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CINCINNATI - Cody Uffer was walking down Race Street 10 days ago and a man asked him for a dollar for the bus.
Uffer obliged, but when he pulled out a $10 bill instead of a dollar bill, the man tried to snatch it out of his hand.
"I carry pepper spray and I went to use it, but he saw me reaching for it and tore the spray off my neck," Uffer said. "He sprayed me with it and ran."
Uffer said in the seven months he's been living in Over-the-Rhine, he's noticed an uptick in crime. Statistics bear him out: In the first six months of this year, aggravated assaults are up by 33 percent in OTR compared to last year.
That spike in crime has some in the community on edge, including Uffer.
And the early Wednesday morning shooting that injured three people near the intersection of Walnut and East 13th streets had the community talking – again – about crime, joblessness and societal woes that have plagued the Cincinnati neighborhood for decades.
Police believe the shooting, which left all three with non-life threatening injuries, was the result of a drug deal gone bad, said District 1 commander Capt. Gary Lee.
That shooting comes just one month after two fatal shootings. On June 9, Antonio Wright, 32, was found on the sidewalk, shot in the head near his home in the 1700 block of Race Street. Police arrested a suspect in that case. On May 24 in Goose Alley near Race and Vine streets, police found William Barnes, 29, fatally shot. Police have not made an arrest in that case.
OTR Residents Anxious, Searching For Solutions
What's fueling the problem, residents said, is the increase in drug abuse and joblessness.
People are simply getting more desperate.
"It has gotten worse, and I think it's because people are getting desperate for money – there is a lot of alcohol and drugs use in the area," said Uffer, who works at a restaurant downtown.
So far this year, police have responded to 40 aggravated assaults compared to 30 for the same time period last year in Over-the-Rhine. There have been three homicides compared to only one last year, according to Cincinnati police data. But reported incidents of rape, robbery, burglary, theft and vehicle theft are all down compared to last year.
Shootings throughout District 1, which includes Over-the-Rhine, the West End, Queensgate, Pendleton and Mount Adams, are up nearly 38 percent compared to same time period last year.
But the recent violence bucks the two-year trend in District 1. Reports of total violent crime are down 26 percent and homicides are down 64 percent.
Uffer said the stigma of not cooperating with the police must be broken for the neighborhood to experience real change. Lee agreed.
"We ask the people to keep the police informed and to report suspicious activates," Lee said. "If they have information on previous crimes of violence, let us know.
"In fact, the victims most of the time refuse to cooperate, which then perpetuates the whole cycle."
Lee said much of the violence involves street drug traffickers targeting other traffickers. Police call it "crime-on-crime" opportunities, which result in a cycle of retaliation, he said.
"If you're going to engage in a risky lifestyle, you run the risk of being exposed to violence," Lee said.
Lee credited the arrest of Dekwan Pickett, 17, to the community cooperating with the police. A warrant was issued eight hours after Pickett was charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Riccardo Branham in the West End on July 1. To combat the violence, police target those with a propensity for violence and known drug traffickers who are often the targets of violence, Lee said.
"People willing to step forward and tell what they know, and if that happened with every case, the violence will be eliminated – I'm not naive enough believe that, though," Lee said.
Richard Butz, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years, tells a different story.
He said he rarely feels unsafe walking the streets, but believes that if more people live in the community, rather than just come for a visit, there will be less violence.
"I take my dog out at 2 a.m. and I feel fine," Butz said. "Isn't crime everywhere, though? First of all, the politicians need to stop talking about abortion and talk about jobs – they win elections talking about jobs but don't do anything about it."
For Willard Clark, 53, a resident of Over-the-Rhine for 40-plus years, the onus of teaching young people the dos and don'ts rests on the shoulders of the older generation. Job creation will also foster a more harmonious neighborhood for everyone, he said.
"The responsibility falls on older black people, we know what to do and what not do so we need to teach that to our kids," Clark said. "We can stop the violence if we come together as a community and prevent our kids from going down the wrong path.
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