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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lives in Danger in FPSE

Yesterday, when we were looking out the front window of our apartment in the early afternoon, we saw a man beating a woman on the sidewalk kitty corner from our home (on the Taylor Avenue side of the building at 4501 Swan, which is owned by King Auto Financing of 3300 South Kingshighway). Right there, right in front of where we live, in broad daylight. At first, it looked like a fight, but pretty quickly it became clear that the man was beating her and she wasn't having much luck fighting back. He threw her hard onto the sidewalk and dragged her around. He had something shiny in his hand that he was aiming at her. We couldn't tell for sure, but it looked like a gun.

We both scrambled to call 911. I called on the land line and Michael called on his cell phone, figuring we might get someone out here faster if there were two calls. The man noticed us watching them and dragged the woman elsewhere. Distracted by our dashes to grab telephones, and also just not staying in the window because we thought the man had a gun and we didn't want to get shot, we didn't see where he took her.

It took the police over ten minutes to arrive. The man and the woman were already long gone. If he had meant to kill her, he certainly could have done so and gotten away comfortably by then. Certainly, wherever he had taken her, he only beat her more, while the police took their time in showing up. When they did come, the single van they sent barely even slowed down as it passed the stretch of sidewalk where the woman had been beaten. The van did not linger, did not drive down the alley where he most likely took her (That's where all the trouble around here seems to hide, that alley I have to cross on foot by myself when I'm going to work.), did not even drive down the 4500 block of Swan. It LEFT.

I hope that woman is safe now, wherever she is, but the man seemed to know her so probably she is not okay. If the police had actually showed up on time or made any effort at finding them, she might be okay. If anyone in power actually tried to keep abandoned buildings around here sealed, or god forbid if they tried to STOP ABSENTEE OWNERS FROM KEEPING SO MUCH OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD DANGEROUSLY VACANT, there would not have been conditions that would have allowed this to happen in the first place and she might be okay.

I ought to note that the man beat the woman not ten feet away from the spot on the sidewalk where a shirtless man was laying sprawled out several days ago when he threateningly shouted "FUCK YOU, WHITE BITCH! DID YOU HEAR THAT?!?" at me as I was walking home from work, crossing the vacant lot directly across the street from my home. (Again, this is on the sidewalk in front of 4501 Swan, which is owned by King Auto Financing at 3300 S. Kinghighway.)

I don't know how people can talk about fancy rehab plans for this area when we don't even have the basics. There's nowhere to get a sandwich or a slice of pizza here, or a pair of shoes, and those things are pretty basic. Utilities are basic, too, and it seems to me we've had more problems keeping our utilities connected than folks I know who live in other areas. But even beyond that, WE DON'T HAVE BASIC HUMAN SAFETY IN A LOT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD SOUTH OF MANCHESTER. I'm very hearty when it comes to gritty urban areas, and I'm also a longtime fan of meandering solo walks through new places, but here I don't even feel okay walking out the front door in front of my own home.

My next door neighbor's garage and HOME have both been broken into since we moved here, and the glass near the latch of our building's back door was "mysteriously" broken. My neighbors' cars get messed with. We hear weird sounds at night--dragging sounds, gunshots, shouting, and lately a whistle that we've learned means a drug dealer is at work. The decomposed body of a missing prostitute (who had been rumored to have been murdered around here) turned up in a vacant building less than two blocks from here. A woman was recently bludgeoned to death by her boyfriend over on Arco, less than a ten minute walk from here. Several of the surviving businesses on Manchester have recently been victims of violent smash-and-grab acts of vandalism and theft. Just last night, someone who lives on the 4400 block of Norfolk (immediately south of us) had large statues stolen from her backyard, and she was surprised because they were very, very heavy statues. These are just the first few things I can think of off the top of my head.

I used to take pains not to use the word "ghetto" in reference to poor, majority black, urban neighborhoods, or things associated with them. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and my grandmother barely escaped extermination in a ghetto in Poland. So, ghetto is not a word I take lightly at all. When we moved here, before our part of the neighborhood reverted to the state it was in several years ago, I used words like "rough," "gritty," and "struggling." After having experienced life here for a while, I think those words are inappropriate and silly to describe the place where I live and the things I see and experience here. Sure, some areas might just be "rough," I guess, but this is a ghetto. There's no other way to describe it.

I wouldn't use the word ghetto if I thought this was at all accidental.

Things can't get this bad and stay this bad by themselves, especially in a city with growing resources (and real estate values), in a neighborhood with not one but TWO community groups, and in a ward with an alderman whose family has been in power locally since the 1950s (He has the clout it would take!). If the powers that be in this ward--most of all, Alderman Roddy, The Forest Park Southeast Development Corporation, Wash U, and the major landlords (Dave Renard, Jack Krause, and others)--actually gave a shit about the people who live here, things would be changing. We wouldn't have rows and rows of abandoned buildings with unboarded entrances and holes in their walls if not for years and years of neglect, and if we didn't have those, all the criminals who make life a living hell for us wouldn't have anywhere to hide, and they wouldn't terrorize us like this. But Roddy and the FPSE Development Corp have been letting notorious slumlords buy 'em and board 'em and ignore 'em for YEARS, so here we are. And..really...are we fighting the gangs and drugs, or are we not? Roddy's disinterest in our letters and other contact with him over problem properties suggests to me that people here are not serious about taking care of the gang and drug problem. The dodgy behavior of FPSE Development Corp. representatives and the perpetually dark, miniblinds-down windows of their storefront (which is located north of Manchester) suggest to me that no, they're not serious about getting rid of the crime here.

I'm not trying to say that Roddy and the FPSE Development Corp. and Wash U could just snap their fingers and instantly turn this neighborhood into a perfect, peaceful place, but there is no way it could possibly be this bad if they actually cared and had the will to change things. Just forcing landlords to keep buildings boarded and to keep crooks and trespassers away from their own properties would make a WORLD of difference. Doing a handful of drug stings (We all know where they deal! It's not hard to figure out!) would make a WORLD of difference.

The area's current dangerous state reflects both years of neglect built up in the past, and ongoing neglect of our well being.

So, when will the powers that be in Forest Park Southeast actually try to come down here and get rid of the relentless crime? How long is it going to take? It has already taken far, far too long. For the woman who was beaten on the sidewalk in broad daylight in front of my home yesterday, it's already too late.


Joe said...

This is scary stuff, but sadly not unusual in many areas of the city.

Despite my comments about the other night, even in Benton Park West, I'm not sure how effective the overbearing police presence is. It can still take quite a while for police to arrive when you call; assuming they do even show up.

While I think it's probably worse in FPSE, it's still not that great on the Southside, in the 3rd District.

I'm not the best property owner myself, and I guess I'm probably not persistent enough in calling the police. But sometimes, you just throw up your hands - like when your next-door neighbor is pretty clearly abusive to his partner, but you feel physically threatened by him too, and so you do nothing. I've been there.

MattH said...

I would have to disagree with Joe. This IS unusual for most parts of the city, a lot of people just like to believe the hype that this is how the city is. Granted, there are a few neighborhoods like FPSE where crime such as this exists, but I wouldn't call it the norm.

As far as FPSE, I am very disappointed that the direction this area is heading seems to be continually down, when there seemed to be so much promise recently. It is a neighborhood with so much potential. I have had interest in buying and moving there many times, but with leaders ignoring problems the way they do, it is hard to make the jump from Tower Grove East. But, that is one of the keys to improving the area, moving there and running the slumlords out of the neighborhood.

Honestly, I beleive that the reasons Wash U and others are ignoring it is because they want another McRee Town. I am sure that somewhere there are plans in the works to completely level the area and build new, crap housing. This in another effort to attract those suburbanites to the area.