Two rival groups with a score to settle meet on a mean city street, ready to rumble. Tensions flare. Violence ensues. A young man dies in the melee.
Such are the plot lines of the critically acclaimed New York City-based 1957 Broadway musical and 1961 Academy Award winning film “West Side Story.”
Sadly, however, such are the headlines from a real-life Youngstown-based tragedy that played out on a mean South Side street a mere two weeks ago.
“It looks almost like a movie,” Mahoning County Assistant Prosecutor Martin Desmond said in describing the cellphone video footage of the Aug. 17 street fight on Winona Drive that resulted in the shooting death of Shawn Cortez, 17, of Ravenwood Avenue.
But unlike “West Side Story,” Youngstown’s South Side story is a narrative in which life clearly fails to imitate art. Unlike the Broadway show, the confrontation did not unfold with slick choreographed dance numbers set to pulsating Leonard Bernstein orchestration. Unlike the movie, many older and supposedly wiser adults in Youngstown did little but egg on and intensify the conflict. And unlike the show, the victim of the melee could not rise from a pool of blood for a thunderous round of applause at curtain call.
For Cortez, never will there be a curtain call. The finality and tragedy of his senseless killing have ripped at the heart of his family and have scarred the soul of a city that has been making headway in controlling the scope of gang and group-inspired violence on its streets.
Let this sad South Side story serve as a renewed wake-up call for police, parents and other community role models in Youngstown to vow never again to let such a scene play out on our streets.
POLICE MERIT PRAISE
For its part, the city police department has acted speedily, professionally and responsibly toward that end. Under the leadership of investigator Lt. Doug Bobovnyik and chief of detectives Capt. Brad Blackburn, the city’s men and women in blue wasted no time in questioning dozens of participants and onlookers, gathering and reviewing cellphone videos of the melee and bringing charges against 13 people who they believe played critical roles in the horrific skirmish and pointless death.
According to police and prosecutors, 13 people have been charged in the disturbance in which trigger-happy hooligans unleashed a volley of at least 30 gunshots in a matter of seconds. Based on the videos, Desmond characterized the scene as “a shock to the senses.”
Some of that shock lies in the age and charges of those arrested. A number of 30- and 40-something adults have been charged with such heinous crimes as aggravated riot, felonious assault, involuntary manslaughter, obstructing justice, being a felon in possession of a firearm and other firearm specifications.
Instead of choosing to serve as responsible role models for the mostly younger combatants, some adults on the sidelines instead chose to play the fool and encourage additional mayhem.
Those choices, in part, led to the escalation of threats into violence and ultimately into death.
Guy Burney, coordinator of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, agrees that many youths and adults must learn to adopt a new set of choices that focus on responsibility, maturity and good neighborliness.
“Choices are long lasting and life changing,” said Burney. “So I am asking the community to make a choice. I am asking parents to make a choice. Choose, make choices that will last and be good for your family.”
Grown-ups in particular can start by choosing to reject the type of behavior that played out so viciously on Winona Drive two weeks ago and choose instead to project a strong voice of responsibility and act like mature adults. Then and only then can we hope to avert a sequel to last month’s South Side story of idiocy, irresponsibility and tragedy.