Toledo police claim inroads against rise in gun violence
Jan 14, 2013 (The Blade - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
They say it's a story of survival.
Protect yourself and what's yours by whatever means necessary.
"It's either kill or be killed," said Eric Anderson, 18. "It's playin' for keeps. You gotta live like this."
Mr. Anderson was one of 199 people in Toledo who were shot in 2012, down slightly from the 210 reported shootings the year prior, but still a dramatic increase from 121 shootings in 2010, the first year the Toledo Police Department started keeping track of such statistics.
In the first 12 days of 2013, four people have been shot.
Most of the department's initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence are so new officials say it's too soon to know what impact they're having.
Of the total shootings in 2012, 25 were fatal, up 3 percent from 2011.
And while police say the numbers are still too high, they believe they've stopped the increase.
"I attribute it to the hard work that the officers are doing out there, to the firm, focused, and aggressive [actions] we've taken toward gangs and gang violence," Police Chief Derrick Diggs told The Blade.
While the number of shootings was only 11 fewer than 2011, the pace of shootings seemed slower, police said, although no one can really explain why.
June was the most violent month with 26 shootings. The fewest shootings were reported in January (11) and July (13), according to records maintained by The Blade.
'This is all we know'
Mr. Anderson was with Jayvon Wynne, 17, on Aug. 2 when they were shot in a drive-by on Vance Street. Mr. Anderson was shot in the back; the Wynne youth was hit in a foot. No arrests have been made.
"I ain't gonna say it was for no reason, but probably for some stuff I been doin'," Mr. Anderson said Wednesday outside the Port Lawrence Homes while police were investigating a shooting that happened just minutes earlier.
Mr. Anderson and others around the city said the violence is directly related to a survival mode adopted by young people in order to get by.
"This is all we know," said one young man.
Another, who would only identify himself as Day-Day, who said he was 21, said "There's nothing out here. No jobs. If we can't make it, we gon' take it."
But the same drive to survive is also what keeps residents who witness shootings and other violent crimes quiet, said Albert Earl, co-founder of The Village 50.
"They think no one cares and they have to live this way. They are in survival mode," Mr. Earl said. " 'I live here and I have to do what it takes to survive, and one of the ways to survive is to keep my mouth shut and not snitch.' "
Low income, high strife
The concern and fear of retaliation is valid and real, said a woman who has lived in South Toledo's Byrneport Apartments, off of Airport Highway near Byrne Road, with her three children for two years.
She declined to share her name fearing retribution.
The Byrneports are notorious. In 2012, at least four people were shot within the complex. Residents said gunfire can be heard every night and, already this year, one apartment has been shot into.
"They [the police] can't get a grip on this city," the woman said. "It's like they lost it and they can't get it back."
The rear of the complex, near rundown swing sets in a trash-strewn lot, is so dangerous that residents call it "Compton," after a California city of less than 100,000 people that, for decades, was infamously known for having a homicide rate many times the national average.
Sandra Felder, 35, knows how dangerous the complex can be; she's lived there since moving from Chicago in 2009.
In November 2011, Ms. Felder and her then 4-year-old son, Jashon Veasley, were shot when Deangelo Overton tried to rob a man he was buying drugs from in the Byrneport parking lot. A single bullet went through Ms. Felder's front door, through Ms. Felder's legs, and lodged in Jashon's abdomen. He survived the shooting.
Overton, 19, is serving a 70-year sentence for a week-long crime spree, including the Byrneport shooting, in 2011.
Ms. Felder, like other Toledoans in various low-income housing complexes, said she is trying to move before it gets hot outside, when shootings seem the worst.
"I feel like there's no [end] of violence when you stay in low-income," Ms. Felder said. "It will never end."
In another part of South Toledo, teenagers walking home from school said they're forced to stay inside their homes because of shootings.
Ramon Allen, 15, blames the violence on "gang wars," and fights that start in public and end later in neighborhood shootings.
One South Toledo shooting, he said, started after an altercation at a mall. The two teens involved were supposed to fight, but one ended up shooting the other.
"They think it's cool," he said, adding that shooters are awarded "street cred."
Statistically, the most at-risk population for violent criminal acts are 16-to-24 year-olds; 99 shooting victims from 2012 fall into that age range. Five were younger.
Many of the people who are shot suffer wounds to a foot or leg. It's a painful way of communicating.
It's not bad aim, Day-Day said. Several police officials agreed.
"People scared to kill because they don't want murder [charges]," he said.
Jeremiah Wyatt, 17, Billy Henthorne, 15, and Rachel Dresher, 14, all said they want out of Toledo.
"I don't like the violence," the Wyatt youth said. "I shouldn't feel like I can't walk the streets at 7 p.m."
Each of the teens had experienced violence in one way or another -- either as a victim or knowing someone wounded or killed.
"Our generation has really gone down," said the Wyatt youth, who wants to become a digital comic artist. "We have destroyed our generation."
Mr. Anderson carries a gun for safety, although illegal, but he says this isn't what he wants for himself.
"I'm trying to change every day, but damn it's hard," he said.
The teen described himself as homeless, and said he spends nights on the streets looking over his shoulder, for his next dollar, and his next meal.
He didn't say where he got his gun, but they're easy to find.
"You can buy a gun like you can buy a candy bar," Mr. Anderson said.
That, Mr. Earl said, is part of the community's greatest frustration.
"The question is, how are these poor kids not able to buy food but able to get guns How do these kids continue to get dope but are unable to get a diploma " Mr. Earl asked.
Police reported taking 988 guns off the streets in 2012, more than any year since 2007 when 955 firearms were confiscated. In 2011, police booked 929 guns into the property room.
Those guns are logged by the property room, test-fired by the crime analysis unit, and locked up in the property room as evidence or for safe keeping until it is destroyed or returned to its rightful owner.
In the past two years, 1,459 guns were destroyed.
Chief Diggs said the department is doing its part to lessen violence, but needs more help from the community.
"These individuals who commit violent crimes in the city, they're not from Detroit, they're not from [Los Angeles], they're not from New York. They're from Toledo. ... We have to get the community to work with the police department to say, 'Enough is enough with this violence.' ... Violence in this community exists because the community hasn't stepped up strong enough to say, 'Enough of this.' "
The effort to end violence has to come from the community, Mr. Anderson agrees.
The only way violent crime levels will drop is if the leaders of gangs come together and decide on their own to command others to live more peacefully, he said.
Toledo as a city needs to come together, said Mr. Earl, co-founder of The Village 50.
"We all have to work more closely together and I think that it's very important that we try to heal those who have hearts that have been broken so much that they're resulting to violence to solve their problems," Mr. Earl said. " ... Hopefully they can be healed before they commit a crime that will cause a loss of life."
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.
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