Category Archives: Crime

Rochester, Crime and the "Single Diaper Theory"

 

Like much of the Rust Belt, Rochester, New York has seen its share of warm temperatures this summer, and with it, a near doubling in the number of gun assaults, to an appalling 95 shootings so far this year. Always eager to try old, failed ideas from other cities, Rochester has taken a page from Rudy Giuliani’s Broken Window Theory playbook and chosen to target petty crimes with a new idea some are calling the Single Diaper Theory.

Rochester has around 350 corner stores, and according to the local paper’s math, police respond an average of 21 times a year to each of these corner stores, with the worst 25 averaging 80 responses a year. City Hall contends these corner stories are a nexus for crime, but because efforts at dealing with the drugs, prostitutes, underage liquor sales, food stamp fraud and loose cigarette sales that are so popular in or around these stores has been difficult, it is time to take a different tact and target the last hold out–the illegal diaper dealers.

It seems store owners in less affluent parts of Rochester are breaking up packs of Pampers and selling diapers individually at an incredible mark up. Not only are these diaper sales illegal, but City Hall has taken the position that crimes like this contribute to a culture of lawlessness, and with this lawlessness comes an increase in gun violence. City Hall’s new theory is that by stopping petty criminals like bicyclists without bells, drivers with damaged taillights and yes, even those dealing in loose cigarettes and single diapers, they will get guns off the streets.

Critics of the plan suggest that those using the illegal diapers (primarily infants and toddlers) are rarely involved in gun crimes. Diaper buyers claim that they are not trying to break the law, but simply trying to diaper their children. Many say that they would prefer to buy a large pack of legal diapers, but simply can not afford to, forcing them to choose between buying illegal single diapers from the corner stores, or having no diapers at all.

As the summer of gun violence continues, City Council plans to take up the issue in the coming weeks. Until then, it remains to be seen if City Hall’s crackdown on the illegal diapers will have an impact on the recent rash of gun crimes in the city, or merely replace one rash with another.

 

— Clarke Condé

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“The Wire” Tour of Baltimore

A Preface

I love TV’s The Wire. When I heard about this self-guided, Wire-themed tour of Baltimore, I thought, “That’s the self-guided tour of Baltimore I’ve been waiting for.” But I read something a few days later that paralyzed my ambitions. Christian Lander, author of the blog and book “Stuff White People Like,” explained in an interview:

When and how did you get the idea for the site?

January 18th. A friend and I were having an IM conversation about The Wire. He said, “Not enough white people watch The Wire.” I said, “Don’t worry, they do.” We started talking about what they’re doing instead of watching The Wire : therapy, getting divorced, going to plays…

Thus The Wire is not only Stuff White People Like but the inspiration for the whole series.  Since I’m a white person, this discovery made me uneasy about my Wire tour, the way a Pakistani person must feel about a genuinely promising opportunity in the convenience store industry. And shortly thereafter, The Wire was parodied on Disney’s iCarly.

In the end, I just decided that Americans of all colors and creeds would love The Wire, if they saw it. The Wire transcends boundaries. Norman Rockwell has beaten me to the punch here with a painting I really think captures the sentiment:

In summary, don’t let your friends’ rolled eyes inhibit your pilgrimage to the greatest city in America to celebrate The Greatest TV Show in America.

The Tour

I arrived in Baltimore at about 1PM with three friends in the car. From the Interstate, Baltimore looks like scattered red legos. It was my first time in Baltimore, and I have never seen more red brick buildings. We pulled off at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd exit, which is a reliable exit to take for a tour of the ghetto in most American cities. Up close, Baltimore resembles both the Birmingham, Alabama where I grew up and the Pittsburgh where I live now. Baltimore has Birmingham’s African American majority, boarded-up buildings and ubiquitous vegetation. It has Pittsburgh’s pedestrian presence and row houses. I really liked seeing Baltimore’s famous benches.

The tour divides Baltimore into seven districts. We started out on the west side, thinking it would contain the most shooting locations. That was wrong. As the guide explains, “The directors found East Baltimore’s relatively treeless streets much easier to film in, as they could film throughout at least three of the seasons without losing seasonal continuity.”

It was most fascinating to circle the McCulloh Homes housing project, the location of the “low rises” that DeAngelo presides over in season one. We peered between two buildings from the car and discerned “The Pit,” where DeAngelo, Wallace, Poot and Bodie hung out. Housing projects were prevalent throughout West Baltimore, and they seemed very clean and new from outside. I hope someone can help me understand a question that occurred to me: “Why did cities build housing projects rather than supplementing the Section 8 program?” Questions like this one will ignite in your head throughout the tour.

Outside the McCulloh Homes, we passed several women and children picking through an overturned garbage dumpster. I stared, wondering if a kid had thrown away his retainer. In my retainer days, I picked through many a trash bin. A lady glared back and started waving her hands at me, pointing at the garbage angrily as if to say, “If you’re gonna stare, why don’t you come down here in this garbage?” She triggered a sobering transition—one second I related to the little kids; the next second I remembered my childhood had about 3% in common with theirs, and they probably do not see an orthodontist.

I realized then how strange our Wire tour must seem to locals: three white guys and one African African American girl (a 6’3”Nigerian), pointing at empty corners excitedly, cruising very slowly, snapping pictures. Unfortunately, I think there is no cure for your glaring touristness. You had better embrace it. The only thing worse than four suburbanites pointing at everything in the ghetto is four suburbanites acting like they belong in the ghetto. I wondered constantly whether the locals knew we were on a Wire tour…how often people came through taking pictures and talking loudly.

Then we headed to North Central Baltimore. Here we saw Bubble’s Garage, Bodie’s Corner, Greenmount Cemetary, and North Ave Motel and other attractions.

One difficulty of The Wire tour is that the sites are so mundane that it can be hard to tell if you’re on the right spot. As a matter of fact, here I am at a corner cattycorner to Bodie’s corner. I was so sure this was the right corner that I pointed out where the guy who shot Bodie was definitely hiding.

Above: the corner that Bodie would have ostensibly stared at

At the North Ave Motel, we pulled into a narrow parking lot, and I correctly identified the general area of the room where Omar shot brother Mouzone. As I posed for pictures, a bewildered guy on the upper balcony smoked two cigarettes while watching me. A woman dressed characteristically like a prostitute entered a room with a man.

There was a Mercedes Benz parked in front of Bubbles’ garage. This invited speculation.

Then we headed to East Baltimore, where the standout attractions were Marlo’s Hangout and Hamsterdam. The guide made a cautious suggestion: “Look immediately on the right for Marlo’s Hangout. Hop out of the car and into the square (Faith Ln) to take some pictures if you like, but bear in mind that this is a legitimately rough neighborhood.”

We parked and crossed a small patch of grass to access the concrete space where Marlo dispatched Chris and Snoop to dispatch people. The space’s former use is ambiguous. It looks like the ruins of a skate park/dolphin show. Across the street, a group of young men motioned for me to approach but I declined. This was the closest I came to the drug trade, and I’m only speculating.

There were no corner boys anywhere in Baltimore that Saturday afternoon. I would guess that the show exaggerated the daytime drug trade because it’s easier to film in the day. The light is cheaper. And you can’t film fictional drug dealers at times when real drug dealers need to use the very same corners.

As the day passed, we saw many other sites until wrapping up at the abandoned building that is Major Crimes HQ, located down by the port in southeast Baltimore. Every season of The Wire ends with a retrospective montage. In my own head, the projector played a retrospective montage of our day—shot on 8mm film, because that’s how people remember things. In the quiet peace of the empty port, we said goodbye to Major Crimes HQ and headed out.

Editor’s note: This post come from Lewis Lehe, maker of the famous congestion pricing video. If you’d like to take the same tour as he describes in this post, it is online here.  Lewis will soon be heading to the University of Leeds for graduate studies in the economics of transportation. We wish him well!-KG

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Cleveland Plain Dealer takes a Myopic look at the Imperial Avenue Victims

For weeks now, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has been running biographies of the 11 women who were found murdered just over a year ago by serial killer Anthony Sowell in a house of the east side of Cleveland.

Denise Hunter holds her sister Amy Hunter's picture. Amy Hunter was one of 11 women killed by Anthony Sowell on the east side of Cleveland. Photo: Plain Dealer

This week, they profiled Amelda “Amy” Hunter, a “bookworm” from Chicago, that eventually got mixed up with men and drugs. All of the stories, more or less, follow the same pattern: A young woman, loved by her family, full of promise, falls prey to older men, crack and a life on the streets, and her life meets its tragic ending at the hands of a sociopath.

Here are links to all of the stories:


Crystal Dozier | Tishana Culver | Leshanda Long | Tonia Carmichael | Michelle Mason | Kim Yvette Smith | Nancy Cobbs| Amelda Hunter | Janice Webb | Telacia Fortson | Diane Turner

It’s all, of course, terribly sad.

A friend of mine pointed out, in all these stories, in all their coverage, sympathetic as it may be, the Plain Dealer never raises the bigger issue. What made these women such easy targets was being black, being women and being from the highly-segregated and desperately poor east side of Cleveland.

This is a story about racism and inequality and sexism and poverty as much, if not more, than it is about drugs and individual lives going astray. This is a story that’s inseparable from its environment: a neglected ghetto in Cleveland, in deplorable conditions even before it was turned upside down by the foreclosure crisis.

It didn’t matter to Anthony Sowell that some of the victims read poetry, or cooked greens, or cared for children. It didn’t matter to the larger society and he knew that. Nobody was going to tear up the city looking for a few black women from the east side with sketchy pasts.

The story of the Imperial Avenue victims should inspire a complete rethinking of the way Cleveland cares for its most vulnerable residents. Maybe that’s what the Plain Dealer was trying to say, without actually saying it.

I’m just not convinced, more than one year after those bodies were discovered, that is couldn’t happen all over again.

Have we stabilized these neighborhoods? Have we changed the way we look at black women? Have we repaired the relationship between the police department and the city’s worst neighborhoods?

One year after these murders, those are the questions we should be asking ourselves. It’s too bad we can’t rely on our local newspaper to raise them.

-A.S.

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Tackling The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Editor’s note: Our faithful readers will note we recently featured a short post with a trailer and some information about a new documentary, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which deals with an infamous public housing complex in St. Louis, built in the 1950s and torn down in 1972.

The film’s director, Chad Freidrichs, recently spoke with Rust Wire about this myth and the film it inspired.

Watch the trailer for the movie here. Check out its Flickr page, with great historical photos here. Read more about the complex and its history here.

And St. Louis residents: the movie will be shown April 9 at the Missouri History Museum. -KG


RW: “When you say, ‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth,’ what is the myth you are referring to?”

CF: “Let me start at the beginning here. One of the things we’re addressing with the film is the way that I approached the film from the very beginning, which was from an architectural point of view. That’s how many people discover Pruitt-Igoe. Most people are likely to hear Pruitt-Igoe in the same sentence as ‘the failure of modernist architecture.’ When we are discussing the Pruit-Igoe Myth, what we’re referring to is the idea –number one-  that the architecture was to blame for what happened at Pruitt-Igoe, or that –there’s several here- or that the federal government was to blame, because this was a federal project, therefor Pruitt-Igoe declined so precipitously, or that it’s the residents. You often hear this in conversation, that the residents simply tore up something that was gifted to them back in the 50s, and 20 years later, because the resident population, because they were poor, because they were rural, or whatever, they didn’t know how to maintain this building. So that’s really kind of the myth that we’re addressing here. Now, this is based on an article by Katharine Bristol called, ‘The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.’ This is really the foundational text when I was researching the subject, this particular article is something that I really admired, just the context that she put it in as well as critiquing the architectural argument….Her basic point was that Pruitt-Igoe is often thought of as having won an award. You’ll always see ‘award-winning Pruitt-Igoe’ and she pointed out rightly that Pruitt-Igoe never won an award, it was actually Cochran Gardens, Pruitt-Igoe’s cousin in St. Louis that won (architect Minoru) Yamasaki the award. She uses this as an endpoint to analyze why it was that that myth has persisted….She senses this historical irony in it, the idea that these buildings were meant to solve social problems, and they ultimately ended up making it worse, there is a saliency in her opinion to that historical irony…We are combating that simplified notion that architecture or the fact that something is a federal program can create those conditions.”

RW: “What inspired you to make the movie? This article or was there something else? Were you familiar with this complex from growing up around St. Louis?”

CF: “Actually, ironically, having grown up on the outskirts of St. Louis, I had never heard of Pruitt-Igoe, it was from a different generation. It is still discussed in the city, but I don’t think it is discussed amongst people who are younger. And so I came at it from an architectural standpoint. We had just bought a house- an old, 1950’s ranch and we were fixing it up 1950s style and I was really getting into mid-century design. I was listening to an audio lecture on architecture and the history of the city, and the professor was talking about this massive project, Pruitt-Igoe, that was supposed to alleviate social problems and alleviate slum conditions in the inner city in the post-war years, and I just thought it was absolutely fascinating.Especially put in the context of its supposed failures. That was a really interesting idea-  that architecture could make people’s lives better or worse, depending on how it was built. The built environment, kind of controls behavior in that sense. And so that’s what really got me into it. And for the first several months of the project, I approached it from that angle.”

RW: “When people see this movie, what do you want them to take away? What should they remember after they watch it?”

CF: “It’s a big, complex movie, and it’s done so by design….If there was one lesson I would want people to take away, it is that the history of the American city is a big, complex thing. And when you are talking about a project like Pruitt-Igoe, you have to put it in that broad context. You can’t just analyze social phenomena like Pruitt-Igoe in a vacuum. One thing that I always like to point out to people, is that if you were to go across the street from Pruitt-Igoe in like 1960 or 1970, to go across Jefferson Avenue, you would have seen extraordinarily similar conditions, not in terms of the built environment, but in terms of the vandalism, in terms of the maintenance issues, in some cases the crime was even higher across the street, and all these things that were tacked on to Pruitt-Igoe as rallying points against it were very much part of the surrounding neighborhood. And the tendency is to want to take Pruitt-Igoe out of that environment, and to just analyze it as this thing that is separate from the city. But the same kind of issues that were prevalent in Pruitt-Igoe, some of these negatives, were certainly part of all American cities, all around the country. To take Pruitt-Igoe out of that context, I think is a mistake, an oversimplification.”

RW: “I don’t want to give anything away from the film, but can you tell us what is on that site where that complex used to stand? What’s there now? ”

CF: “If you were to drive down Jefferson Avenue right now…you would have this kind of urban, textured landscape, then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you would just see like probably, four or five blocks of just trees…. Just, 30, 40-year old trees, like a park. And that’s the bulk of the Pruitt-Igoe site today, just an overgrown, vacant, lot. Full of trash. But almost like a little nature reserve, with areas of high terrain and low terrain where the buildings used to be where there were piles of rock. Now those have been grown over. There is a natural contour to the land now.  It’s a pretty interesting site. There are YouTube videos on the site where people have toured around. And on the southwest side, they have built an elementary school.”

RW: “Why hasn’t it been redeveloped?”

CF: “That’s a really good question… All around the Pruitt-Igoe site, there has been pretty extensive development over the last 20 years. It is been pretty built up. There aren’t too many vacant lots there, whereas in the day of Pruitt-Igoe, it was kind of a gap-toothed landscape. But there has been a fair amount of development around the project. One argument as to why there hasn’t been any development on the site it itself, I’ve heard – although I’ve also seen it disconfirmed– the idea that the foundations would be too expensive to excavate. To be honest with you, I’m not really sure. It’s a big chunk of land and it probably has to be purchased in one piece. There have been discussions of building a golf course on it, a fishing lake, turning it into a light industrial area over the years, but none of those have ever come to fruition. There are new plans circulating all the time. There is a massive plan going around right now for redevelopment of the entire North Side of St. Louis and Pruitt Igoe is playing a large role in that and we’ll see what happens.”

RW: “Do you have plans to show this movie in other cities?”

CF: “Absolutely. A lot depends on the film festivals…We’re also going to contact universities around the country for educational distribution…There are so many cities across America that went through something like this. People, when they heard about this, they think it is a story about St. Louis. And it is, it definitely is…St. Louis though, was kind of ahead of the curve in the post-war decline that affected many cities severely a little bit later than St. Louis. So, really our story is about the changes that took place in most American cities in the post-war years, and so I think people around the country will be able to see a lot of their own city in St. Louis’ story.”

-KG

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Examining Corruption in Chicago

This article from Chicago Magazine tries to examine Chicago (and by extension Illinois’) culture of corruption in politics.

Among the reasons cited for the state’s problem: old habits die hard, no will for reform, mob connections, racial tensions and more.

What do you think after reading this?

How many of the same things apply to your city?

-KG

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Businessweek on ‘The Fall of Niagara Falls’

Really interesting article in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek about Niagara Falls, New York, and some of the problems it faces despite being next to what is litterally one of the largest tourist attractions in the world.

The article details how Niagara Falls

“encompasses just about every mistake a city could make… a 1960s mayor’s decision to bulldoze his quaint downtown and replace it with a bunch of modernist follies. There was a massive hangar-like convention center designed by Philip Johnson; Cesar Pelli’s glassy indoor arboretum, the Wintergarden, which was finally torn down because it cost a fortune to heat through the Lake Erie winter; a shiny office building known locally as the “Flashcube,” formerly the headquarters of a chemical company and now home to a trinket market. Once a hydropowered center of industry, Niagara Falls is now one of America’s most infamous victims of urban decay, hollowed out by four decades of job loss, mafia infiltration, political corruption, and failed get-fixed-quick schemes.”

My take-away after reading this article: cities can’t look for ‘silver bullet’ fixes. Convention center. Giant mall. Casinos. Sounds like Niagara Falls has tried everything with little success.

A new mayor has made some folks optimistic, the story explains, by promoting eco-tourism and trying to attract companies that specialize in alternative energy.

What do you think after reading this story?

I’ve been to the Falls a number of times, but always to the Canadian side, never to the New York side.

-KG

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St. Louis, America’s Most Dangerous City?

Congressional Quarterly has released its annual report on America’s most crime-ridden cities. This year St. Louis topped the list, upping last year’s leader: Camden, NJ.

Activists in St. Louis play dead in a demonstration on healthcare reform. Image via St. Louis Area Jobs with Justice.

Also, Detroit was No.3, Flint, No. 4. Cleveland ranked in at No. 7. Gary, Ind. ranked 9th.

The National Conference of Mayors called the report a “premeditated statistical mugging of America’s cities,” saying the rankings are “bogus.”

St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said on Twitter yesterday “Crime stats reflect crimes. Crime stats rankings reflect how we draw our boundaries.”

Writers at UrbanSTL, took a different stance however, saying “I’m dumbfounded that many in St. Louis would rather attack those pointing out the fallacy of crime rankings than the ranking itself.”

I’ll speak for Cleveland when I say: A list? What list?

So many lists, so little energy to defend oneself (especially when you’re constantly fighting off muggers).

-AS

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