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Mean Street

Racist neighbors and warring teens stir a volatile mix on Fowler Avenue.


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Barbara Monday says her son Angelo was beaten up - by police and falsely arrested. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Barbara Monday says her son Angelo was beaten up by police and falsely arrested.
When summer arrived on Fowler Avenue, the children came out to renew old rivalries. Cory Talmadge -- who is white -- and the Heaggans sisters -- who are black -- traded barbs on the muggy afternoon of May 30. It ended with Cory allegedly saying, "Why don't you nigger bitches go home?"

They did go home -- to get their brothers. A friend went to the Boys and Girls Club on Broadway to tell their story to more black kids, who dropped what they were doing and headed for Fowler.

By evening, this young, angry crowd would collide with an angry white man. The combination sent Fowler Avenue teetering toward a full-scale riot. And when police finally arrived, they would arrest two kids who were among the very few that night to play no role in heightening tension.

Fowler is a short street that faces St. Michael Hospital, not far from East 55th and Broadway. Some of the two-story homes are only slightly tattered. Some look as though they'd topple in a brisk wind. Porches sag amid square, fenced-in yards. The crumbling sidewalks are lined with dying shrubbery.

While the surrounding neighborhood is largely black, Fowler is evenly split between black, white, and Hispanic. There are children in nearly every home, but since most parents are single and working, the kids often roam unsupervised on the streets. Boredom gives way to restlessness.

And on May 30, those who gathered on Fowler to await 12-year-old Cory Talmadge's return had grown plenty restless by the time he finally reappeared around 8 p.m.

The teenaged Heaggans brothers earned Cory's immediate attention. They swaggered toward him, jabbing fists through the air "like Muhammad Ali," says one witness. The crowd approached Cory from the opposite direction.

A 14-year-old boy -- known to witnesses only as "James" -- lunged first, knocking Cory off his bike and driving fists into his head. The Heaggans brothers looked ready to pile on, but a neighbor intervened.

Cory trudged home in tears. At the same time, his mother, Phyllis Green, pulled into her driveway. She met Cory on the sidewalk. The throng of teens lingered in the street, taunting Cory and his mother.

According to a police report, Green argued with the kids, then slapped teenager Darcia Heaggans. (Green denies this and says her only concern was getting Cory out of harm's way. She also disputes the Heaggans sisters' claim that Cory used the word "nigger," since he has two black friends.)

But when Randall Talmadge, Cory's father, staggered out his front door, things went from bad to worse. Last year, Talmadge was convicted of ethnic intimidation after pulling a knife and telling a black neighbor that "he didn't like niggers," according to court files.

This evening again found Randall Talmadge in a mood to provoke. He directed his rage at bystander Larry Richardson, who was visiting his girlfriend in the neighborhood and had stopped to watch the unfolding drama. Having assumed that Richardson was the aggressor, Talmadge allegedly hurled a can of beer at him.

"Then the father started getting in my face," says Richardson. "He said, 'I hate you niggers. You beat up my son. Fight me. Fight me.'"

At least one neighbor yelled to Talmadge that he was accusing the wrong guy.

But witnesses say Talmadge -- who was visibly intoxicated -- tore off his shirt and waved it around his head. "You fucking niggers. I'm gonna kick your asses," the police report quotes him as saying. "Why don't you fucking niggers leave the neighborhood?"

It only stoked the mob, which had grown to nearly 20, according to police. They responded with shouts of "honky" and "white trash." As Green scrambled to get Cory safely behind the family's fence, Talmadge exchanged shoves with the teens. He was also seen swinging a stick that looked like a chair leg.

"My husband was trying to push them off, and he had to sling me up on the steps because they about had me," says Green.

A car full of Talmadge's friends arrived, armed with a case of beer. They pitched full cans at the crowd.

They were still screaming and scuffling when 18-year-old Mario Sturdivant reached Fowler. Mario had just returned from a basketball game at the Boys and Girls Club, and had gone to Fowler to find his brother.

Mario saw a young black man sitting on the hood of a car in the field next to the Talmadges' home. The man pulled a submachine gun out of his waistband. After everyone in the street had caught a glimpse, he put it back.

Mario also saw a young white man flash a gun. Other witnesses reported hearing a gunshot.

A call came into Cleveland Police: "Large group of males fighting with guns."

When the flashing lights rolled into view, the teens dashed into backyards. Mario froze. "I held my breath," he says. "Everybody else ran."

Then, to his surprise, "the police grabbed me." Still wearing only his basketball shorts, Mario was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser.

Other cops sprinted into backyards to round up more. But the kids had a head start and knew the terrain. They were gone.

Angelo Monday was never on Fowler Avenue that evening. He, too, had been playing basketball. When Mario went in search of his brother, Angelo laid down on a cot in Mario's backyard shed; he has asthma, and the game and the humid air left him panting.

Police never found who they were looking for. They did find Angelo, whose age (16) and race (black) fit their profile.

"I couldn't see because their flashlights were in my face," says Angelo. "Then, all I felt was a fist hit my face. They slammed me to the ground, and somebody put a knee in my back."

The police report would later say that Angelo's bruises were sustained before his arrest. A doctor's report from St. Michael's, however, said they occurred during the arrest. Yet it was not until 3:30 a.m. that police discovered they had the wrong kid. They dropped Angelo off at his house. "We'll squash this," Barbara Monday, Angelo's mother, heard the officer say. (Police refused to comment on the matter.)

Even so, Angelo was luckier than his friend. Mario would go to jail that Thursday night and not be released till Sunday. He was never charged. That's because he couldn't have been involved. A Boys and Girls Club official signed a statement saying Angelo and Mario were there till closing, which was 8:44 p.m., according to the security alarm setting. Witnesses at Fowler say all the fighting took place before then.

Talmadge and Green would be hauled in, too. They also claimed police brutality. Cops broke Talmadge's arm at the elbow and wrist while he was at the station. The report says it happened when he became "belligerent and uncooperative."

Talmadge denies ever using racial slurs. He says he has no problems with blacks. "We're just prejudiced against assholes -- whatever their race," he says.

But neighbors say they've heard Talmadge yell "nigger" long before this incident. "They've got into it with everyone," says Vella Heaggans, the children's mother. "They use all kinds of racial slurs."

Green admits there's been tension, but claims her family is the victim. Last summer, another black teenage girl on the block "wanted to beat up my oldest daughter," says Green, and the girl shouted invitations for a fistfight. Randall told the girl off, then the girl's mother came by to stage her own tirade. "She called me trailer trash and told me to go back to where I came from," says Green.

Unfortunately, these are the sounds of summer on Fowler. Police are regular visitors, and the would-be riot of May 30 was hardly an isolated flare-up.

"It's been brewing for some time," says one resident. "There's shouting, swearing. The kids are out here using the N-word, calling each other horrible names."

Fowler has always been racially mixed. But in years past, that diversity was a point of pride, not a source of acrimony.

"We used to call this our All Nations Street," says one longtime homeowner. "We had blacks, whites, and Hispanics, and we all got along."

Children didn't seem to notice their racial differences. And their play led to parents forging friendships rather than grudges. "When all the kids were out riding their bikes, neighbors would congregate and talk," says a resident. "If one family was having a cookout, everybody was welcome to come have a hot dog or a hamburger."

Today, neighbors hardly venture outdoors. Green says she is scared to let Cory get on his bike. Other parents have grounded their children, too. Though kids populate nearly every home on the block, not a single child was to be seen on one recent Saturday afternoon.

"Ever since this happened, there haven't been kids out," says one resident. "It's a shame, because it's summer, and they should be playing. But it's not safe for them to go outside, because you never know when something is going to break out."

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