As police investigate second OTR homicide within a month, residents still feel safe

CINCINNATI - Despite a series of violent crimes, some residents believe Over-the-Rhine remains a safe community and has not lost ground after the city and civic groups spent millions of dollars to make the neighborhood a safer place.

"I walk these streets all the time," said Kathryn Cottingham. "You just have to be smart. There are people downtown at all hours."

Cottingham, who is a downtown resident and manager of Mannequin Boutique at the Gateway District in OTR, said she continues to see an influx of visitors from the suburbs to businesses and restaurants, and that most of the crimes she sees reported in the area are drug related.

"If you aren't buying and selling drugs, or prostituting, you are fine," Cottingham said. "Quite honestly, it's not that easy for an innocent person to get shot."

Cottingham's comments came shortly after OTR experienced its second homicide in just over a two-week period on Sunday morning.

Antonio Wright, 32, was found on the sidewalk, shot in the head near his residence in the 1700 block of Race Street around 6 a.m. The area's other homicide within a month's time occurred May 24 in Goose Alley near Race and Vine streets, when police found William Barnes, 29, fatally shot as well.

No suspects have been arrested in either case.

A woman who wished to remain unnamed, and has lived near the scene of Sunday's homicide on Race Street for six years, said that while safety has improved since she lived there, she doesn't feel that way at the moment.

"We've definitely seen an uptick of crime in the last six to eight weeks. I'm seeing new faces in the area. I don't think it's people from around here," the woman said. "I just want this to be a safe place where we can raise our families. Right now, it just isn't that."

In addition, 13 shootings and one aggravated robbery have occurred from mid-May to May 29 in the area.

To address the recent series of violence Seth Maney, an OTR resident and co-author of the Over the Rhine blog, helped organize and attended an OTR town hall at Prince of Peace downtown Saturday, June 1. The meeting was primarily designed to help residents address crime in the community.

Maney said the Cincinnati Police Department was on hand and specifically mentioned the area of West Liberty Street near Race Street as a hotspot for criminal activity as OTR heads into the summer months.

"If anything, with the change in seasons there seems to be a rash of retribution shootings," Maney said. "This year I am kind of heartened that people who live near downtown have organized to help their neighborhood."

OTR resident Katy Crossen said she agrees with the improvements, and some of the seasonal increase the area is currently experiencing.

"I think that the violence in OTR ebbs and flows," Crossen said. "More people are mobile in Over-the-Rhine during the summer months, and that gives rise to violence."

And though violence at the moment may seem to be flowing in OTR, Crossen, who has lived there for three years, and Cottingham agree improvement is spreading through the neighborhood with new businesses and visitors.

"Busy. Busy. Busy," Cottingham said. "Our business is better than it's ever been doing. Most of the people, definitely the people who live here, but most of the people are coming from the suburbs to downtown."

Mannequin officially opened Jan. 7, 2011.

"There is more foot traffic, just that in itself is creating a great environment," Crossen added.

What most people need to know when they visit OTR, Crossen said, is be smart. Keep things like cellphones in pockets and be aware of surroundings, she advised.

"Typically, you are going to be safe south of Liberty," she said. "The change is spreading out and it's going to take time."

"It will be nice when we get to the point where shootings don't happen," Maney added. "I think we'll get there one day."

If you have any information about this crime, please call Crime Stoppers at (513) 352-3040. Text tips to CRIMES (2-7-4-6-3-7) with "CINTip:" at the beginning of the message. You don't have to give your name and you may be eligible for a reward if your tips lead to an arrest.

9 On Your Side will update this story when more information becomes available.

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