Wellington Heights: Perception & Reality From Neighborhood Residents

By Chris Earl, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - At 6 p.m. on a Wednesday at Cedar Rapids' Redmond Park on 3rd Avenue SE in the Wellington Heights neighborhood, a handful of little kids leave the playground equipment behind.

This is a gorgeous night - full of sunshine and no unbearable heat. It's also one that, in the hours ahead, we pass by hundreds of people -- many of them friendly, a few silent and very suspicious of what we're doing here.

More than once we heard, "what happened?", their way of reminding us that reporters and camera crews often only show up after the police. We walked down 15th Street SE, looking for people to talk about the neighborhood's issues -- seven homicides in Wellington Heights since 2008 -- the latest the stabbing death of Clifton West, found in an alley two months ago.

One mother of three, who asked not to speak on camera, told us about her struggles keeping a job and that she feels stuck living in the neighborhood. She says there are good people in Wellington Heights but there simply aren't enough jobs for prosperity.

On another street, three mothers sat on a front porch watching the cars drive by. With kids of all ages popping in and out of the house, they each talked about the neighborhood's troubles and how teenagers would break into fights. One said she welcomes the heightened police presence, while another mother said they are in the neighborhood too much.

Around a corner, we met Ryan Burrows, 22, who lived in Detroit until moving here 9 years ago.

"I think it's seen a lot more down here because of the police presence down here," said Burrows. "You'll find just as many drug users on the other sides of town but we have the stigma here of people coming here to this neighborhood to find them. It's a lower income neighborhood. It's what kind of happens."

Asked whether he felt 'stuck' living here, Burrows said he did.

"I feel stuck here," said Burrows. "I'm living literally paycheck to paycheck. One big bill could break my budget for the week and determine whether eat food that week or pay the mortgage. It's heartbreaking because everyone has that same sense of hopelessness around here and you do feel kind of stuck."

Subrine Northern was hauling in her groceries as three grandchildren welcomed her home. She told us she has lived in Wellington Heights for 13 years and she shared her concerns.

"Gangs and the fighting and the violence," said Northern. "There's a lot more violence here now. I worry about the break-ins, too. My main concern is about the violence because I have grandkids who do be hanging out in this neighborhood and I worry about them getting in fights and stuff."

Northern said she tries to keep her grandchildren, ages 11, 10 and 4, safe but they do socialize.

"I worry about them because the kids aren't just fighting head up now," said Northern. "They're fighting with knives and guns and stuff and that's what I worry about – getting a phone call that one of them got hurt. We try and keep them home at night but we can't always do that. That's my main concern – it's the gangs."

Yet Northern did point out something many others we talked with on this Wednesday night said. The problems aren't limited to just this one part of Cedar Rapids.

"It's not just this neighborhood either, though," said Northern. "It's getting all around Cedar Rapids. It's getting on the southwest side and over at Taylor School, they start hanging out over there. It was at Johnson School but now it's over at Taylor School where they hang out at."

Derrick Knight said he moved to Cedar Rapids six months ago from Chicago. He has three young children and said he does not worry about his safety as much as about crime.

"Yes, a lot of people are hanging out but that's it," said Knight. "They're just trying to live their lives. You guys say 'drugs' but that's all over the city. In this general area, it's more of a crime thing."

A police cruiser drove by as we spoke with Knight, leading to a natural question about the role of police in the neighborhood.

"They look at us like we animals when we just living our life," said Knight. "Yeah, we got certain things that we do just living our life."

As the sun edged closer to the horizon, we met another young man who is new to the city. Anthony Curd, 19, moved to Cedar Rapids from Alabama about a year ago in a job transfer.

"It's pretty bad up here," Curd said when asked about crime. "People, from little kids stealing bikes to just fighting each other on the street all the time. Definitely at night. Parties, parties, enough is enough."

We asked Curd about drugs in Wellington Heights and the ease of obtaining them.

"A lot of drug dealing, lots of it," said Curd. "Everything. You name it. It's out here. Not only does it come from Chicago, it comes from Colorado. Iowa is the center point for everything right now and it combines in one."

Statistics from the Cedar Rapids Police Department for the first six months of 2012 and 2013 reveal a neighborhood where arrests are up but overall police calls are down.

From January 1 to July 1:
Overall Police Calls :
City-Wide 2012 (2013): 74,554 (77,431)
Cedar Hills: 4,193 (2,651)
Wellington Heights: 3,875 (3,591)
Mound View: 3,469 (2,565)
Taylor: 2,900 (2,613)
Northwest Area: 2,455 (2,183)
Oakhill/Jackson: 2,900 (2,613)
Uptown: 1,787 (2,203)

Wellington Heights, in the first six months of 2013, does have the highest number of police calls in 14 city neighborhoods for:
Assault - 50 calls
Domestic Abuse - 27
DWLUS - 24
Possession of a Controlled Substance - 26
Arrests - 316

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