Lima residents want their city ridded of drugs and violent crime, and that most support the police department's efforts to do that. But no one can ignore the concerns that have been raised, he said.
"There are too many complaints for us to not have a problem," Mr. Monford said. "Even if the complaints are based on perception, perception is reality in the minds of those who perceive it."
By the police department's own statistics, well over half of the 5,000 people arrested each year in Lima are black, though African-Americans make up just 26 percent of the city's 40,000 residents.
When it comes to drug arrests, the disparity grows even wider. Last year, 61 percent of the 323 people arrested on drug charges were black and 39 percent were white. In 2005, 73 percent were black and 26 percent were white.
In Mansfield, Ohio -- a city of 49,346 people of which just under 20 percent are African-American -- arrest statistics differ significantly. Last year, 62 percent of those arrested in Mansfield were white and 37 percent were black. In 2006, 59 percent were white and 40 percent were black.
Mansfield police Chief Philip Messer said his department "just enforces the law and the numbers are what they are," but he said he emphasizes training on diversity issues, actively recruits minority officers, and tracks the stops officers make "relentlessly."
"With every car stop, the officers have to call in the race and sex of the driver and whether they're cited or not. Consistently, our statistics match - our black population is about 20 percent, stops are 17 to 21 percent [black motorists]," he said. "I want our guys to know we're checking. I don't think we have anyone out of line, but I think our officers need to know we're aware of who you're stopping, their race, their sex, are you giving them a ticket, just to encourage them to do the right thing."
Lima police Chief Greg Garlock insists his officers are doing the right thing. They arrest criminal suspects regardless of their race, he said, respond to complaints regardless of the neighborhood, and simply try to enforce the law.
"Look at where the calls for service are," he said, pointing to a map of the city's predominantly black south side. "We're going where the call load takes us."
Chief Garlock, who joined the force in 1971 when an African-American, William Davenport, was police chief, said he will not tolerate racism in his department. He is clearly frustrated by the accusations.
"It's disappointing," he said. "I get complaints from people of all races about someone being picked on for some reason."
The chief said he understood Mr. Upthegrove's concerns, but he doubted the officer could even see who was in the car. He said the officer had his gun drawn because police were arresting an armed suspect, and "for officer safety purposes, they felt they had to do this."
"It was not just an arbitrary stop. It was connected to what could have been a dangerous stop," Chief Garlock said.
Mr. Upthegrove, who said he filed a formal complaint about the incident, is not satisfied with the explanation.
"You know if they're doing that to me you know what's happening to an 18 or 20-year-old black male," the 41-year-old Mr. Upthegrove said.
Between 2003 and 2007, 42 complaints were lodged against Lima police officers for misconduct, including excessive force and racial profiling.
A review of the cases showed that in the vast majority the accused officer was either exonerated, meaning police officials determined the conduct had occurred but was "proper and lawful" for the situation, or the complaint was unfounded, meaning the allegation was found to be false.
Two officers out of the 42 complaints were found to have acted improperly, but neither for racist behavior.
The fact that so few citizen complaints result in disciplinary action doesn't surprise 5th Ward Councilman Tommy Pitts, one of the loudest voices to emerge since Wilson's death.
"Everything they do is justified," he said, "Everything they do is justified, but no more. We're not going to settle for that."
Mr. Pitts began raising the issue of racial profiling after he took his seat on City Council in 2006, though at the time he said no one took his concerns seriously. He was accused of making the claims for personal reasons -- his oldest son, Che Pitts, had been arrested on drug charges, and a year later, his younger son, Ryan Pitts, was convicted of selling drugs.
Now, with a young mother dead, people are listening, he said.
"It took this murder for people to rally around because people are scared of retribution," he said. "These officers are bullies. They have a history of doing African-Americans [wrong] and getting away with it."
He points to a study his sons' attorney did of felony drug cases in Allen County Common Pleas Court that showed that on average black defendants received longer sentences than whites. He said police allow black drug dealers to make more drug deals than white offenders before they arrest them, which results in more charges and longer prison terms for African-Americans.
Chief Garlock denies the charge.
He said when informants or undercover officers can buy drugs frequently or in large amounts, they do that, but "it's not based on race. It's based on being able to get this person off the street for a longer amount of time."
Lt. Jim Baker, head of investigations, said police work with the prosecutor's office to decide when to arrest a drug dealer they've made buys from. It strengthens a case, he said, to show the sale was not a one-time occurrence.
Mr. Pitts said he believes the city needs to clean house - beginning with five-term Mayor David Berger. He wants to see the police department investigated as well as the Allen County Prosecutor's Office.
Mr. Pitts also wants the city to establish a citizen review board that would hear appeals for citizens who are dissatisfied with the way police investigators handle their complaints of officer misconduct.
"That is one of the main things because we can no longer allow this Lima Police Department to do [its] own investigations," Mr. Pitts said.
Mayor Berger said he is open to the idea of forming a citizen review board, although he believes the city has done several things to increase police accountability, such as installing in-car video cameras and audio equipment.
The department also encourages "ride-alongs" to give residents a firsthand view of an officer's job.
"I think there's a number of ways the department has demonstrated its openness, its willingness to be accountable, and ultimately deal with whatever the facts are," Mr. Berger said.
The mayor said he stands by Chief Garlock and the city's police department. He said despite what arrest records show on the surface, police are responding to community concerns and city residents expect police to do their job.
"It's not racial profiling when calls come in about drug dealing in a given set of neighborhoods and the police respond and arrest people for breaking the law and those individuals are black," the mayor said. "That's not racial profiling. That's law enforcement, and the Lima Police Department will continue to do effective law enforcement."
The mayor may defend the police department, but he insists he is prepared and committed to addressing the issues that have been raised in the wake of Tarika Wilson's death.
Daniel Hughes, an African-American pastor and assistant director of the Allen Metropolitan Housing Authority, said communitywide dialogue is needed to get to the root of the problems and come up with solutions. Drugs and the lack of viable job opportunities are just the beginning.
He advocates cross-cultural experiences for the city's mostly white police officers, even sabbaticals to remove them from their jobs for a time so they can work in a totally different environment.
Mr. Upthegrove said officers need a better understanding of the African-American culture.
"They need to be given a firsthand view of why there is mistrust, why people react the way they do," he said. "Once they get that understanding, it will get them building relationships. It's going to get better. Unfortunately, someone had to die for it to happen."
Chief Garlock said he's open to talking, open to listening, but he believes the community needs a better understanding of what his officers go through.
"There has to be a willingness to listen to both sides of the issue," he said. "There has to be an understanding of why we take the actions we do."
Those on all sides of the issue agree the city needs a more diverse police department.
Just two of the agency's 77 sworn officers are African-American - another frustration of Chief Garlock, who said the city has struggled to attract minority candidates.
"In 1897, the Lima Police Department had one African-American police officer. In 2008, we have two," he said with a discouraged look.
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