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Occupy Y’town in the Hood

Published: Sun, November 20, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

Private sector working stiffs (those in the public sector defy description) could be forgiven for harboring unkind thoughts as they maneuvered around the “Occupy Youngstown” campsite in the heart of downtown Youngstown. Going to work each day to a job that may not exist tomorrow, keenly aware that wage freezes and other compensation sacrifices are long-term propositions (not in the public sector, of course) is today’s reality for most people. An esoteric discussion of wealth, the basis of the national and international Occupy movement — it began with Occupy Wall Street a couple of months ago — is cause for heartburn.

Why don’t those people do something useful with their time? That’s an understandable reaction from people who don’t have the luxury of sitting around grousing about the inequities in life.

This isn’t about denying American citizens the right to express themselves through protests on the streets. And it certainly isn’t about being dismissive of the protesters’ contention that the concentration of this nation’s wealth has widened the gap between the haves and have-nots.

It’s simply that people who work each day have little patience for those who are able to but don’t.

PR nightmare

The gathering in Central Square in downtown Youngstown was intriguing when Occupy Youngstown was launched and drew the attention of the press. Now, it has become a public relations nightmare for the participants. When city government told them to take down their tent and to get rid of the burn barrel, they charged that their First Amendment rights were being violated. The city didn’t prohibit them from demonstrating; it only said they weren’t allowed to become a nuisance.

But, if the Occupy Youngstown participants are determined to have a presence in the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, here’s a suggestion: They should set up camp in the Hood.

Indeed, they could spend a week at a time occupying high-crime neighborhoods — to send this message to law-abiding residents who are prisoners in their homes: We care about you and are here to take back the streets.

Talk about attracting national attention.

There are at least 28 street gangs in the city — minus the three national biker gangs — with each one having its own territory.

The most publicized is the LSP, which has operated in the lower South Side in an area centered on Laclede, Sherwood, Parkview and Princeton avenues. Over the summer, the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force’s Gang Unit, along with other local, state and federal law enforcement agencies conducted a major assault on the LSP. In May, 31 individuals, including 29 who were identified as being gang members, were charged with federal and state crimes.

And while the crackdown has resulted in the LSP territory being cleaned up of much of the human vermin, residents still live in fear.

Having the Occupy Youngstown tent and burn barrel in the South Side neighborhoods would provide a desperately needed psychological boost — for the residents and the protesters.

Rather than milling around twiddling their thumbs, the folks who so passionately talk about the unfairness of a rich vs. poor society could truly make a difference. The protesters could make house calls, listening to the horror stories from elderly Youngstowners too afraid to sit on their front porches in the summer because of gangbangers shooting it out on the streets.They could hear from mothers who have lost sons, and girls who have been preyed upon by the gangstas.

And they could go on patrols with block watch members to get a first-hand look at what it’s really like to live in poverty.

Ayers Street Playas

After their South Side excursion, the Occupy Youngstown folks could move their tent show to the East Side, where the Ayers Street Playas gang once held sway. Several years ago, Ashanti Bunch, a former leader of the gang, was arrested on charges of illegal possession of a weapon, drug abuse-marijuana and two counts of aggravated trafficking in drugs. Another ex-member, Thomas Moses, was charged with aggravated trafficking in drugs, illegal possession of a weapon and possession of cocaine. If you’re going to Occupy Youngstown, wouldn’t you want to find out what makes the city tick? Sitting or standing or sleeping in Central Square is a waste of human capital.

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