Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson ordered a community forum Thursday night to discuss the most popular act of vandalism in West Park history.
At issue was the future of a lone basketball court at the center of sprawling Impett Park, which is surrounded by dozens of homes. Last spring, the court's heavy-duty hoops were mangled in the dead of night and later removed, with damages estimated at $14,000. Police interviewed neighbors, but made no arrests.
The hoop destruction was hailed by West Park residents, who for years have expressed concern over “outsiders” taking over their basketball courts — young adult males described as wearing baggy pants, blasting loud music, cursing, and fighting back against residents who speak up. The mostly white neighborhood is home to many Cleveland firefighters and police.
The controversy echoes battles in other communities, including Lakewood and Euclid, where crime and resident complaints led to the removal of basketball hoops. (Read more in the Scene article “Where Hoop Dreams Die.”)
Thursday's forum, held at St. Mark Catholic Church and attended by about 80 residents, featured Cleveland Safety Director Martin Flask, Chief of Police Mike McGrath, and parks director Michael Cox. Flask spoke, McGrath didn't, and Cox wished he hadn't.
“We all want basketball courts,” Cox said early on.
“No we don't!” came a shout in response, followed by a chorus of approval.
“Why don't I leave, and they can do what they do,” Cox, who is black, said later. He stayed throughout the forum, but refused to speak further.
The exchange set the tone for an occasionally contentious evening, highlighted by numerous residents expressing concerns for the safety of wives and children in the neighborhood.
One young mother described multiple incidents in which she asked basketball players to avoid cursing in front of her children, only to be berated and followed to her car.
First District Police Commander Tom McCartney shared statistics suggesting that the neighborhood's incidence of crime has not changed significantly since the hoops were removed.
Potential alternatives, ranging from shorter hoops to half-courts to security fences, were suggested by some residents, but most demanded that no hoops be erected regardless of circumstances.
The evening's biggest surprise was delivered early: While residents assumed they were there to discuss whether or not to return hoops to Impett Park, city councilman Martin Keane revealed that replacement hoops had already been purchased by the city. The crowd reacted with gasps of disbelief.
Keane, a West Park resident who also is reluctant to return courts to the park, later added that he had been assured by Flask that no decision had been made regarding the future of the hoops. “Do I think they're going up?” he said. “I don't know.”
Flask said he planned to share the audience's concerns with the mayor. No timetable was provided as to when a decision would be made on basketball hoops at the park.
"They'll have those hoops up by Sunday," one disappointed resident was heard saying on his way out of the forum. — Erich Burnett