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Friday, July 18, 2008

Out of Ideas, Out of Hope

Johnny Hughes was found not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday. The streets of Richmond are still unsafe and Susanne Thompson is still dead. The Harvey's are celebrated by websites and magazine covers and still mourned, as they should be. Susanne did not belong to the right demographic, but she was emblematic of what is wrong in this city. A helpless person (substitute mother, father, wife or child, depending on their age and condition) walking down Broad Street on a bright clear Saturday morning was brutally murdered in a momentary act of rage for her costume jewelry and possible contents of her handbag. Had she dressed down that day, (which she never did) she would have been passed by and continued her daily walks with her dog Angie. She was mourned and the public was shocked, but time has passed, rage has lessened and except for the vague feeling of paranoia left behind, few remember. The Times Dispatch reported, Style may mention it, or may not. At the time, I did not find a word about it in our trendy weekly. I tried to correct that, by drawing attention to the problem of mentally ill and criminal homeless wandering our neighborhoods and downtown. I took the heat that I expected too, but the focus was never on the victims, our city and the cycle of poverty that comes from the fear of crime, only on the homeless.

Privately I hear "ugly" and politically incorrect comments about vagrancy from honorable and intelligent people, but publicly hardly anyone will speak out. I was attacked online and in both newspapers, which I welcomed. I wanted to stir up as much trouble as I could. I had some hopes that changes could be made, would be made. Crime in my neighborhood is rather low for one reason. People are afraid to walk the streets. When the streets are empty, business don't open, and the sidewalks roll up at night.

There are exceptions: First Fridays, between 7 and 11, the National, the Coliseum on selected night and a few other, but take it from someone who lives there, very few downtowners venture out at night other than in a car or a group. A lone person walking down Grace or Broad looks and feels like a target or a customer. The average person won't even bother and God help the tourist or conventioneer.

I've often made a verbal target of Mayor Wilder. I've never seen him on the streets without his entourage, but he once made a comment about the Main Public Library looking like a flop house for which he received a lot of flack, but not from me. Here's a man with the courage and the clout to make a difference, but beyond a few comments and photo opportunities, he has put his energy elsewhere, like midnight evictions of the school board.

Change can come, but it will be slow, silent and maybe too late to make a real difference. I still see bits of hope, a new store here, some new residents there, but downtown is far from the vibrant, pleasant place is should be. People vote loudest with their feet. They are not going to put themselves and their families in danger, real or perceived. When our leaders care enough to make the real changes necessary to bring them back, that's when downtown can start towards a new and better future.

For those who wondered, Angie the dog is safe and cared for by the residents of Heartfields, Susanne's former home. Stop by for a visit in her honor, maybe take a resident for a walk. There's safety in numbers.

Susanne Stories

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