LAKEWOOD IS JOLTED AWAKE BY A NIGHTMARE
Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH) - July 12, 1995
Author: DICK FEAGLER
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is a wonderful town. I grew up in Cleveland and stayed here and I've
lived East, West and South. But my last 14 years in Lakewood have been
You can feel the lake in Lakewood. The houses along
its rocky cliffs are old and elegant. Lakewood Park is a painting by
Norman Rockwell. Teams of little girls play marvelously inept softball
on the park's diamonds. On Sunday nights, there are band concerts, and
on the Fourth of July, the fireworks rival Cleveland's.
downtown is pleasant and viable. The population is ethnically diverse.
The schools are old but well-maintained, with mottos carved above their
doors which praise the virtues of education and remind the reader that
our children will determine our future.
There are mansions and
rows of high-rise apartments and inexpensive walk-ups. There are
streets of Victorian houses and tree-shaded blocks of nice, frame
starter homes for young families. Young women jog alone and fearlessly
along Lake Ave. well after dark. Public Square is a convenient 10
So it has been possible to live in Lakewood and
dream the American dream - a dream made slightly fitful by headlines
from other places. Yesterday morning, though, the citizens of Lakewood
arose to confront the American nightmare on Page 1-B of this newspaper
where a headline read:
"Teens took life, dollar, police say
"Man stabbed to death on street in Lakewood."
plot of the nightmare was this: A group of five teenagers, four of them
from Lakewood, picked a 38-year-old man as their prey and allegedly
stabbed him to death with a buck knife in a residential neighborhood.
Drost tried to cross the street when he saw the youths approaching but
it didn't do him any good. According to police, the youths who were
arrested said they were out to "do" somebody. Police reported that they
showed no remorse.
There it was. All of it. Dumped like toxic
waste amid the shade trees of Dreamland. Zombie youth, innocent victim,
random selection, death.
The ripples of civic trauma began
immediately. First, people began calling the Lakewood police seeking
some word of reassurance.
"They are saying things like, `I
usually like to take a little walk down Lakeland and over to Detroit.
Is that safe? Should I be doing that?' said Police Capt. Alan Clark,
who investigated the fatal knifing.
Clark is a Lakewood
resident and a 30-year veteran of the police force. What he sees
happening to Lakewood, he doesn't like. If you ask him what the problem
is, the answer he gives you is the same answer you've already heard.
You've heard it from cops in Cleveland and East Cleveland and Cleveland
Heights. You've heard it on your TV from cops in Los Angeles and Miami
- from sea to shining sea.
"The parents don't supervise them,"
Clark said. "They've got too much money without working for it. They
don't have a sense of right and wrong. They just don't care."
of the juveniles arrested told police he likes fights. He pulled up his
shirt sleeve and displayed old knife scars on his arm.
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" a cop asked him. "Besides a killer, I mean."
"A rapper," the kid said promptly. Then he complained that he was tired and wanted to go to bed.
"They had just killed a man," a policeman said. "And they were complaining that we wouldn't let them get a good night's sleep."
you ask around Lakewood, you will hear a lot of complaints about too
much rental property and too much Section 8 government-subsidized
housing. You will hear fear and frustration and racial distrust and
ethnic distrust and distrust of the poor.
Beneath the town's
idyllic landscape is that other American landscape. That ugly landscape
ulcerated by anger and tired of political rhetoric empty of solutions.
you have to ask. Because what happens in a place like Lakewood when the
American nightmare arrives is not speeches. Oh, there are speeches all
right. Speeches about putting more cops on the street. And speeches
about how the death of Vincent Drost was just one of those isolated
incidents that should not be blown out of proportion.
beneath the surface where the real action is, little, telling changes
take place. Fewer young women jog down Lake Ave. after dark. Mothers
worry a little more about their kids in Lakewood Park. The "starter
family" begins scanning the real estate section, looking at the prices
of the houses in those new treeless developments an hour's commute from
Lakewood is the best place I've ever lived, which is why
I almost didn't write this column. The Chamber of Commerce won't send
me a fruit basket for it. I will not be serenaded by the Lakewood
But I've been around long enough to know a
turning point when I see one. In the Belle Barber Shop on Detroit Ave.,
a troubled customer told the barber he had always thought of Lakewood
as a town that had it all.
"We do now," the barber said.
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