Sunday, March 9, 2003

Over-the-Rhine needs more than face lift

Ericka McIntyre is the kind of 20-something that city officials hope to keep in Cincinnati.

She's 28, single and an editorial assistant and proofreader at St. Anthony Messenger Press in Over-the-Rhine. She's also a former suburbanite who chose to live in the city.

Some city officials have a strategy: convert Main Street in Over-the-Rhine into a more identifiable entertainment and arts district. Close the street some nights. Allow live music, outdoor cafes, outside alcohol sales. Lay down some cobblestones.

McIntyre is already familiar with Over-the-Rhine - and not just Main Street. She patronizes many businesses and art galleries there.

But something happened to her last month that new cobblestones won't fix.

Violent encounter

It was Feb. 8, Saturday night at 9. McIntyre was going to a restaurant on Main, between 8th and 9th streets. A mugger built like a football player grabbed her arm.

"Give it to me!" he said.

McIntyre, a slim 5-7, tried pulling away. The man began punching her in the face. He didn't stop, not after he had her purse, not after she'd fallen to the ground and hit her head.

An officer took her report and put her in his cruiser. She says she gave him this description of her assailant: a black man, at least 250 pounds, light-skinned, tall, a big build, short hair under a ski cap, thin mustache, round face. He was wearing a dark, close-fitting nylon jacket and light pants.

In a minute or two officers brought to her a black man who was short, thin, clean-shaven, had long braids, and wore baggy jeans and a fat bubble jacket. She told them he wasn't the assailant. Twice they asked if she were sure. After about 15 minutes, they let him go.

She apologized. He was angry. So was she.

Back in the cruiser, she told a male officer that this was the second time she'd been mugged. Last year, a man snatched her purse.

Looking like a victim

McIntyre's story differs from police accounts.

She says the officer said, "You must just look like a victim." Then he laughed.

McIntyre, with an icepack on her head, a busted lip and bruised face, thought he was being insensitive, but she says it got worse.

A female officer asked, "Are you sure the bad guy wasn't just somebody you were having drinks with in the bar, honey?"

McIntyre, stunned, said she asked the male officer if he'd heard the question. "Didn't hear a thing," she says he replied from the front seat.

McIntyre's mugger was never found. Police officials say that 10 officers and a police dog searched for him.

Lt. Kurt Byrd, a spokesman, said McIntyre's description was more vague than she claims and that police pointed out three possible men as suspects.

At any rate, they found her purse.

McIntyre says she didn't lodge a complaint with police about the behavior of the two officers because she didn't know their names, and the other officers on the scene did take her concerns seriously.

But the incident, she says, illustrates that Over-the-Rhine's continuing crime problems and its sometimes rocky police relations persist, making expansion of an entertainment district there risky.

The proposal to expand the entertainment area does include prospects of a greater police presence, city leaders have said.

But police already heavily patrol Over-the-Rhine. And - thanks to privately funded security - off-duty uniformed cops are most visible on Main Street.

But what about the rest of the neighborhood, McIntyre asks? Will safety - or the perception of safety - be different on the neighborhood's other streets?

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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