Sunday, January 19, 2003

'Peace over profits'

Businesses miss the point of symbolism


Crime has been a problem inside and outside the Jet-In Market, a West End pony keg on Linn Street.

In October, police arrested a 19-year-old for selling marijuana at the market and throwing two bags of it under a food shelf. Hours later, another 19-year-old robbed the first youth and shot him to death. Later he was arrested and charged.

Last week police made another marijuana bust near the market, seizing a gun and arresting several people, including a minor who was inside the store with an open beer can.

That man ran into the store, said storeowner Rob Orabi, who was cited for a liquor violation.

Booze versus drugs

Alcohol sales - which make up a third of the store's business - aren't linked to the crimes outside his store, Mr. Orabi says; drugs and guns are.

And that's why he is not likely to honor a grassroots coalition's request to refrain from selling alcohol on Martin Luther King Day on Monday.

The Peace Down the Way Coalition last week asked owners of bars, pony kegs, grocery stores and restaurants in Over-the-Rhine and the West End to demonstrate their commitment to "peace over profits" by not selling booze for a day.

It was to be one of several efforts by the month-old coalition of community groups, churches and mosques to get a grip on crime, says Juleana Frierson, a coalition leader and chief of staff of the Cincinnati Black United Front.

But few businesses announced they'd comply with the request.

Instead, some radio talk show hosts and callers took pot shots at the group, saying it ought to ask drug dealers to stop selling for the day. Some business owners scorned the effort, vowing to do the opposite and open earlier to catch more of the holiday drinking crowd.

By Friday afternoon, Ms. Frierson was fed up with the pettiness. I understand why.

"This was to be a minuscule thing, a small part of the peace project," she said. It was to be a show of good will.

Mr. Orabi says good will won't stop the crime. He says he plans to hire private security guards, and 18 months ago, he bought a gun.

As Mr. Orabi spoke Thursday, he greeted several customers by name and cashed a person's check. Two families with small children picked up groceries, while several people lined up for lottery tickets.

A symbol's value

Mr. Orabi admits he has a rocky relationship with the police, but he's not sure what else to do about the crime.

"What can I do? I can't search my customers for drugs or guns," he says.

Every few seconds he glances up at a bank of TVs linked to security cameras.

Outside, for at least an hour this wintry afternoon, several young men stand in various locations in the parking lot, in front of the store and even inside the store, not moving much, talking to people coming in or just driving through the lot. Marked police cars drive by several times.

Dale Mallory, president of the West End Community Council, calls the store one of the trouble spots. He says Mr. Orabi and the council are seeking a safer location.

In the meantime, Mr. Orabi says, he'll find other ways to support the Peace Down the Way Coalition, but right now, he's not sure how.

The group is training 70 adults to speak to at-risk youth and adults to try to steer them onto productive paths, Ms. Frierson says. It is handing out antiviolence literature at nightclubs and restaurants and buttons to children emphasizing the value of young life.

Symbolism can be important sometimes. Too bad many business owners are missing the point.

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