YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The most violent side of Youngstown and the poorest part of the city are not the same place.
The South Side of Youngstown has traditionally been the most violent part of town. Since 2000, it has seen 269 homicides, far more than the East Side, which is second with 145.
And while the South Side has a poverty rate of 33.6 percent, far above the national average of 11.4 percent, the East Side has the highest poverty rate of the four sides of Youngstown at 43.6 percent.
More recently, from 2018 until today, the South Side has seen 244 shootings, 66 of them fatal. In the same time span, the East Side has seen 71 shootings, 12 of them fatal.
That there is a link between poverty and violence is acknowledged by almost all criminologists, although in recent years, the topic has changed somewhat between poverty driving violence versus violence driving poverty.
But looking at the two sides of town, there are some glaring differences.
For one is the population. With 21,699 residents, the South Side’s population is slightly double the East Side’s population of 10,556.
The South Side is also densely populated, while the East Side is spread out and more rural by far than any other side of town.
That also affects police department staffing. The South Side has four beat cars and sometimes five if the police department has the staffing on hand. The majority of the department’s special units, such as the Neighborhood Response Unit, spend most of their time on the South Side. The East Side has just two cars because of the population, but they have to cover a wider geographic area.
WKBN has been exploring why the South Side of town is traditionally the most violent, using police reports, census statistics, interviews and other means to examine the conditions in that part of town and what may be contributing to the violence. The violence is roughly concentrated in an area between Glenwood Avenue and Zedaker Street and encompasses eight of the South Side’s 13 census tracts.
In Part 1, we learned how the South Side grew its population yet penned in a large number of its Black residents, who, because of redlining policies often were stuck in the same neighborhoods. Because they often worked low-paying jobs in the city’s mills, it would have been hard for them to move even if they weren’t restricted. That led to a group of people who were not well prepared economically when the city collapsed in the wake of the mill closings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Residents who were able to moved out of the city while a large portion of the Black population stayed in their neighborhoods. In some cases, they were able to move to areas on the South Side where people moved out, but for the most part, they stayed where they were.
In Youngstown, it was those neighborhoods, primarily on the lower South Side, which bore the brunt of the violence that engulfed the city in the 1990s, when 492 people, an average of 49.2 per year, were murdered.
In 1990, Youngstown had 19 homicides. In 1991, Youngstown had 59 homicides. Three times during the decade the city set a record for homicides — and broke it.
The South Side had 206 homicides that decade, far more than the North Side, which had the second most at 140.
In the 90s, most of the violence on the South Side was west of Market Street, where the poverty and unemployment rates were higher. In the 90s, the four census tracts that at the time made up the portion of the lower South Side that stretches from Glenwood Avenue to Market Street and West Warren Avenue to Marshal Street were some of the poorest in the city — and they also saw the most violence.
In that lower South Side area, unemployment and poverty rates were already above the city’s average beginning in 1970. In 1980, after the mills closed, they skyrocketed for the most part, with some of those areas seeing poverty rates of 50 percent and unemployment over 34 percent.
That area saw a total of 78 homicides, the majority of the 130 homicides west of Market Street. One area, census tract 8021, which is made up of just two blocks, saw 36 homicides in the 90s. In 1970, unemployment was already high there at 18.9 percent, and it reached 34.5 percent in 1990, with a poverty rate of 33.9 percent.
East of Market Street, there was less violence, because the neighborhoods were more stable, and except for the area around South High School, those areas were majority white as well. The area around South High — census tract 8017 — had a larger Black population than other areas east of Market Street and also had higher poverty and unemployment rates at 38.7 percent and 23.9 percent, respectively, in 1990. For the decade, the area had 16 homicides, the most of any area east of Market Street.
But when the 90s ended, that began to change. The South Side, like other areas of the city, was bleeding population and the eight tracts with the majority of the violence was no exception, yet it was mostly white people moving out and poorer, Black people either taking their place or staying because they couldn’t afford to leave or didn’t want to.
And while the violence ebbed when the 90s ended — to keep up that level of killing in a place like Youngstown would be almost impossible — it was still high.
And it began to hit more and more east of Market Street, where poverty and unemployment rates began rising far greater than they did in the 90s. In tract 8016 — bounded by East Midlothian Boulevard and East Indianola Avenue and Market Street and South Avenue — unemployment was at 7.5 percent in 1990, then went up to 14.2 percent in 2000, 31 percent in 2010, and today, it is at 15.9 percent with a 53.6 poverty level.
The tract is the poorest in Youngstown and also the most violent — since 2001, it has seen 42 homicides, the most in the city, including five in 2021 and four in 2020.
Since 2001, the four tracts east of Market Street have seen 103 homicides. The four tracts west of Market Street have seen 101 homicides, where poverty and unemployment still remain high.
Youngstown police Capt. Rod Foley, who served as chief at one point and twice as Chief of Detectives, said the area west of Market Street, especially the lower part of it, has stabilized a bit because it is made up of older people who weathered the carnage of the 90s. He said they largely keep up their homes and don’t want any trouble. Bad people, for the most part, have either been killed, sent to prison, or got out altogether, Foley said.
Foley said, however, he can tell when the neighborhood might swing back, because of drug activity, which fuels a lot of the city’s violence. Foley said when he sees people who are more at home in the suburbs in some of the city’s neighborhoods that have a reputation for violence, past or present, they are usually there looking for drugs.
Guy Burney, of Youngstown’s Community Initiative To Reduce Violence (CIRV), said that crime moves around, but he did say that the South Side is one of the city’s “hot spots.”
A person’s environment has a lot to do with whether or not they will engage in crime and violence, Burney said. He said there are places that have extreme poverty but are not plagued with violence.
“There’s all kinds of pieces that contribute to violence,” Burney said.
Rick Rogers, an associate professor of criminal justice at Youngstown State University, also said that poverty does not necessarily equate to crime, but he said what it does do is lead to more opportunities for people to commit crime.
Rogers said someone who is poor or who has a lack of education does not have a lot of options for doing things. For example, he said, they come home from school and are often by themselves, which tends to lead to boredom or hanging out with the wrong people.
People also don’t pay attention to them, Rogers said, especially if a single parent is working or another parent is in jail, so it is easy for them to do things because they are not being watched.
“It’s the life cycle of crime,” Rogers said.
Rogers said poor neighborhoods are also harder on people just getting out of prison. Often, with no money, they go back to the neighborhoods they lived in before they were incarcerated. Because they have done time, it is harder for them to find a good-paying job, and trying to find a way to make a decent living leads a lot of them back to crime.
Airik Talbott of Campbell can probably attest to that. He had already served eight years in prison for robbery when he was arrested in March 2019 with a gun. He was charged with a federal firearms offense, where sentences are often harsher and an early release is hard to come by.
At his sentencing hearing before U.S. Judge Benita Y. Pearson in November of that year, Talbott, now 33, told Judge Pearson that the reason he had a gun is that his neighborhood is not safe. When asked why he did not leave, Talbott said he knew no other place to go to after he was released from prison on his robbery charge.
Talbott said because people know he was in prison, he needs a gun for protection.
“A casual walk to the store could lead to anything,” he said at his sentencing hearing.
Judge Pearson advised him to move before sentencing him to 37 months, which was below what prosecutors were seeking.
Rogers also throws in transportation. Somebody who doesn’t have a lot of money probably doesn’t have a car and is reliant on the bus to get back and forth to work. What happens if you miss the bus and are late to work, he asked. Those people need reliable public transportation so they can make a living.
“There are just a lot of things that are stacked against people when they live in these neighborhoods,” Rogers said.
But some scholars agree with Burney that high poverty doesn’t necessarily mean that crime follows. Writing for the City Journal in May, Barry Latzer, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the City University of New York, pointed to a 2020 Columbia University study of poverty in New York City that showed that 23 percent of the city’s Asian population was below the poverty line, yet their arrest rates for violent crimes are far less than any of the city’s other major social groups.
Latzer argues that motives for violent crime are often not connected to economics, like feuds, grudges or domestic crimes. He said that historically, violent crime does not rise during an economic depression or other kinds of economic downturn.
Others, however, disagree. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in its summer 2016 Evidence Matters report, said that neighborhoods that experience high rates of poverty also see high rates of violence. However, according to the report, violent crime rates are typically higher in “hot spots,” or clusters of neighborhoods that see a disproportionate amount of violence.
The Journal of Public Economics went a step further. In its May 2021 edition, researchers said they found a link between heat and crime. According to their study, data culled from the Los Angeles Police Department showed that crime increased by 1.72 percent on days when the temperature was 75 degrees or higher.
The study said that neighborhoods afflicted by high poverty saw the largest increase in crime on hot days, and costs to fight that crime were five times higher than in more affluent areas.
The violence was far less this summer than in 2020, when violence skyrocketed, or in 2021. For the warm weather months this year, May through August, the city has seen 29 total shootings, eight of them fatal. Twenty of the shootings and five of the homicides have been on the South Side.
In 2021, the city saw 70 shootings during the same months, 16 of them fatal. Of those, 36, including 10 homicides, were on the South Side.
In 2020, the city had 36 shootings for those months, including five homicides, with 18 of those shootings and three homicides on the South Side.
So what has worked this year so far? Burney said it is increased personal contact and mentorship with people who are at risk for either committing or being victims of violence.
“We know what works,” Burney said. “We have to remind people that violence is still a choice. It’s a choice people make, but it’s a choice based on the options they might have available at the time. We have to realize as a community our choices affect other people.”
One of the keys, Burney said, is reaching people while they are young and not as entrenched in their ideals.
“We have to make sure they have what they need and also hold them accountable,” Burney said. “This doesn’t stop by itself. It has to be a concerted effort by everyone to reduce the violence.”
Up next: How childhood trauma leads to violence