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Silence gives gunslingers more ammo

| Thursday, Aug. 26, 2004

What happened on Wilson Avenue took nerve. Somebody, or more likely somebodies, busted off 30 rounds in a Monday afternoon shootout in this struggling Perry Hilltop neighborhood.

They had the nerve to fire away in broad daylight, when rush-hour traffic was just starting and commuters, kids and families filled the sidewalks. Four people, including a pregnant woman, were hit in the crossfire, which locals say lasted for two or three minutes.

That's a long time for lead to fly in a crowded city neighborhood.

No one saw a thing.

Not a soul.

Not surprising.

Fear and apathy at work again.

No one would talk to me about what he might have seen, and police say no one has stepped forward to offer information on the shooters. They must be feeling pretty satisfied with themselves right now. They managed to turn a part of the North Side into the OK Corral and get away with it.

Unless somebody steps forward to drop a dime on these creeps, they are likely to figure it's cool to do it again.

These kinds of incidents and the weird silence that follows can be the final nail in a neighborhood's coffin.

Janet Gunter, who lives just around the corner from the shooting site, says the recent problems on Wilson Avenue have many of her friends in the area thinking about moving. Gunter, a member of the Perry Hilltop Citizens Council, moved to the area in 1986. At the time, most of this hilly neighborhood was like Wilson Avenue is today: Young thugs and drug dealers owned the street corners.

As a result, few working people would buy homes and invest their money in renovating vacant 19th century homes.

Gunter and several dozen others, however, moved in and stuck it out through gangs, drug lords and occasional shootings.

"It makes me very sad because I love my neighborhood and my neighbors, and I usually feel safe here. But I've talked to a lot of people who are fed up with what's going on. I mean, would you want to live on Wilson Avenue when people can fire 30 shots in broad daylight?" she said in frustration.

Gunter chalks up the recent surge in violence to the usual causes -- drugs, machismo and unemployment. Add to that a population too intimidated or indifferent to help the authorities identify the shooters, and there's little wonder hard-working folks are eager to get out.

Here's hoping it won't come to that. For a few trigger-happy thugs to ruin decades of investment in a community that sorely needs it would be a crime, nearly as big a crime as what went down on Monday.

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