06 December 2007

Washington Park, 7 A.M.

If you enter Washington Park from it's southeast corner at 12th and Race, then walk westward, the second tree on your right will be a mature blue ash. There are a couple of bullet holes about six or eight feet up in the trunk. Homeless alcoholics have died in their sleep beneath its canopy. It's trunk leans precariously toward available sunlight, slouching toward photosynthesis. This morning it is 17 degrees, and One Leg in his Salvation Army, military surplus wheelchair approaches. It is 7 a.m., yet One Leg is already in possession of a 40 ounce malt liquor. Possibly this is a trophy from last night. If One Leg slept at the Drop, then this begs the question, how did he hide a bottle that large from the staff? Sitting snugly in a mesh bag lashed to the armrest, the 40 ouncer clinks against the steel frame of the wheelchair. The steel tubing is coated with frost, such that you would not want to place your tongue against it on a dare or wager. The paramedics would not be pleased about answering that call. One Leg nods smartly when somebody says "hey." He rolls off the asphalt path onto brittle, hoary grass that crunches under his wheels. The ground itself is not frozen. One Leg rolls himself up to the venerable blue ash and engages his parking brake. With difficulty he lifts himself up. He is not paraplegic. It is not clear why he has no prosthetic: One Leg has many explanations for this. He will tell you it is the fault of a case manager, of an agency he deals with, or he will blame Hamilton County JFS, formally known as Welfare. Now, supporting himself by grasping the armrest with shakey hands, he rises. One Leg's leg shudders under his weight, but holds. He teeters for a moment, then pitches forward, throwing his arms partway around the blue ash's trunk. With one arm around the tree he reaches down and opens his fly. This is his morning urination, his gift to the ecosystem, such as it is. One wonders whether One Leg's urine has fed the blue ash's growth, or stunted it. All of which draws the attention of a CPD officer in a passing cruiser. The cruiser slows. The officers peers out the side window at One Leg. He slows his cruiser to a full stop, and puts it in park. On come the roof lights. The officer opens his door and has one shoe on the pavement when he hears the dispatcher. He id's himself into his shoulder mic and says he will respond. He slams his door, puts the cruiser in gear, and drives off to more pressing business.
Oblivious to his good luck, One Leg lowers himself back into the wheelchair. Its been a couple of weeks since Hamilton County sheriff deputies stopped their street patrols in Over-The-Rhine. These patrols began many months ago, despite the objections of Cincinnati Police brass. Some have credited the sheriff patrols with lowering the crime rate --- especially the drug dealing and it's attendant violence --- in the neighborhood. Others believe it was the Cincinnati Police Department's Operation Vortex, which brought to bear resources to arrest, repeatedly if necessary, every drug dealer, courier, mule, crack whore, or customer, who lurked between Downtown and McMicken Avenue. In this town, neither county sheriff nor chief of police are particularly fond of each other. Whether it's the result of a jurisdictional turf dispute, or behind the scenes cooperation, the fact remains, you can now walk down West 12th without being solicited, hassled or threatened. Everyone hopes it will remain this way, but it's easy to be skeptical. Young men once again loiter in doorways at 12th and Race, and around the Washington Park area. It should not be necessary for two law enforcement agencies from two different levels of jurisdiction to squabble publicly about how to handle problem neighborhoods. You can be a partisan, or you can be a citizen. It is difficult, and maybe counterproductive, to be both.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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