Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Tot Lot Posse's home base demolished

Drug gang took over city playground

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

WEST END - A playground built years ago as a refuge for neighborhood children that became a haven for drug dealers was destroyed Monday.

First sledgehammers, then a backhoe and dump truck tore down the 2-foot-high orange brick wall that stretched through the Tot Lot at Linn and Livingston streets. By the end of the day, hunks of concrete had been heaved into a dump truck and hauled away from the corner, a city-owned spot from which the Tot Lot Posse gang took its name.

Dale Mallory, president of the West End Community Council, takes a sledge hammer to a wall in the Tot Lot at Linn and Livingston Sts. in the West End.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
A month ago, federal authorities indicted eight men they said were members of the Tot Lot Posse on federal drug conspiracy charges. Three have pleaded guilty, one remains jailed and four others remain on the loose.

To many who live here, the playground was an eyesore and Monday's destruction served as a symbol of residents taking back their neighborhood.

By October, they expect a park - filled with trees, flowers, a mosaic made from neighborhood relics and a walkway built of engraved bricks - will replace the playground.

West End Community Council President Dale Mallory asked the city to plant trees that bear fruit.

"Wouldn't it be great if people could just come through here and grab an apple?'' he said, leaning on the sledgehammer he used to help smash the wall. "This is the beginning of a happy ending for this property.''

Mayor Charlie Luken took a couple swings, too.

"The energy for all of this is coming from the residents,'' he said. "This is about community; community coming together to make a difference in their own neighborhood.''

Mostly older men hung out at the Tot Lot lately.

The Tot Lot was built in the 1970s with swing sets and other play equipment for neighborhood kids.

It stayed safe and filled with children, as best Mallory and others can remember, until about the mid-'90s. The former Community Council president, Raymond Jackson, watched over the playground until his death in 1997. He lived across the street and also went to the park almost daily, where he and his friends played cards, checkers and dominoes.

When he stop showing up at the playground, so did many of the children. And in walked the drug dealers.

The replacement playground, which is across the street from the one demolished Monday, bears Jackson's name. It is lined with yellow day lilies and was filled with children and adults Monday. The mulch is raked, the jungle gym appears freshly painted.


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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