Thursday, January 16, 2003

Northside crusader


Reclaiming a neighborhood from dealers

map

Stefanie Sunderland looks Northside's drug dealers right in the eye when she yanks the welcome mat out from under them.

She swears she's not brave.

"Just sassy."

And dedicated to her neighborhood.

Stefanie punctuated her sassiness with a wicked laugh Tuesday. Then she sipped her morning orange juice at a corner table inside the C&D Cafe.

Over the weekend, she invited some fellow Northsiders to drive to the C&D.

They made sure their cars took every parking space outside the corner cafe. Vehicles lined the intersection of Witler and Hanfield, a high-traffic spot for drug dealers.

One thoughtful dealer warned Stefanie that she'd get a ticket if she left her car in that no-parking zone. Then he went back to selling crack.

Some of the Northsiders stood with Stephanie on the intersection's corners.

This disrupted the dealers' routine. They typically stand and wait. Cell phone glued to one ear. A car rolls up. Dealer hops in back. Money and drugs change hands.

Last weekend, the lack of parking shut down the dealers' drive-through business. The crowded street corners caused the walk-in trade to vamoose.

Stefanie knows drug dealers always return to the scene of their crime.

On Tuesday morning, as she pointed out the places where dealers stand at night, a man slowly walked by a woman. She handed him some cash. He gave her a plastic bag.

Stefanie shook her head and mentioned the need for a return engagement.

The woman behind the weekend's protest is not physically imposing. Stefanie stands a thin, 5 feet, 4 inches and bears a slight resemblance to crusading scientist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Through her crusade, Stefanie hopes to save Northside, her home since 1982.

Since 1998, she's fought block by block to spruce up the place. She's set up block watches, organized litter patrols with her husband and made countless calls to the police.

Reflecting on the conflict between City Hall and Hamilton County officials over drug arrests, she believes her fight against the dealers is hindered by a shortage - not enough undercover cops - and an excess. Too many convicted drug dealers receive short jail sentences or none at all.

"This is a neighborhood worth fighting for," she said, "because of its diversity."

In Northside, people come in an assortment of colors with a variety of lifestyles, an array of accents and vastly different amounts of money in the bank.

Yet everyone shares the same goal. It's emblazoned above the entrance to Northside's Bonomini Bakery: "Enjoy the sweet things in life."

Stefanie wants to enjoy them in Northside. That's why she stands and fights the dealers.

When she's on the streets, she's unarmed. She has no martial arts training. Her only weapons are the truth and knowing what's right.

So she uses a passive-aggressive approach.

"I go up to dealers. Look them in the eye and say, `hello.' Then, I just stand there."

The dealers fall silent or move on. But they don't deal drugs. At least not while Stefanie and her friends are around.

As much as she hates what drug dealers do to a community, Stefanie does not get in their faces and call them names.

"That's confrontation," she explained.

"I'm into reclamation."

She wants to reclaim Northside, take it from the criminals and give it to decent people so they can enjoy the sweet things in life.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.




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