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On the Border

University circle boasts some of Cleveland's finest development — and worst crime.

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One by one, the students began to move out, fearful for their safety. The university offered them free dorms for the rest of the semester if they wanted to escape their private hell.

Other neighbors had complained about the Anderson boys. Both CWRU and Cleveland police and others were well aware of their troubled past and long rap sheets.

"One officer told me Case police had the younger one's 18th birthday circled on the calendar," says one student.

The inaction took a tragic turn in August of this year, when 14-year old Lataevia Williams was shot and killed at a party near E. 125th St. and Superior Ave., close to East Cleveland. Police arrested the Anderson brothers and two other suspects. Word on the street was that the shooting started as a retaliation for a gang shooting in the Wade Park neighborhood the summer before.

"We believe the Anderson brothers were a source of many problems in the neighborhood," says Roynane. "And we are glad a major source of the problems in the neighborhood are now in custody."

***

Cleveland police spokesman Sammy Morris had no comment on that shooting nor the general crime trends in the area. Yet one look at the Cleveland police online crime map for that part of town is sobering. The CWRU campus looks like a dartboard with three darts randomly shot at the board. Glance across the Wade Park border, and it looks like someone unloaded an Uzi of paintballs.

A short walk down Euclid from East Blvd. to E. 123rd St. reveals a new Cleveland, one touted by the New York Times, The Atlantic Cities, and others as concrete evidence that the city is rebirthing itself anew.

A short walk north reveals the old.

There are at least nine or ten vacant, boarded-up, abandoned buildings around the Cleveland School of the Arts and Mary Bethune Elementary School. The basketball courts next to the elementary school are festooned with gang tags. One early September stroll by the courts revealed three corner boys, as if plucked straight out of the "The Wire," drinking 40s out of paper bags not 100 feet from the school while it was in session.

Every street is dotted with a kaleidoscope of empty houses, partly because Ashbury and Wade Park are both historic neighborhoods, so the process of condemning and razing buildings is more complicated than in other areas. Buildings of a certain age or architectural value have to be evaluated not just by the city's division of housing and planning, but by the landmark commission.

The process is slow. And the city prefers buildings to be revamped and retained rather than razed, even when they sit empty for years.

Factor that by 10 when the number of buildings up for inspection and/or condemnation is as high as it is in Ward 9, which includes the Wade Park neighborhood: 415 buildings have been inspected and demolished since 2007, according to the city. Just this year, 421 additional abandoned properties have been identified; 267 have been inspected.

City-wide, the situation is even worse: according to a report from Cleveland City Council, it would take 22 years and $4.5 billion to clear and raze every vacant house in Cleveland.

Councilman Kevin Conwell lives on Ashbury and represents Ward 9. He did not respond to multiple e-mails and phone calls for comment.

"When you talk about Ward 9, it's not ad hoc when it comes to demolitions," says Fred Collier, principal planner for the City of Cleveland. "What you have in the city are core redevelopment areas. University Circle is one. Many of these areas are flanked by the challenged communities in our city, so to ensure that these areas begin to feel the impact of the investment next door, there's opportunity to make course corrections that will provide a healthful environment for residents and future investment opportunities so we can capitalize on flags planted in places like University Circle. There's always been an invisible line, but thanks to the efforts of the city, those lines are starting to be blurred."

Translation: Bring the white people and the money, and we'll tear down your abandoned buildings faster than we tear down other abandoned buildings.

Which may not be a bad strategy. It's just spoken in shades of gray, like hazy borders that need to expand.

***

"There's a running joke that it's the same person doing every crime," says 21-year-old senior Rob Scott, a CWRU basketball player. "It's always 5'8" - 5'11", black male, between 18-24 mentioned in the alerts. Nothing ever seems to come of it, though."

Scott is a physically imposing guy, an athlete, fully confident in being able to defend himself. But one night early last spring, he was walking home near Magnolia just off the CWRU campus on his way to his house near Wade Park when he noticed a black male on a bicycle following him.

"He sped up when I turned down the alley," Scott recalls. "He pulled out a gun, and told me to get down. I got down, then someone else came from behind me and helped tackle me to the ground."

Scott gave up his phone and other belongings, going along with the demands with the gun against his head.

"Then they booked it down the exact way I was going to go, through the fence, down my driveway, deeper toward the Wade Park side," he says. "I was a pitching wedge away from campus, but I was not on campus."

There were a string of similar incidents over the last school year — young black males with guns robbing CWRU students. Some residents speculated it was part of a gang initiation.

One of the suspects left his cell phone at the scene of the crime; prosecutors said they didn't have enough evidence to press charges.

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