Sometimes the world seems upside down, and even those who try to do right look wrong. That’s probably what 60 Toledo teenagers, staring at a dozen armed Lucas County sheriff’s deputies last Saturday afternoon, were thinking too.
Anyone driving past the McClinton Nunn Homes on Nebraska Avenue at 3 p.m. would have expected a riot. Squad cars blocked entrances to the central Toledo housing project. Standing side by side, the deputies appeared braced for battle. The place was on lockdown.
Young people wearing “BOSS Angels” T-shirts had planned to deliver care packages to the doors of needy senior citizens and families, but the deputies wouldn’t allow them onto the property. Even the three or four kids in the group who lived in McClinton Nunn couldn’t get in.
“You would have thought there was going to be a gang war,” Slim Lake, a street preacher and founder of BOSS (Building Our Support System) Angels Inc., a community service organization, told me after I got there an hour later.
But this was no gang beef. Young people who don’t have much themselves were trying to do something good for others, even with badges and guns standing in their way.
On the grass by the kids were 150 brown bags full of bleach, paper towels, toothpaste, soap, air freshener, laundry detergent, and cleaning supplies — items that are especially needed at the end of the month, when Social Security and other government checks run out.
“We’re trying to help our community by giving them a gift of love,” Antwanayza Walker, 15, a sophomore at Bowsher High School, told me. “They should want to see young people helping out and doing something positive.”
With all the crime in Toledo, you’d think a dozen law enforcement officers would have something better to do than keeping kids from passing out cleaning supplies to poor people.
“It just shows the odds that inner-city kids have against them,” Mr. Lake said. “Even when they try to do the right thing, they still end up looking like criminals.”
Mayoral candidate Anita Lopez had been scheduled to appear at the event, but she canceled on Thursday, after the executive director of the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority (LMHA) told her that political activities were off limits on housing authority property, campaign spokesman Diane May told me.
Even so, Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, who was out of town Saturday, said the housing authority had told one of his captains that Mr. Lake had been notified that he and the kids couldn’t enter the property.
“They were concerned about any incidents of violence,” Sheriff Tharp told me. “I get along well with Slim Lake. I was hoping I could talk to him in advance.”
Linnie Willis, LMHA’s executive director, told me that Mr. Lake never talked to her or her deputy, or did the necessary paperwork to get the event approved. Citing the Books for Buddies program, she said LMHA has approved many outside events that benefit residents, but sponsors have to follow procedures. “This was not a sanctioned event,” she said.
Mr. Lake told me he left numerous messages with LMHA staff without getting a return phone call.
Either way, for the sheriff’s department to have that many deputies on the scene was overkill. What message does meeting armed resistance while trying to perform an act of charity send to kids who come from households where the reputation of law enforcement is probably already in question?
Mr. Lake might have been part of the reason. He’s a street cat who did prison time for money laundering. He also founded God’s Church of the Streets in Toledo.
Engaging and eccentric, Mr. Lake wears a black shoe on one foot and a white one on the other, a symbol of racial unity. He works with young people to keep them from making the mistakes he made.
I’m not here to condemn or defend him. But he’s been a mentor and father figure, a source of financial and emotional support, to dozens of kids who have little else — young people whom practically no one else in Toledo would, or could, touch.
The day wasn’t lost. BOSS Angels gave away most of the packages to residents who walked over from around the neighborhood, including McClinton Nunn. Residents of the housing project had to walk through the blockade to get their supplies, but the kids seemed to understand that the deputies were just doing their jobs.
After they broke up at 4:45 p.m., young people prayed and walked across the street to shake hands with the six or seven deputies who were still there. As they approached, several deputies sprang from their cars, probably expecting the worst. The kids extended their hands.
“They were surprised, but I thought it went pretty well,” said Tae McCoy, 15, a sophomore at Scott High School. “God still made a way for people to get their bags.”
Jeff Gerritt is deputy editorial page editor of The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6467. Follow him onTwitter @jeffgerritt.