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Fear, neglect lead to culture of quiet on some city streets

On a bright sunny weekday afternoon, children are playing in the park and lawns are being mowed in the Hanna Homestead neighborhood on the city’s near-east side.

A young woman walks down the street to round up some children and bring them back to the big blue house in the 900 block of Hugh Street.

Behind that house in early April, 17-year-old Elijah O. Freeman was gunned down in the alley, having fled east behind the houses pursued by someone with a gun. The South Side High School student was Allen County’s 15th homicide of the year.

While people are out and about in the neighborhood, getting someone to talk about the area, the crime and the needs there is difficult.

Around the corner from where Freeman was killed is Pilgrim Baptist Church, at 1331 Gay St. The church owns an empty lot directly across the street from the yard where Freeman died, but no one there would comment.

After Freeman was shot to death, and before the coroner had even taken the body away, a man who lived across the street was quick to speak up – telling the police and television news crews what he saw and what he heard that sunny Wednesday afternoon, when gunshots interrupted his lunch.

Now, though, he would rather not.

One neighbor who would talk, but declined to give his full name, said that the witness received death threats after his face and name were broadcast on television.

It is no wonder, he said, identifying himself as “Duane.”

Duane has lived in the neighborhood his whole life, once selling and using dope on the same streets. But with a few years sober, he is now trying to make a difference, even if it is just watching out for the kids playing nearby.

His home is near Hanna Homestead Park, where children play on a new swing set and park equipment within the patch of green between Hugh and Lewis streets, bordered by a tall wrought iron fence.

He watches the children play on the equipment and notices little in the way of adult supervision.

That, Duane said, is a problem.

It’s ridiculous, he said, that these young people have babies, then don’t take care of their babies.

“I don’t understand it,” he said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the neighborhood was one of the places to score dope and it was sold nearly in the open on the streets around the park.

Duane said the drug dealing is more discreet now, but still there – now in the running car, parked under the tree, the driver handing something out of the window.

By the time the police are called, the dealers are gone.

Duane said he would like to see the police patrol more frequently but added he noticed an uptick in their presence since Freeman was killed.

The neighborhood is filled with good people, he said.

They are people he knows well and has known his whole life.

“This has really been a good neighborhood,” he said.

The problem lies in the younger generation, Duane said.

“It’s different,” he said. “This generation is different.”

rgreen@jg.net

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