The day after a man was chased and gunned down in the Miller Park neighborhood, residents returned to an eerie, practiced normalcy.
Cicadas hummed. Schoolchildren squealed at their first post-summer recess. Heavy trucks zoomed by on North 30th Street.
And a car salesman on his day off relaxed on his front porch, not about to let another homicide drive him indoors. A grandmother walked her 4-year-old grandson down a quiet block. A North High junior, on his final day of summer vacation, painstakingly washed his minivan.
The three live in separate parts of an area north of Mr. C's, east of Metro's Fort Omaha campus and south of Miller Park, which itself has been the regular site of gun-related homicides.
All share a grudging acceptance that violence, in its horror and suddenness, is a part of life here. But the degree to which it shapes their lives depends on their experiences.
Larry Davis is a 50-year-old car salesman who grew up a few houses from the home he lives in now on Laurel Avenue, east of 30th Street on what he called “the peaceful strip.”
Sitting on his front porch, he pointed east of 28th Avenue and said: “It's Vietnam around this block.”
Last summer he was on his porch when a gunbattle started a half-block away. He raced inside and hit the floor.
“These young guys with these guns,” Davis said, “they just don't have a value for life.”
But this is home, and he refuses to be scared out of his neighborhood.
“We're not going to let that type of thing run us out of here,” he said of Sunday's homicide a block away.
Then there's Pamela Spencer, who at Thanksgiving was a mother of six and at Christmas was a mother of five. Her 20-year-old son, Bryant Morgan, was shot and killed after his shift ended as a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Spencer said she was “blessed” because at least in her son's case, a suspect was arrested, convicted and is awaiting his sentencing.
Spencer works overnights at the McDonald's in Florence because she can get more hours. And it allows her to be home during the day to keep watch and protect her surviving sons, who either work or are in school. Their ages are: 24, 22, 19, 17 and 13.
“There's so many youths around here just dying,” said Spencer. “So many youths, they don't have a chance.”
Spencer was hoping Omaha would give her sons that chance when she moved here five years ago to flee Chicago's poverty and violence. She rents a home near 25th Avenue and Fort Street and wishes she could move, given that Omaha's violence “is in one side of town.”
This year, 20 of Omaha's 24 homicides occurred north of Dodge Street; 17 of the 20 were east of Fontenelle Boulevard or 45th Street. Of those, two were in the Miller Park area.
Her family has had to adapt. They don't walk on “certain blocks.” Her young grandchildren are allowed to play outdoors — “in my yard.”
“But I don't trust the neighborhood,” she said. “Bullets. They don't have no name.”
That's exactly how Denise Berry feels as she watches son Tradell wash the green minivan he started driving to North High on Tuesday. Tradell is tall and slender, with short hair, black-framed glasses and a belt. His pants don't sag in the prison-cum-fashion-statement that drives parents and educators crazy.
They live in a house Berry owns — a distinction she notes with some pride but more reservation on a stretch of North 27th Avenue that has tipped heavily to rental housing.
She looks up and down the long street to count owner-occupied houses.
“That gold one. That brick one. These two, that blue one. But almost every other house on this block, they are rentals,” she says. “So you see, we have a problem because everyone is always in and out.”
Like Spencer, Berry is the mother of only sons: a 22-year-old factory worker trying to get on with the Omaha Fire Department, a 12-year-old and Tradell.
Their safety is constantly on her mind.
She and Tradell say the neighborhood has actually improved. Several years ago, she said, gang members seemed to rule the area with impunity.
“You never knew what was going to happen,” she said. “It was horrible. They would block the streets with bricks. Running through your yard with sawed-off shotguns. The kids couldn't play with each other. You were on guard all the time.”
The streets are quieter, this weekend's killing of 29-year-old Damion Davis notwithstanding, she said.
But she only has to look at the indentation in her metal porch siding to recall how close the danger looms. During one late-night shooting three houses away, an errant bullet struck two houses before planting itself right next to her wicker chair. Where, for some providential reason, she hadn't sat as she usually does.
A police officer told her she would have been struck.
Gone was the wicker chair. Done were her nights on watch on that enclosed porch.
“I don't sit out here,” she said. “I never sit out here. That took my enjoyment away.”
Tradell took his time sudsing up the minivan Monday and rinsing it off. He seemed to shrug off the dangers that lurked, saying he keeps to himself and does the “walk-away” when trouble approaches him.
“Living down here has its perks,” said Tradell, who has friends in the neighborhood. “It's fun sometimes. It's sometimes like, ‘Whoa. That was a really close call.'”
Contact the writer:
Contact the writer: 402-444-1136, email@example.com