Monday, May 26, 2003

Drug thugs

The big story in Cincinnati

Dawn Smith is afraid to go home. The Kennedy Heights neighborhood where she grew up, where she has lived for 40 years, has become a hangout for drug thugs.

"I'm trying to raise my son right," she told Cincinnati City Council last Monday. "They urinate openly on the street, no matter who's looking. There is gunfire through the night. We have slept on the floor for fear we were going to be shot."

Her neighbor was robbed at gunpoint. Her 13-year-old son's new bicycle was stolen. He was not allowed to ride it past the driveway anyway, because she feared for his life.

'No heart, no respect'

She plans her day around the drug boys. She leaves lights on in the house so they won't know what room she is in. "Most of the time when I look out the window, someone is looking back at me." And if she tried to sell and move, "I couldn't get one-third of what it's worth. I don't know what else to do."

Her story was one among dozens from people who share her fear, frustration and anger. They came from North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Westwood, Northside, Madisonville, Corryville, North Avondale - even Northern Kentucky - to support councilman David Pepper's anti-loitering ordinance to harass brazen drug markets.

Sherry Smith of Evanston cried as she told how the drug boys' pit bulls killed two of her cats and attacked a neighbor's dog. "They have no heart and no respect for anything," she said. Her mother, Eunice Smith, told the council members, "We expect you to protect us."

'We're under siege'

Others said they're sick of being intimidated on their own sidewalks. The elderly are prisoners and kids can't play outdoors.

"We're under siege," said Bob Schneider, president of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce.

Tom Eppens of Madisonville said, "Uncuff the police. Support the police and the (arrests) will change. Don't bend down to the Black United Front."

The crowd applauded.

Some think race is the big story in Cincinnati. Others say it's new museums and ballparks.

But that's just fresh paint on an abandoned house if we lose the neighborhoods.

"Blacks and whites who pay their taxes and maintain their property have simply had enough," said Rosalind Fultz.

During a press conference before the hearing, Pepper's plan sounded bold. It lets citizens call cops on dealers, and gives the cops a misdemeanor loitering ticket to harass the pushers.

But after the hearing, it sounded like the troops in the trenches are begging for napalm and the city is handing out wet matches.

Pepper gets credit for doing more than most. "I don't want to be councilman of a ghost town," he said. It's no exaggeration. For each of the hundred at the hearing who stay and fight, hundreds more have already packed and left.

More cop contacts mean more conflicts. The drug gangs won't give up their turf without a fight - or a shooting.

But bullets are already flying. Ask Dawn Smith and her neighbors who have to sleep on the floor.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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