Ft. Apache, Cleveland
Arend Van Dam
I'd rather be a farmer than to be a police
I'd rather be a singer than to be a police
I'd rather be a father than to be a police
--Mr. Policeman, Rick James
I went back to Ohio
But my city was gone
There was no train station
There was no downtown
--My City Was Gone,
--Any information from the street so far?
--Are you kidding?
Anyplace else a guy sees a cop get killed,
he runs to the phone, here the doors close.
Right now there could be five people
who know who did this, in a few hours maybe ten,
maybe more, but not us.
Up here Captain, cops are like husbands --
they're always the last to know
--Ft. Apache, the Bronx (1981)
Idle hands are the devil's workshop
What sort of country has police that kill people for illegally selling cigarettes on the street, or a boy aiming a toy gun outside of a community center?
It should not happen in a civilized nation, yet it has happened here. The U.S. is one nation under fear, and it needs to get a grip on itself if it is to succeed.
Sadly, as always, the response to these and like events is the predictable bifurcation along political lines: The Left expresses outrage about a Stalin-esque spectre; the Right defends the response of those charged with maintaining law-and-order. Digging in thusly, neither accomplishes the thing that needs doing -- an honest assessment of and reckoning with the state of race relations in America. We can't do it because we are not honest, are restricted by our resentments and hamstrung but the strictures of political correctness.
Last month Ranger found himself in Cleveland re-visiting the remains of his old neighborhood. The house he grew up in on Eaglesmere had been demolished since his last visit, but the majority of the houses remain, in various stages of hideous decay. Very occasionally one will see a homeowner attempting upkeep that consists of more than Visqueen over the windows, and it is sad to think that there is nowhere for their property value to go but down.
The homes in the blocks surrounding Ranger's childhood home were solidly white, labor and Catholic, with some Jewish merchants thrown into the mix. The complexion has changed: it still ethnic, but now the predominate groups are African American and Asian. At some point after the early 1970's, white flight to the suburbs began, and urban decay set-in.
Still, five minutes away sits the grand neighborhood of Bratenahl, and the police treatment of the two zones is telling.
For countless blocks of Cleveland degradation one will not see a police cruiser, only the forlorn residents drinking alcohol on their porch at 11 a.m., except when the police must come in to investigate a crime. The day Ranger drove through was such a day.
On 11/9/14 a teen was shot on the same Eaglesmere corner where another man was killed the previous week. The police were taking reports. The residents of the house on the corner claim the shootings were unrelated, and that the police should be protecting them; a city alderman calls the residents thugs and is moving for their eviction.
"Ward 8 Councilman Michael Polensek says the occupants are a nuisance and a threat to the public's safety. 'It is chaos. It is no coincidence,'" said Polensek. "Look at the number of times police have had to run to that house.'"
This was an area that was once safe for children to explore by bike, or ride public transportation. Now only a fool or a desperate person would walk these streets or stand at a bus stop at night. Ranger feels naked traveling this ground without a firearm.
Another thing you notice in the 133rd Street Eastside area is the lack of business. When Ranger was a boy he alternately worked at a corner grocer, and set pins at a local bowling alley, among other odds and ends. His peers also all had jobs, often multiple ones at any given time. There was no time to consider violence; there was too much to do. Ranger has always loved guns but he did not have his first handgun until age 21, and certainly he and his fellows never thought of shooting one another.
But in Ranger's Cleveland, the ethnic residents mostly did not seek to leave. Generations found brotherhood in a common background, and he idea of success was a hoped for incremental generational step upward; many of Ranger's schoolmates still live in the same neighborhoods as their parents.
Cleveland was changing by the early 60's. South of Superior Ave. and east, between 79th to 105th, had become clearly black-held terrain. At age 13 Ranger defended himself with a baseball bat from attack by an 18-year-old black teen armed with a bayonet near this area and landed in juvenile detention, until the event was adjudicated self-defense. Some ethnic neighborhoods tried to hold onto their fragment of the American dream, but Ranger's family was more typical, moving to the suburbs of 140th and Lakeshore where he spent his high school years.
Perhaps, urban blacks have missed out on some of the intermediary steps to finding social cohesion. Many were refugees from the agricultural South who sought out the same factory jobs as the low-middle class worked, and for a generation they did work side-by-side with their white counterparts. But after this first generation which straddled the 1940's and 50's, things began falling apart.
Unfortunately, the abruptness of the Civil Rights movement was operative in the break. Many black workers lacked a generational history of working in industry and riding the slow grind required to impart to coming generations the tools needed for possible escape. Instead, for many, after only one factory generation came the advent of quotas. Concomitant was the explosion of media-driven conspicuous consumption, which cannot easily be had on a worker's salary, so what's a poor boy to do?
As an aside, our town (Tallahassee) was recently reported to have the second highest crime rate in the state. Under the Tallahassee Democrat article online a commenter requested a map be given showing the areas of highest crime concentration. The following exchange occurred in response:
--Look for the Africans.
--Wait, what about the whites who commit bigger financial crimes daily?
--With evolution comes the ability to commit bigger and better crime.
This exchange illuminates one strain of thought among our citizens. Clearly, crime pays. Everyone wants nice material things.
We don't have the answer. Maybe you have a piece of the puzzle to share.
--Jim and Lisa