Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cleveland, a Fractured City, an Apt Place for GOP Convention

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cleveland, a Fractured City, an Apt Place for GOP Convention

Article excerpt

CLEVELAND * Donald Trump's effort to unite a splintered Republican Party around his candidacy is about to take center stage in a city that is itself deeply fractured.

Once an industrial powerhouse, Cleveland is one of the poorest and most segregated big cities in America. Two out of five people live below the poverty line, second only to Detroit. Infant mortality rates in its bleakest neighborhoods are worse than in some Third World countries.

The city's mostly blighted east side is almost entirely black, the slightly more prosperous west side more mixed. And there's deep distrust between the black community and police, in part because of police shootings such as the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and a U.S. Justice Department report that found a pattern of excessive force and civil rights violations by the department.

Yet there are also islands of prosperity, created in part by a wave of college-educated young people moving into downtown neighborhoods, a trend that has reshaped the city's image and helped attract the Republican National Convention, which will be held Monday through Thursday.

"It's a city full of neighborhoods and a city full of divides," said John Grabowski, a local historian.

'BE TOUGH'

This is the place that in the 1970s - when the city was in default and a quarter of its population was moving out - embraced the slogan "Cleveland: You Gotta Be Tough."

Tough is a good way to describe Cleveland's east side, where blacks from the South filled industrial jobs and settled during and after World War II. It's now marked by high crime and abandoned factories. Over half the children live in poverty.

Chris Brown, 41, a black man and lifelong Clevelander, admits he was part of the problem in his younger days.

"I was a thug, almost. On a highway going nowhere fast," he said.

Caught selling drugs, he went to prison for three years. Afterward, getting by was a struggle until he started working at a commercial laundry four years ago.

Funded by civic leaders, foundations and local institutions, the laundry is part of a wider mission to stabilize east side neighborhoods by creating jobs. Built inside a former torpedo factory, it employs about 40 people, most of whom have done time in prison, and operates as a worker-owned cooperative. The employees can use their wages to buy a piece of the company and get a split of the profits.

Brown took advantage of its loan program to buy his first house on the east side, where 1 in 5 homes is vacant. "Where we come from, there ain't many guys like that," Brown said.

Those behind the cooperative, which also operates a greenhouse and a renewable-energy business, aren't selling it as a solution to pervasive unemployment. But it's a bright spot in an area desperately needing something positive, said plant manager Claudia Oates. …

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