YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Our in-depth segment this week is with WKBN 27 First News digital reporter Joe Gorman. WKBN Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford is speaking with Gorman about covering crime in the Valley.
Gorman has covered Youngstown police and police in general for over 20 years. He worked 14 years at the Tribune Chronicle and six years for The Vindicator before coming to WKBN.
Over the past several weeks, Crawford has been talking to community leaders about crime, violence and trauma, parts of the story that ends up as headlines.
“I’ve always been interested in why the South Side of Youngstown has been the most violent part of town. It’s been at least 30 years. It always has the most homicides, usually the most shootings. I was wondering why?” Gorman explained.
He said he could guess what the answer would be. He started to access Census records and looked at the breakdown of poverty and the different Census tracts on the South Side and how it relates to crime.
“There is definitely a connection there. When we talk about the South Side, we’re talking about not the whole South Side. There are roughly eight Census tracts that are responsible for the majority of violence in the city,” Gorman said. “For a rough idea of the area, it would probably be Glenwood Avenue east towards maybe Gibson or Zedekar.”
Looking at the Census data going back to 1970, Gorman said while the population went down, unemployment and poverty went up, and when those things happened, the violence also started happening more frequently.
Crawford said that while she was part of Urban Studies, the group produced a document called The State of the City. It was done based on Census tracts. She said some of the information has not changed but Gorman points to what has.
“Well, we don’t have the amount of violence in the millennium that we had in the 90s, which was quite off the charts. And we’ll probably never see that again. But the areas in the 90s that were affected by violence are still that way,” Gorman said. “But what I noticed, though, in starting in the middle of the first decade of the millennium, is it started to go more east to Market Street. Currently, it’s more spread out, but those areas in the lower part of the South Side, west of Market Street, around the Oak Hill area, they’re still pretty bad.”
Gorman points to criminologists who have said there is a link between poverty and violence.
“In the last couple of years, there’s been a little bit of a shift in that to where the question is: Does violence drive poverty? But there’s no question that they’re related. The poor Census tract in the city is also the most violent census tract,” Gorman said. Basically, it’s bounded by East Indianola and East Midlothian and Market Street and South Avenue.”
That tract has had 42 homicides since 2001. That’s the most of any tract in the city. The poverty rate is 53.2% –the highest in the city.
“As someone who’s been doing this for a long time, there are several streets in that tract that have had a lot of violence,” Gorman said.
Gorman points to other areas such as Helton East, Auburndale East, Avondale and Hilton, especially, that have had 8 or 10 homicides within the last 15 years.
“And what’s interesting about the data, though, from that is it didn’t really start to pick up violence-wise until the middle of the 2000s. Not that it was quiet in the 90s, but there wasn’t a lot of violence there. There were maybe four or five homicides for a whole decade, and that was Youngstown’s most violent decade.”
Gorman points to several factors that could have influenced the numbers. Blight, population loss, poverty, and elderly on fixed incomes.
“If they can’t leave their neighborhood, people are stuck there and it just leads to more violence,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of drug crime there, and that drug crime all in Youngstown is one of the main drivers of violence.”
Gorman said police have reported problems with rental properties on the South Side for years.
“Those people are very poor or more transitory. They don’t have roots, and if something happens, they’re more likely to leave. And if they leave, a lot of times the landlords just don’t keep it up, so that feeds on itself. And if you’re stuck there, it’s not a good cycle to be in.”
A surge of violence erupted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gorman notes. It happened across the country and Youngstown was no different.
“We went from 58 shooting one year to 98 the next, then 139. Then, one of the things I saw as I went through the data was some areas on the South Side where there was a lot of violence in the 90s that sort of went away, but during the pandemic, it came back. And some of that is not much related to poverty.”
Gorman said it could be social media feuds, for example. A shooting happened on Kist Place in late 2020 when some people put on Facebook live where they were hanging out and someone who didn’t like them saw the Facebook live and went down there and shot up the house.
“It shows how our violence has been more fluid,” Gorman said. Social media has a lot to do with that during the pandemic and also a lot of Youngstown’s violence is retaliatory. So, we’ll have times of violence where one person will get shot and then somebody will want payback.”
Seeing the violence coming back could be an anomaly or it could be a trend.
“Because a lot of these places where the violence left the people who stayed the neighborhoods are pretty stable, so it’s kind of surprising that it would come back,” Gorman said.