Stick Up

In my nearly four years living along Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, I've never been a crime victim -- to the surprise and chagrin of many. Sure, my car was the victim of a hit-and-run side-swip

Jan 30, 2008 at 2:06 pm

In my nearly four years living along Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine, I've never been a crime victim — to the surprise and chagrin of many. Sure, my car was the victim of a hit-and-run side-swiping once, which wasn't fun, but hardly a crime that would typify the neighborhood's often deserved reputation as a crime haven.

But reality caught up with statistics Sunday evening when, while sitting in her car in front of my apartment building along Washington Park, my girlfriend and I encountered a kid — literally a short 15- to 17-year-old-looking kid — who first asked us to roll down the car window and then asked the time, which we provided. He then he pulled a 9-mm handgun out of his waistband.

My girlfriend, a Cincinnati firefighter and paramedic who treats shithead kids like this all the time, was in the passenger seat of her car. She immediately rolled up her window, which prompted him to begin banging on it with the butt of his gun. The car was still running, so I slammed on the gas. The kid was able to pound the car one final time and broke the back passenger-side window.

Luckily, a Cincinnati Fire Department unit was nearby and someone recognized us, and once he heard what happened he put out a call on the radio that brought legions of Cincinnati police officers and more firefighters to the scene. Though those efforts and subsequent ones in the days since have been substantial and contributed greatly to our confidence in the professionalism of the police department, the suspect hasn't been located.

But now everything seems on the table. All the questions I've endured since I chose to leave Oakley in 2004 to put my money where my mouth was and move to a beautifully renovated apartment in Over-the-Rhine have now answered themselves.

Maybe I am crazy. Why do I live here? Is it worth the mental anguish or worse — dying — just so I can champion the renaissance of a neighborhood?

Should I buy a gun and get a concealed carry permit? Who knows what would have happened had I had a gun with me Sunday, but I've replayed the scenario over and over in my head and in my sleep. I think I'd have had a clear shot at the kid's chest.

Since moving to Over-the-Rhine, death has been all around me. Within a few months, walking to go pick up a pizza I stepped outside and over a guy who, I thought, was sleeping outside my door. Turned out he'd been stabbed to death. Police had closed off the street by time I had got back.

Another time a guy was shot and killed just feet from my back window. A memorial of candles, flowers and spray-painted RIPs appeared next to where it happened.

But in April 2006 things began to change. Within a week three people were shot buying drugs in the block north of me. Cincinnati Police formed a task force, later known as the Vortex Unit, and swept through the neighborhood arresting more than 1,000 people, two-thirds of whom weren't from Over-the-Rhine.

I didn't realize how bad it was down here until it got better. It was a new era for this area, and birds began to chirp and the sun shone bright. Crime dropped dramatically.

But something is amiss again. Vortex remains operational, I'm told, though the concentrated show of force in those first few days in 2006 — paddy wagons lined up along my street and everyone who spit on the sidewalk taken aside to be questioned — hasn't been seen since. Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis pulled his patrols and his inmate clean-up crews off the street at the end of the year after Issue 27, the jail and safety tax plan, failed at the polls. Over-the-Rhine misses that extra attention.

The spate of new business near 12th and Vine streets and Enzo's coffeeshop have been great additions to this neighborhood, but many of the owners of those establishments are starting to worry. Some businesses have begun locking their doors after dark.

For all the great things that have happened in Over-the-Rhine the past couple of years, this isn't the time to let it slip backward even a tiny bit. There's too much momentum toward making this place live up to its potential.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]