Wednesday, June 26, 1996
Gangsters rob decent folks of tranquility

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two weeks ago, Cincinnati got a taste of gang warfare.

Over a span of three days, a group of teens shot up three west-side houses and a lot of peace of mind.

Miraculously - since one shooting involved an assault rife with armor-piercing bullets - no one was hurt.

The last shots were fired at 2:45 a.m. June 16. Twelve of those armor-piercing rounds were pumped into an aging frame house. Someone was home. And the neighbors on this narrow working-class street were in bed.

Since then, 10 hoodlums have been arrested in the shootings. They've been terrorizing neighborhoods for months under the name Gangsters With Drama. Cops are still looking to fill in the blanks of what other crimes the gang committed.

At the shot-up houses, most of the physical damage has been repaired. Life is supposed to be returning to normal.

It hasn't. And I'm not sure it ever will.

Those bullets did more than break windows. They shattered the sense of safety on Werk Road in Westwood, Schoedinger Avenue in South Fairmount and Penfield Lane in Delhi Township.

Uneasy pause

On Werk, the neighbors act as if they're more worried about their heavily traveled street being widened. To them, the house with the white siding and the bullet hole through the front-room window is yesterday's news.

At least that's the way things appear.

''This is a nice neighborhood,'' says Malvon Hoffman as he stands on his front porch and surveys a mound of ripped-up sidewalk. ''We didn't have locks on our garage doors until five or six years ago.''

Then the retired police captain recalls some garage break-ins and two purse-snatchings.

He casually mentions the portable alarms he bought for his wife and ''the ladies in the apartment house. After the shooting, they say they're going to be sure to wear them.'' When attacked, they'll press a button, a loud noise will sound and the creep will run away.

Eighty-six-year-old Sadie Baia lives next door to the Hoffmans, who live next to the bullet-riddled house. ''The ladies in my church worry about me,'' she says. ''My son wants me to move.''

The Taylors, Keith and Sylvia, of Schoedinger Avenue, live two doors from a house decorated with 12 bullet holes.

''I feel scared,'' Sylvia says.

''You can't live in fear,'' insists Keith, a science teacher at Peoples Middle School.

''That's easy for him to say,'' Sylvia says. ''He's a big man.''

The short, thin woman points to her 6-foot, 5-inch, 300-pound husband. She stands by a wall plaque that reads: Happiness is Homemade.

''The neighborhood has changed since the shooting,'' she notes. ''Old people are afraid to walk to the store. We keep our daughter in our fenced-in back yard. Some older ladies are talking about moving.''

Keith shakes his head. ''You can't move every time someone shoots at a house. Look at Clinton. They shot at the White House. Did he move? No.

''You can't live in fear,'' he adds. ''This is a safe neighborhood. It's peaceful.''

Sylvia rolls her eyes and says, ominously, ''For now.''

Watching, worrying

Cincinnati Police Sgt. Glenn Cox wants to turn Sylvia Taylor's ''for now'' into ''forever.'' He hopes Gangsters With Drama's victims call him at 352-3574 and ''tell me they are outraged that an organized street gang could terrorize a neighborhood. If we work together, they are not going to rule the streets.''

All's quiet on Penfield Lane in Delhi. Too quiet.

Women have stopped taking late-night walks. Parents have warned their children to avoid the house that took six slugs from a gang member's gun. This is a Leave It To Beaver street with shady landscaped lawns, well-kept houses and heart-shaped welcome mats.

''We're watching for unfamiliar cars,'' says Steve Adams, whose home is two doors from the wounded house.

''My kids' bedrooms are in the front of the house. What if those punks had the wrong address?''

Steve Adams refuses to dwell on that. If he does, he feels he'll start ''living in fear. Then the bad guys will win.''

But he also knows if he doesn't play it safe, something even worse could happen. The good guys will lose.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax to 768-8340.