I’ve never been afraid in Dayton, Ohio. Maybe because I’m wired wrong. On the way home from the first CIRGV meeting, I saw a young teen walking fast up W. Third with a 22.-caliber rifle, I turned my scooter around- and stopped him to talk- before he scurried off, and I called the police. Yes- I should have called cops first- and headed on my way. I’ve also been all over Dayton- way past dark, hanging basketball nets. Carried the ladder at least a thousand feet to the remote court in Western Hills – close to midnight to put up nets- without a worry.
Urban Nights is supposed to be when we put out our welcome mat. When all feel welcome to go downtown. Well, all, except the people we don’t want to acknowledge live in our community- urban, black youths. And, this isn’t an indictment of them- we’re all to blame. We’ve worked for the last 50 years to separate ourselves and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory. What happened and what I saw Friday night, 9 May, 2014, Urban Nights wasn’t an epic event by any means. As a very young boy- I remember my Dad lifting me to the window in East Cleveland of our 8th floor apartment to look North over the city of Cleveland- with the sky glowing orange from the fires during the Hough and Glenville riots. He took a photo that ended up on the cover of the Plain Dealer Sunday magazine- my grandmother, painted it, the painting hung on our walls for a long time, and faded away from relevance. I don’t know where the painting is now, but- the memory of the sky stuck with me. That was an epic event.
This year’s spring Urban Nights seemed like it was lightly attended compared to others. The rain was holding off, but, the crowds were still light. I had almost stayed home, after a long week, but a friend had texted and I headed over on the scooter and parked it next to Drake’s Gym/Gentile Produce and started at St. Clair between Fourth and Third. As usual, I ran into lots of friendly faces including our former neighborhood cop, former Mayor Gary Leitzell, a BOE worker, Tim Kambitch- head of the Dayton Metro Library- all within the first 40 minutes. I headed over to 2nd Street and saw my friend Haitham at Carmen’s Deli- and waited for the band to start at 9- it was Hal Melia’s Brass Tacks band- with a horn section. I talked to Brian West- a friend and trumpet player- who said the guy on trumpet was probably the best in a 200-mile region. They were tight- the singer had a great voice- but, when they started playing their second song by Chicago after only 6 tunes- I’d reached my limit of pop- and headed round the corner to see what was going on at Courthouse Square- and to check out the AIA at the Business Furniture spot.
The police were congregated at Second and Main. On bikes, cruisers, and a few of the new SUVs. Courthouse Square was dark. The architects had already closed up shop- I continued ambling down S. Main where I passed a white guy with a megaphone standing on the corner- reading scripture. Other than the security guys that I saw at the RTA bus depot, he was the last white person I saw as I made my way through a crowd of black youths. I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t sense any tension. It was around 9:20 pm. I made it down where I was almost to 4th street, having passed TNT Fashion and was looking over at the Kuntz building- at the corner of 4th and Main- it’s still one of my favorite downtown buildings, with its red clay color and castle-like ornamentation. I glanced back toward Third and saw a swarm of kids out in Main Street- moving like a flock of sparrows, undulating, changing direction together as if they were some sort of magnetic liquid goo being moved by a mysterious unseen magnet.
I took out my phone and started recording, with the thought that the police would be the ones to act badly. I was wrong. Someone says at 0:45 “he’s recording” – as if they are totally oblivious to the city’s new security cameras and the ones RTA has had. At 1:05 my phone gets swatted from my hands, I pick it up, stick it in my pocket and start chasing the punk. At this point, I’m mad, but not thinking about what comes next. Sort of like GWB invading Iraq. Thanks to his baggy pants and me not being totally out of shape at 51, I am gaining on him as he stops, midway down 4th St., across from Dave Hall Plaza- you can hear the complete exchange. He wants to fight, I don’t know what I want. I’m also aware of the huge mob that has run after us and is starting to surround me- someone swings- hits me in the temple- my glasses go off, I turn- and step on them. More hits come- I’m moving to the wall to at least make sure that I don’t end up in the center of a beat down- and can stay up. Fighting a lot of people doesn’t work out like a Bruce Lee movie- they don’t conveniently wait for you to dispatch them one at a time, they all come at you at once. Most of the blows come to my head- at some point- I lost vision in my left eye temporarily. As fast as it starts, it ends- I go over to pick up my glasses- one arm of my glasses is askew- I pick up the lenses and stick them in my pocket. One of them is going to be the only way I can read until morning. A cop on a motorcycle pulls up as I wave him down- and tell him I was assaulted by a kid wearing a white wife beater, baggy jeans. The cop told me to wait here.
I post to Facebook using Siri voice recognition- at 9:45 pm
“Just got assaulted at urban nights, while videotaping of Nealeigh out in front of the RTA glasses are broken so I can’t see what I’m typing”
Apologies to my friend Tommy Nealeigh, who is usually worth videotaping, I said “melee” – but Siri apparently isn’t a riot girl.
Another crowd swarm started at Fourth and Main- by an RTA bus. I filmed again.
No cops had come back- so I called 911, and as I was on the phone, another officer came by- I flagged him down. Told him again what had happened and asked 911 to send a medic. I told them I was moving toward 4th and St. Clair- but was crossing over to the Dave Hall plaza corner- and would wait there for a medic. I didn’t think I was bleeding- which was confirmed by friends, former city planning director Paul Woodie and current city purchasing director Pete Hager, who were walking down Jefferson toward Fifth Street. The fire engine passed us- then the medic passed us- even as we waved- and I called back to 911 to confirm my location. The medic had my neighbor Jen Quinn in it- and she checked me out and suggested I go to a hospital- I said I needed to go to the VA- and they started driving before I agreed to it. I would have had a friend take me, but she said it was too late- just decline transport.
My phone was getting messages like crazy- with friends checking in. I had to hold up the one lens to my right eye to read them. A Dayton cop came and took a statement, gave me a report number. About an hour later- another officer showed up to do the same thing.
In the thread on Facebook, the discussion turned to safety of downtown, whom to blame. A friend pointed out that there had been an event promoted to youth- and then cancelled at the last minute and blamed organizers. I found no evidence of this event happening this year- but they had a teen celebration in the fall of 2013.
The VA called in the guy to give me a CAT scan- and I left with a shot of an anti-inflammatory in my butt. The three hours of ice pack seemed to have averted major bruising. I got a printout of my recent eye exam, so I could get some glasses. My head is still a little sore, and thanks to Kevin Harrington at Downtown Dayton Optical I now have 2 new pairs of glasses- one for reading and one for the computer. When I tried to pay Kevin, he refused payment- almost had me in tears.
He said “most people don’t appreciate what you do for this city- I do. One of the advantages of owning your own business is you can do nice things for people. I really appreciate you, and- I’m sorry what happened last night”
I’m sorry what happened too.
After the video had stopped recording in my pocket- some kids did come over and said they were sorry- I said that I was kind of in shock- after hanging 300 plus basketball nets- I’m the one that gets beaten up. One kid said – “oh, you’re esrati” (mangling my name)- which was the one glimmer of hope for the evening.
But, after the bruising of my ego and when my head heals- what do we as a community do? The Dayton Daily has kept this event to a few column inches in the back of the paper today. Chastising the Downtown Dayton Partnership, or reporting negative things happening at their signature event is something to be minimized. It was on the 11 p.m. news- I saw it from my bed in the VA ER. From 100 to 1,s000 youth have been attributed- my guess is around 500. That someone had a gun is also part of their synopsis.
But, this is more than one event. This is what happens when you stop finding money to put basketball nets on rims, fill in pools, close rec centers, stop having midnight basketball in the summer. This is what happens when you bus kids all over the city- instead of maintaining strong neighborhood connections. This is what happens when kids have kids- and let their kids run the streets. If you are a mother, or a grandmother and see your kid in these videos, you are failing your babies.
I’m lucky I’m here to write this, with my only problem being the two- to three-week wait for my new no-line bifocals with AR coating to show up. I’ve had friends say I should take up boxing, others say I should have had a CCW. Meeting violence with violence is not the answer. I’m sure that had I been carrying a gun, someone would be dead right now, possibly me. I do know how to fight- but, one man against a mob- the odds aren’t good. I’m not happy in retrospect with my own choices of words and actions in the span of those few minutes- but, then again, a bad decision in a few minutes is what puts many of our young black men in prison. I’m not black. Someone told me on the campaign trail last time, that “if you were black, you’d have been elected long ago.” I still wonder about what would make someone say that- and, if it was true.
I’m sure that this post is too long for an event that spanned just a few minutes. If you are still reading, thank you. If you’ve watched the videos- thank you. If you see your kids in the videos- it’s time to have a talk with them. It’s time for our community to have a real talk about this. Our kids need better options than this. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We’ve failed them.
Had I been anyone else, I would have seen that crowd and would have run the other way. I’m sure that I may think twice about doing what I did on Friday night. But, hopefully, the young man who decided to hit my phone, and then me- maybe, just maybe, he might read this, and realize that this wasn’t his triumphant moment in life. Maybe when he tells his friends about his beating on this old white dude- one of them says- you hit the green net man, that guy is cool. Maybe not.
I know I could have behaved better as well. We all need a better understanding- a better dialogue in this community. We need better solutions for our youth. For our community.
I got hit, I ran, I committed errors. This isn’t baseball. Let’s all work together to fix this.