TWO lives were changed in an instant last week when a teenager lashed out at a community activist riding his bicycle near Victoria Place, on the edge of Toledo's Old West End, knocking the 66-year-old man to the ground and stealing his bike.
Ten days later, Robert Brundage remains in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, where he clings to life in intensive care. His alleged assailant, Dailahntae Jemison, who police say confessed to the crime, is in the downtown Juvenile Justice Center facing charges of aggravated robbery - and much worse if Mr. Brundage does not survive.
By itself, this crime defies all sense. The teenager had no history of run-ins with the law. Mr. Brundage is a well-known proponent of numerous social causes designed to improve the lot of young people like young Jemison. But then, most violence is senseless.
Taken together with the history of the Old West End, the attack on Mr. Brundage has caused some to ask if these seemingly quiet, tree-lined streets are masking a surge in criminal activity.
This is a neighborhood where many of the stately Victorian mansions that once housed the wealthiest and most prominent families in Toledo now retain little more than a shadow of their former grandeur.
Since Toledo's first families fled to the suburbs decades ago, the fortunes of the Old West End have risen and fallen with the economy. When times were good, people who were charmed by exquisite detail work, pocket doors, stained glass, hardwood floors, and grand staircases moved in and lovingly restored the grand dames to their former glory. When times were tough, the huge houses were boarded up, subdivided into apartments, and allowed to run down.
The current recession has been no kinder to the OWE than it has been to other Toledo neighborhoods. Home values have plummeted, an increasing number of homes have changed hands through foreclosure and bank sales, and some houses sport plywood over doors and windows in a vain attempt to stop them from attracting squatters and drug dealers.
And, with unemployment at decades highs and police focusing their depleted resources on only the most serious incidents, property crimes appear to be on the rise, though OWE residents say that isn't so.
Wisdom, however, suggests that Toledo police should not allow a neighborhood so full of history, so deserving of preservation, and so ripe with promise when the local economy rebounds to be overrun by elements that revel in violence and see opportunity in other people's misfortune.
That same wisdom says the Old West End, which has had a private security service for years, should beef up patrols, by hiring off-duty police officers if necessary, protecting both the past and the future of this storied neighborhood.
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