Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Did I Destroy Cleveland? Not Entirely (An Update)

A few years back I regaled the faithful with my account of how I destroyed Cleveland.  When the news  broke last week about the house of horrors I naturally hightailed it to Google to see if I was responsible.  Answer: not really.  Target zero for the current gruesome story is about three miles away from the unspeakable Area B.  

But I'm not quite sure that's the end of it.  Like, I am sure, almost everybody else, I found myself wondering: what kind of a neighborhood is this, anyway?  Best I can tell, there are some longterm residents.  Isn't there anything by way of community surveillance that might have picked this up?  Slate picks up on the issue, with a different spin, reacting to a commenter in the Plain Dealer:
“At the moment, the hum of criticism on Seymour Avenue is about the subtle signs, such as the lowered shades or odd behavior of Castro and how he never entertained guests,” he writes. “These are the kinds of signs that police officers who patrol a specific beat over time might notice or hear about from neighbors. But that kind of patrol disappeared when community policing ended.”

That kind of patrol disappeared when community policing ended—that’s the line you should remember if you’re looking to criticize the cops here. Intuition is one of a police officer’s foremost assets. But missing persons and odd behavior become suspicious only when you are intimately familiar with a neighborhood, with what normalcy means and when normalcy is breached.
In Cleveland and elsewhere, that sort of hyperlocal knowledge is on the wane.
 Well yes, that's easy to latch onto.  Good morning, Mr. Policeman Brownbear.  Good morning, Johnny--shouldn't you be in school?   We all have that picture in our mind, and it is unfailingly filed under "ancient history."  As it happens, I live in a neighborhood that has all the old prelapsarian good order that you could possibly imagine--and I haven't seen a beat cop here in 30 years (cruiser did stop in my front yard the other evening and rousted an apparent drug suspect; they let him go).

The inference might be that community policing works if and only if there is a community.  So, wasn't there something by way of community on Seymour Avenue to pick up the slack?  In his justly admired backgrounder, Robert L. Smith sketches a response:
This stretch of Seymour Avenue is near the historic heart of Cleveland's Puerto Rican community but it's no bustling barrio. Yards tend to be fenced with rusty chain-link  on a block of long, narrow lots running between West 25th Street and Scranton Road, just south of Interstate 90 and Scranton Cemetery. Several houses, like the one next door to Castro's, are boarded up and abandoned.
Residents say the neighborhood feels safer since police chased away drug dealers a few years ago, but they learned to keep to themselves and to avoid asking too many questions. "Beware of Dog" and "Keep Out" signs are prevalent.

The block is anchored at its eastern end by a stately, red-brick church, Immanuel Lutheran. At the west end, across West 25th street, is the venerable neighborhood bodega, Caribe Grocery, which has been owned for decades by Ariel Castro's uncle, Julio "Cesi" Castro, and which closed after the media descended.
The industrious Castro family has a long history in Cleveland...
 Well--no, not a response, for with all his best efforts,he doesn't seem to be able to put his finger on the question of why the neighborhood is not a barrio, why it is a ghostly cardboard cutout of what you would want it to be.

Boy I wish I had the answer to that one.  I don't, and I'm sure it is above my pay grade.  But I am willing to shake down at least one possible culprit: It's those %$#@! expressways.  Way I read Google, ground zero is tucked into an armpit (I choose my words with care) formed by I-90 and I-71.  Now just about anybody with any on-the-ground knowledge agrees these days that urban freeways are, in retrospect, a dreadful mistake: that they provided no really adequate solution to urban traffic problems and far worse, they tended to suck the lifeblood out of any community that suffered their depredations.

Yes I know, I know, there are a thousand objections.  Some neighborhoods suffered without any expressway in earshot (actually, that would be my in-laws'),.  Some survived the expressway (Really?  Where?).  I can think of any number of other possible causal factors that would have to be plugged into the equation.  

Still, you imagine yourself at 2207 Seymour and you breath in the exhaust fumes and you listen to the hum-thrum of the traffic every hour, every day, every year, and you have to wonder.

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