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Published: Wednesday, 10/19/2005

Quiet returns to riot-torn North Toledo as residents search for ways to heal

BY KARAMAGI RUJUMBA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Three days after a neo-Nazi rally sparked a riot where rocks flew and a fire blazed in North Toledo, a sense of calm pervaded the community.

On a warm fall afternoon, residents in the neighborhood where most of the violence and looting occurred sat on their front porch steps as children dropped off by school buses played in the street.

Justin Wells, 15, a ninth grader at Woodward High School, walked through the intersection of Mulberry Street and Central Avenue, where Jim and Lou's bar was set on fire and damaged extensively at the height of the melee.

"I saw it all from my front porch," Justin said, "but now everything is back to normal." He was accompanied by friends on their way to play basketball at the Boys and Girls Club.

The three teenage boys, like most of the people in the neighborhood, threw cursory glances at the boarded up two-story structure, now standing as a reminder of what happened.

And as people in the riot-affected area go about regaining a sense of normalcy, a group of neighborhood activists and residents stood on a patch of grass yesterday at Austin and Elm streets to announce a town hall meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St. There they hope people will voice their reactions to the riot and allow the healing process to begin.

Terry Glazer speaks at Austin and Elm streets as, from left, Julia Bryant, the Rev. Clinton Dudley, and the Rev. Will Stuart look on with a picture of a proposed community center.
Terry Glazer speaks at Austin and Elm streets as, from left, Julia Bryant, the Rev. Clinton Dudley, and the Rev. Will Stuart look on with a picture of a proposed community center.
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"We need to come together and speak with one voice," said Janet Smolenski, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. "We don't need to be told by politicians what we need to know. We are the experts on this neighborhood." She noted that the unity celebration, which was planned at the Zablocki Center on Saturday, went largely ignored as people concentrated on the violence.

Annie Walker, a 25-year Lagrange-area resident and a member of the Lagrange Village Council, said people in the north end need to heal financially more than anything.

"We need to heal and rebuild, but we're hoping that the politicians can come up with ideas to bring some jobs into this area," Ms. Walker said.

Terry Glazer, the executive director of the Lagrange Development Corp., reiterated that sentiment, noting that his organization has suffered funding cuts over the years, even though efforts to build a community center in the area continue.

But Rudolph Sutton, a longtime resident of the Lagrange area, said, "The healing process needs to start with understanding the anger of our youth."

"We do have gang activity in this area, but most of the devastating violence happened because people were angry and they were provoked," said Mr. Sutton, who was born in the area.

"We need to reach our youth; we need to come up with some kind of formula to meet their needs and begin to explain why they are so angry," Mr. Sutton said.

Suhkdev Singh Khalsa, who owns the convenience store at the American Petroleum gas station at East Central and Stickney avenues, said he understands the anger of the rioters, but has since felt the pain of the looting during the riot.

So far, he said it has cost him an estimated $170,000 in damage and losses.

"We have never had any trouble with the people in this area," Mr. Khalsa said, standing in the trashed aisles of his store, which is now boarded up and closed for business.

"People took advantage of the situation to loot, but I don't think they had anything against my store," Mr. Khalsa said.

He added that he was grateful that his sister, Surinder Kaul, who is eight months pregnant, was not hurt when she was trapped in the store during the riot.

Meanwhile, Joe Zychowicz, the owner of Stanley's Five-Star Market, 3302 Stickney, said his store was not vandalized during the riot.

Police originally believed that his store was among the businesses that were damaged, but Mr. Zychowicz said a window was broken in another incident a week ago.

Toledo and Lucas County officials are still formulating plans to reimburse area businesses and homeowners for damage they sustained during the melee.

Lucas County officials said they have received five calls from homeowners whose residences have broken windows and they hope to use funds from the Lucas County Job and Family Services agency or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds to help families with riot-damage costs.

Mayor Jack Ford said he expected to use economic development dollars, adding that some labor unions have stepped forward to volunteer resources.

City officials added that assistance has been offered to four businesses affected by the riot, and all but one have accepted.

But Louis Ratajski, the owner of Jim and Lou's, has not yet decided whether he will reopen the business, David Simko, his attorney, said.

"He's not sure on what he's going to do," Mr. Simko said. "Mayor Ford has said that the city will help make his business whole again, but we don't yet know what that means."

Mr. Khalsa said he has not been contacted by the mayor or any city official on plans to help him with the costs of repairing his business.

"This is a very busy store on most days, and now I am losing money every day it is closed," he said.

Mr. Khalsa added that he is not sure when he will reopen his business because he is waiting for his insurance company to complete its damage assessment.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) will hold a public meeting from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday in the administration building of the Toledo Public Schools, 420 East Manhattan St., to listen to North Toledo residents who want to voice their opinions about the riot.

Blade staff writer Tad Vezner contributed to this report.

Contact Karamagi Rujumba at:

krujumba@theblade.com or

419-724-6064.



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