Submitted by Roldo on Wed, 11/11/2009 - 17:01.

Were there failures or absence of institutional and community structure that helped make the mass murderer of Imperial Avenue get away with the killings so easily? Yes, there were.


People ask the question, why didn’t someone notice what was happening? How did this happen right under the noses of the police and the community? Where’s the “community?” What’s the matter with people?


Cleveland neighborhoods have been deprived of many things but likely most destructive has been the purposeful neglect and sometime suppression of community activism over a long period of time here. It has worked its destructive way.


 You can’t have an aware, alive community that’s a repressed community.


Cleveland in the 1970s enjoyed strong community activism. There were many problems. But there was some fight in people! Neighborhoods formed their own power bases and community development corporations (CDCs) received federal and foundation funding for neighborhood improvement. People were feeling their power.


But there were flaws that eventually led to failure. It didn’t have to be.


Cleveland is a town with heavy upper institutional power. Lots of wealth. It rules. Not timidly at times.


Here’s Diana Tittle’s description in her book on the Cleveland Foundation called “Rebuilding Cleveland – The Cleveland Foundation and its Evolving Urban Strategy” that I believe has relevance to today’s situation:


“In funding community development corporations the Foundation reforged a precious link with the city’s community development department. But the narrow gauge of the Foundation’s interests exposed it to criticism behind certain doors. Because the CDCs concentrated primarily on rehabilitating commercial strips with new benches, street lighting, plantings and the like, the Foundation’s neighborhood program took on a decided bricks-and-mortar cast – much to the dismay of Harry Fagan, the architect of a burgeoning if loose confederation of neighborhood advocacy groups, whose activities the Cleveland Foundation seldom funded.”


Neighborhood groups in the 1970s got some funding and support, especially from the Catholic Commission. But it didn’t last, as we shall see.


The Cleveland Foundation and its sister the Gund Foundation could never countenance strong, demanding neighborhood groups. How could they accomplish their other desires – new stadiums, theaters, office buildings and other downtown amenities – AND neighborhood renewal? Attention strayed. There’s just so much to go around.


Tittle continued, “Executive director of the Commission on Catholic Community Action, the social-action arm of the Cleveland diocese, Fagan found the Foundation’s neighborhood program shortsighted and incomplete. ‘Any strategy that develops physical structure without developing people will fail,’ he believed. ‘The Foundation never understood that you’ve got to help moms and dads take responsibility for their neighborhoods.’


Help moms and dads take responsibility for their neighborhoods.


How important was that statement. Does not that say something about the failure of so many neighborhoods in Cleveland and elsewhere today? It does to me.


I think it has relevance to the Imperial Avenue killings.


Too much people power, however, makes civic and political leaders nervous. It can get out of hand.


The advocacy groups spurred by the Catholic Commission put pressure on officials. Sometimes too much.


A couple of incidents probably helped make neighborhood activism unacceptable to city leaders.


Mayor Dennis Kucinich, a progressive, got a taste he didn’t appreciate. It was the late 1970s.


During the Kucinich administration a Broadway neighborhood group went to the home of the mayor’s community development director making demands for a fire station. Instead of attention the director called the police. Later, a neighborhood organization dumped garbage in the office of Kucinich’s service director.  Then some 500 senior citizens showed up at city hall demanding a meeting with Mayor Kucinich about safety. He ducked out of city hall but Council President George Forbes, his foe, walked out of his office to meet with the seniors.


The neighborhood groups were beginning to feel their power. They overplayed their hand.


In the early 1980s, neighborhood groups demanded $1 billion be set aside by SOHIO (Standard Oil of Ohio at the time) for conservation subsidies for low and moderate income people. At the time, SOHIO was enjoying mounds of cash flow from its Alaskan oil interests. It had more money than it knew what to do with. Literally.


But this was outrageous. A grab for an oil company’s revenue. Unheard of.


Then the unforgivable happened. It is described richly by Randy Cunningham in, “Democratizing Cleveland – the Rise and Fall of Community Organizing,” You can find my review of the book here:



The attack on the exclusive Chagrin Valley Hunt Club in Gates Mills. Cunningham writes:


“What occurred when the 600 demonstrators landed at the Hunt Club was not just a political event. It was a collision of worlds that barely recognized each other’s existence, and that never came into contact. That afternoon at the Hunt Club, the club chairman’s Saturday lunch was in progress. The veranda was full of well dressed diners while on the grounds members in English outfits were tending their mounts, gather for the afternoon’s equestrian events. (The target was SOHIO’s top executive Alton Whitehouse, who wasn’t there.)


“Pouring out of the buses were organizers in jeans and working-class and poor people in polyester. The Hunt Club never before seen so many African-Americans or so many who were not among those the English call ‘the great and the good.’ As Marlene Weslian of CBBB (one of the organizing units) remembered, ‘How dramatic to see the difference in how people live…. It was so clear who had it and who didn’t when you went there.”


The elite didn’t like it. Funding dried up.


The head of the SOHIO public relations staff said, “That was the last straw that really caused us to take steps to be sure that the usual funding organizations in the city knew what these groups were doing. Whether they were defunded, I don’t know.” The money dried up.


Here’s another example I’ve written about before. I’ll be brief.


A bona fide citizen’s organization fighting for better schools (what’s would be more important in Cleveland?) couldn’t get Mayor Michael White’s attention. So they went to his future wife’s Winton Place apartment to seek the mayor’s attention. Once again, it was the hoi polloi visiting the high on the hog.


They got White’s attention but the results were bad.


At the time the organization, Education/Safety Organizing Project (ESOP), a truly low income group, was on line for some foundation grants.


The Cleveland Foundation dropped them. $85,000 gone. The Gund Foundation dropped them. Another $85,000 gone. The Joyce Foundation of Chicago, working with the other two, dropped them. $160,000. Not a cent.


Cost of the little demonstration at the doorstep of the mayor’s girlfriend: $320,000.


“That’s severe punishment for a group whose parents are not only interested in the Cleveland schools but see their children being destroyed by the schools and the conditions around them.


“If anyone has the right to radical action, these parents do,” I wrote at the time.


Couldn’t the Cleveland and Gund Foundations handle it differently?

Couldn’t the non-profits try another approach? Cutting community activism has backfired on all.


Then, too, the CDCs became more as little housing developers than neighborhood-focused problem solvers. More creatures of City Council members. Not the teachers Fagan pictured to get moms and dads to take responsibility for each other and the neighborhood. Community became a victim.


Neighborhoods have fallen apart. They left no real glue of community to hold them together.


Cunningham quotes a former neighborhood staff member: “I don’t think they understand or see the need to empower people. Their goals are just mainly to develop real estate. They don’t do any other type of organizing.”


The civic and political leaders got more silent neighborhood reaction. They un-powered the neighborhoods. The neighborhoods got more apathetic. Apathy trumped controversy. Apparently, the exchange suited Cleveland’s leadership.


So the eyes and ears to watch over neighborhoods that would be encouraged by organized citizens - not there anymore.


It hasn’t been a good exchange for neighborhoods.


Eleven women may have paid the ultimate price for the comfort of civic and political leadership.

Neighborhoods continue without street leaders. That was too uncomfortable for some.

The city continues its steep decline.






















( categories: )

Community organizing

 Community organizing is the glue that holds blocks and neighborhoods together. The denying of funds for community organizing has dissolved that glue. In addition to defunding of community groups by the Foundations and Coorparations, The Catholic Commission on Community Action withered away. When all this was coupled with the Reagan area (when nationally community organizing become a dirty term), the programs such as VISTA's were specifically forbidden from any activities with links to any type of organizing and monitored closely. Organizing makes those who have power and wealth uncomfortable. When officials are told that they are public servants, and therefore we hold them accountable to us, we either have to be strong and committed enough to back that up , or just give up the fight and go home. What has happened in Cleveland to the people and the caring, the spirit of community, has been a blight of the people. We are planned blight. Eleven, perhaps more, women, dead as a result of planned blight of the people of Cleveland.

All people of Cleveland need

All people of Cleveland need to come together to demand better services from our police department.  But, this does not happen because there are groups that like to keep us divided by mixing up the focus of rallies for a particular cause with a bunch of other causes that turn some, if not many people, away from the rally.  I don't like to go to a rally thinking I am going to support a particular issue and then have to listen to other issues brought up at the same rally.  For example yesterday there was a rally at the Justice Center but the people that were organizing it were bringing in additional concerns, which may have been legitimate concerns, but it confused the issue at hand.  Why can't we come together as Clevelanders and show unity in our concern about the lack of police response to the residents' complaints without making it a issue about the rights of only one race of people?  There are many races of people that live here in Cleveland and we are all affected by the lack of police response.  What happened on Imperial Avenue could happen anywhere in Cleveland and it important to all of us.  I would have attended the rally if it would have been focused on the need for better police response to all residents of Cleveland. 

comment on comment

Got this critical assessment of the above post from John Ettorre tby e-mail: “On this one, I think, it’s at least a partial cop-out to point the blame at the cooptation of the funders, which of course happened. But the roots of the problem on this killing spree are way larger than that: the entire society has gone into a form of stupor, with everyone staring at screens, no kids playing outdoors, and people just not as involved in their neighborhoods and larger civic spaces as they once were, as the Robert Putnam book “Bowling Alone” talked about. Obviously, the situation is magnified in poor areas. As Jane Jacobs observed, when there are fewer neighborhoods busy bodies, bad things happen.”


I have no argument that there were many other factors at work in this tragedy. However, I’d bet, if my memory is correct, that if organizations, with working community organizers, as Bring Back Broadway and Buckeye Woodland Community Org., that existed in the 1970s were active today a home giving off a stench would have attracted attention, missing women in the neighborhood would have been notice. And community organizations would have been protesting to Cleveland Police and City Hall. Not AFTER the fact. But before and loudly. There was an Alinsky attitude alive then and I believe it would have been heard. Dumping garbage on the desk of the service director was the kind of action that drew attention. As did 500 senior citizens crowding into the Rotunda of City Hall.  I was there that day and remember the reverberations they made. But it takes paid community organizers to help arrange and coordinate such actions. The ability to do that was killed by the funding cutoff and the ramifications are visible to me.

Maybe others with a closer vision to these past events would comment.



I disagree with the Ettorre premise that the roots of the problems are due to stupor. We have always had stupor, be it 70 hours work weeks before the labor act, now it is just a high tech stupor. Having paid community organizers acts as a catalyst for those that are aware and want to do something, and it brings people together. The funders knew what they were doing in Cleveland and elsewhere when organizing was cut and only brick and mortar projects were funded and neighborhoods were let go. I think that it is fair to lay the cause for a lot of the decline at the feet of funders and corporations. They can take it, and they deserve it. 

abusing Jane Jacobs

 I'm so sick of Jane Jacobs' ideology being abused.

and that was one twisted f@ck by Ettorre.


nice analysis, Roldo. The demise of REAL CDCs is not a simple thing, although it certainly is sad, isn't it?

From Krumholz

I got this e-mail message from Norm Krumholz, former Cleveland planning director and Cleveland State University professor of urban affairs and former community development director for Cleveland, with permission to reprint:


"I think you're on to something. The advocacy groups of the 1970s were truly grass-roots and things they wanted down were small but important to the quality of neighborhood life. They were pushing to see a police officer onjce in a while, to  have the garbage that was picked up land in the garbage truck not the streeet, to have packs of feral dogs taken away, to have street lights and stop signs placed in dangerous places. Those were some of their 'demands.' In the process, they sometimes embarrassed city hall. The current interest of the CDCs is mostly on real estate deals. In the Buckeye Woodland neighborhood, there's little organizing as far as I know,  but there's much attention to the rehabilitation of St. Luke's hospital for senior housing and there's interest in the sale of the new single-family houses behind St. Luke's all of which has the support of NPI (Neighborhood Progress Inc.) and the city. It's certainly conceivable that neighborhood organizing could have demanded that the source of the 'foul smell' on Imperial Ave. could have been discovered a lot earlier."

Roldo nails it

>> The current interest of the CDCs is mostly on real estate deals. <<

and quality life in the neighborhoods is suffering for all not in on that game.


Thanks for postings these e-mails, Roldo, and keep them coming as it helps people get creative and perhaps spur some action. I had to laugh at Krumholz' statement that sometimes city hall was embarrassed. Yes they were. Now, that was a stupor that City hall needed to be shaken out of. The simple, common sense things that residents wanted were just ignored until action had to be taken. Some big things were won, too. Near West Neighbors in Action spear headed the action with other organizing groups that lead to decreased water rates, and the CDBG hearings were lively too. If community organizing were in place in the area of Imperial Ave., after the sausage factory flushed their drains and the city checked the sewers, it would have been pursued. The issue of missing women would have been discussed long before this year, and action taken, even if it was heightened awareness then a call to authorities beyond the CPD.

The violence continues


The violence continues and breaks my heart because the lives of children are being destroyed.  I cried when I read this story.


I'm thankful for my friend Ettorre's questioning. It helped extend the discussion and I had to look at what I wrote again. Actually, I'm more convinced that a strong community organization would have had impact on the Imperial Ave. situation. The PD's stories on  the prosecutor this a.m. and the swiping of notices about the missing women, I don't think, would have remained under the radar if there were a strong community organization in that community.

Sowell and the PD story

I am throughly disgusted after reading this story (interview with Chief McGrath) about the police and the handling on the missing women and the reported rape. Hello, Cleveland, wake up. A few years ago, I had a young thug destroying my property (I was simply the closest neighbor). The police came to my home, took a report, and told me that they would prosecute it themselves (and they did). A woman is raped, reports it, and the detective tries to reach her by phone? Read this story for the latest non-responsive responses that I have heard since Rudolph was the chief.

The women of Imperial Ave.

I spoke  today with a woman who has lived her life in the Imperial Ave. area.  She talked about how each woman was someone's daughter, sister, or mother, and how could they be lost? How could they be so unimportant that when the families asked for help for their missing family member, they were spun nonsensical answers by the PD,  and how could the families accept this from the police. We talked about the failure of the city as a whole failing this community, including the prosecutors' office. Her bottom line is that we, as a community, failed. The pain and the grief is palpable.