Murder Up the Street
March 19, 2009 § 10 Comments
by Larkin Vonalt
It is a beautiful spring afternoon. The leaves are not fully out yet, and I can see through the hedges and hear from their barking that there is a small boy teasing the dogs from the other side of the fence.
So I walk out the front door, and down the block to the cross street that marks the boundary of our large lot. I can hear the boy beating on the fence with a stick and yelling “Get away, stupid dogs” and “I’m gonna get you.” The dogs bark back at him. When I round the corner, he looks up, ready to flee.
“Oh, no,” I say softly. “Let’s talk for a minute.” He nods, yes he understands that holding out the stick to the dogs, retrievers at that, is like someone holding a candy bar in front of his nose. He learns the dog’s names. Does he live over there? No? Oh, is he from down there, with Renee? He says nothing, but his eyes give him away. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I won’t do it no more.” I kind of wish I had a candy bar to give him.
Walking back around the corner and up the block to the front porch, I see the lights of many police cruisers a few blocks further up the street, in the parking lot of the fried chicken place. “Another hold-up,” I think glumly. They seem to get robbed on a regular basis. For a while it was always the same guy, a former employee recognized through the holes in his ski mask. With more people living off credit cards, using bankcards, his take, even in this neighborhood, where fried chicken is very popular, is usually about sixty bucks. He actually made more money working there.
“Looks like Church’s is getting robbed again,” I say, going through the front door.
“What,” asks our son. “Let me see. How do you know?” We step out to the curb and I point out the commotion three blocks up. “Oh yeah,” he says. “Wow.” With that one word assessment, he returns to whatever he is endlessly doing on the computer.
Though we rarely watch the 5 o’clock news: the CBS affiliate anchors have been at those desks since 1970, we turn it on to see if there’s something on about the robbery. They have a story, but it wasn’t a robbery. Instead they are reporting a double homicide on Broadway Street between Riverview Avenue and Negley Place. “We’ll go now to Danielle Elias on the scene.”
“You think they would have sent the other one, whatshername, Brittny McGraw,” I say to my husband. Not because she’s black and in a predominantly black neighborhood, she would have had been more readily accepted on the scene, but because she’s competent. Danielle Elias, a striking young woman of Lebanese descent, couldn’t keep her plummy assignment at CNN because, well, she’s just not good at her job.
And there she is, up the street, wooden as Coppelia, leaning down to interview a strung-out woman in a car, the child in the passenger seat screaming throughout. There is no indication that they have anything to do with the scene other than simply passing through it. “There’s always something goin’ on in the Daytonview,” a young black woman tells Danielle.
Of course, that’s no more true here than anywhere else, and somewhat less so than some other places. Before we bought this house, three blocks from the scene of the murders, I requested and received, from the City of Dayton Police Department, a complete report of all crimes in this section of this district in the last three years. Nothing stood out, except the armed robberies at Church’s Fried Chicken. This is not to say there’s no crime, there’s crime everywhere, but nothing to support the reputation the neighborhood has.
But what this woman had to say—“always something goin’ on in the Daytonview” supports WHIO management’s misinformed opinion of this-side-of-the-river, so they go with it, even though it adds nothing to this story about a double homicide. A double homicide. We hadn’t even heard the sirens.
ABC/FOX must have quite an intrepid reporter, as they come away with a more vivid description of the scene:
When crews arrived at the Broadway address, they found two men badly wounded inside the home. One man had been shot in the head, the other in the torso. One victim was still talking and police were hoping to get some information about the crime, ‘The way he was talking was delirious, said Sgt. Bill Keller, ‘he kept saying let me up, let me up. We asked him what happened, what happened, he said let me up, let me up.’”
NBC doesn’t bother to cover the story at all.
By the eleven o’clock broadcast, the murders are no longer the top story: they’ve been replaced by the death of a (white) motorcyclist, who was hit by a little pickup truck after racing in and out of traffic up on Needmore. Today, the story of the double homicide is gone from all of the broadcast outlets, though all three continue to report on the accidental death of the motorcyclist. He has now been identified as Matthew N. Edwards, 33, of West Carrollton, a lifelong scofflaw with a list of traffic convictions as long as your arm. (The information about the DUI, concealed weapon and reckless driving arrests doesn’t come from the news media, but from a cursory look at the Montgomery County Public Records court databases.)
The reason we didn’t hear the sirens of the Dayton PD rushing to 515 N. Broadway is because they were already practically on the scene. Around three o’clock officers responded to reports of a fight and someone with a gun on Ferguson near Superior. I know where Ferguson near Superior is. It is in a park; the map calls it Dayton View Park, but people in the neighborhood just call it Broadway Park. It’s a long green rectangle with trees and a playground, some hoops, bounded by Broadway on one side, Ferguson on the other and Superior to the north. The south side peters out into a little overgrown section of alleyways. Church’s Fried Chicken is just down the street from the park, close enough that some days you can smell the chicken frying. The house where the murders occurred is next door to the fried chicken place.
Last November, I put two dogs outside for “last call.” They slipped under the fence and disappeared into the winter night. An hour later I found one of them trotting down Superior Avenue, the park behind her. An hour after that, Muscleman Sam, a homeless guy who’d done some yard work for us, flagged me down.
“Are you looking for your dog? I just seen her in Broadway Park up there.” When he said he’d seen her just a few minutes before, I hightailed it back to the park. I didn’t care that it was two in the morning, but she wasn’t there anymore. I kept going back, thinking she might return, posting flyers, canvassing the people who lived in and around the area. I left my sweater and a bowl of food at the edge of the park and checked back there several times a day every day for nine days until she was found, thin but safe, three and a half miles across town. I know the park well. I know it in the cold light of dawn, in the hush of the smallest hours, in the bright sunshine of the afternoon.
On this warm spring afternoon, officers are investigating an altercation at the park, and have taken into custody one man who seems to have been pistol-whipped. They are still there when dispatch alerts them to shots fired at 515 N. Broadway, about two blocks south. When they arrive at the shabby Victorian house they find two men inside, dying on the livingroom floor. Let me up, let me up.
The morning paper carries the story of the afternoon murders on the front page, below the fold. (Front and center is reserved for a story about ten (white) girl scouts who were killed in a car – train collision fifty years ago.) The Dayton Daily News identifies the victims as Dennis Glover, 27 and Gerald Brown, 39; not exactly the profile for gang-bangers killing each other. In fact, Gerald L. Brown, born October 14, 1969; has had a ticket or two – a broken taillight, an expired tag. That kind of traffic stop. Dennis Glover’s one serious brush with the law was an attempt to buy crack in 2005, for which he got probation.
Kyle Nagle, a staff writer with the Dayton Daily News, interviewed the girlfriend of one of the victims, reporting that she had been on the phone with Dennis Glover just before he was shot. She told Nagle that she heard an argument in the background, but that the call ended before any shooting began.
“Tawana James said Glover was a homebody who liked to cook, work on their house on North Paul Laurence Dunbar Street and watch games and movies with her, her four kids and her two sisters,” Nagle wrote. “James said she was on the phone with Glover while he was at the North Broadway Street house but he wasn’t involved in the argument. James said she didn’t know what the argument was about or who was fighting. ‘He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ she said. ‘He was always trying to be there to help somebody. He tried to be a protector.’”
Commendable are Nagle’s earnest efforts to portray the victims sympathetically, quoting a neighbor who describes Gerald Brown as “a quiet person who got along with everyone” and enjoyed talking about his dogs, the young reporter cannot resist the urge to fulfill the stereotype, to note that Gerald Brown’s dogs were “pit bulls.” He cannot resist condemning the neighborhood, in a paragraph that should have been blue-lined by his editor.
“The neighborhood has seen its share of violence. The two-story white house is across the street from a barbershop where a man was shot in the left shoulder in July. That man’s injury was not life-threatening, according to a police report. Neighbors said a nearby market, on the northeast corner of North Broadway Street and Riverview Avenue, has been the site of multiple robberies.”
As if that’s not true about Dayton’s east side as well. As if that’s not true in Riverside, or Harrison Township. As if that made the deaths of these two men something to be expected.
Law enforcement is looking for two black men in their twenties. There were witnesses to the shooting, but they have fled. You can hardly blame them.
Less than twenty-four hours after the deaths, the crime scene tape is down, blowing from one fence post where it still is tied. A bicycle lies across the steps leading up to the door. Lawn chairs go on rusting in the yard. There is nothing to suggest that two men met a violent end there yesterday. No flowers left on the steps, no teddy bears, no votives flickering. Just the wind whispering “Let me up, let me up.”