27 February 2009
We who both inhabit, and are inhabited by Marginopolis, recall crowds of 60 or 70 people gathered on the corner of West 12th and Republic Street. As recently as '04 or '05, this corner was procure du jour seven nights a week. You could buy cannabis and cocaine, and if you wanted crack or crystal meth, the mules and dealers could direct you a block north, deeper into the warren of abandoned or squatted upon buildings lining Republic. Hookers offered sexual service in order to support their habits. Pimps worked the crowded corner, some to keep an eye on their ho's, and some to serve as sales agents for those ho's unable to pitch themselves owing to the odd broken jaw or larynx rotted out by meth and cigarettes. During the first and third weeks of each month loansharks convinced recipients of disability checks to increase the cash they carried for an obscene amount of interest. Of course, most of the loansharks' clientele had made up their minds to incur some debt before they even stepped onto the corner. Meanwhile, the quasi-convenient store on the ground floor of an otherwise mostly empty building provided a venue for robberies and muggings of its own customers several times a month. Sometimes the owner appeared with a baseball bat, and announced that five-oh was on the way, and everybody should clear out. And sometimes he stayed in the back and chose not to see. Was he working for the dealers, or against them? It was all very much in flux, and out of control. Many neighborhood residents with freshly cashed disability checks had mental health issues, and were unable to make consistently well informed decisions. For somebody o SSDI, self medicating with cigarettes and caffeine can become expensive enough to cause thoughts about easy credit to rise like the morningstar. It is the sort of decision made by somebody who has spent too long choosing between bad and extremely bad. Even people broken by life have money to spend. But in '06 the corner changed in a matter of weeks. Cincinnati police began Operation Vortex. It took dozens of arrests within twenty meters of 12th and Republic in the spring of '06, and the closing of the quasi-convenience store to affect change. The residents of Tender Mercies listened to a presentation from Sgt. Ann Herold about personal safety and street smarts. She also described how to report a crime without having your name involved. This was the part that got attention. All of the residents of Tender Mercies are mentally ill, and most have been homeless. All of them believed that calling the police was a waste of time. People with mental health issues are simply not taken seriously. Slowly, encounter by encounter, this has been changing. Calls to report street crime that originated from Tender Mercies increased during '06 and '07. The police began to grasp the notion that mentally ill people do not commit more crimes than the general population. Conversely, the percentage of mentally ill people who are the victims of crime is noticeably higher than the general population. By the autumn of '06, we sometimes saw one or two ambitious skells trying to work the corner at West 12th and Republic. But most nights business had slowed to a small fraction of the boom times of years pasts. Eventually these few dealers either moved to other environs or entered the criminal justice system. Or in some cases, died. Naturally, the dealing and prostituting moved elsewhere, or tried to. At best, vice crimes can be managed and minimized, but since there is always a demand, there will always be a supply. Business will be transacted somehow. At best, such business can be scattered and not allowed to overwhelm any single neighborhood. Or it can be zoned into a limited, closely monitored area as it its in the Netherlands. Or some vice habits like gambling and prostitution can be legalized and regulated, as they are in Nevada. Cincinnati is not capable, politically or culturally, of becoming the next Amsterdam or Las Vegas. But actually talking to somebody from the police department can make a difference for one corner, for one neighborhood.
Posted by David Carney at 23:34