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Living with violence, an Oklahoma City story

by Juliana Keeping Published: April 28, 2013

Hello, readers. I’ve returned.

My colleagues and I are continuing to track trends in Oklahoma City homicides. It has been a busy (total understatement) few weeks for breaking news, and I finally grabbed a moment tonight to start blogging again.

Along those lines, one of my first tasks was to look into homicides in Oklahoma City in the first quarter of 2013.

Bill Citty
Bill Citty

I started by arranging an interview with Oklahoma City police Chief Bill Citty. He relayed that while homicides are lower in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 2012, violent assaults have been trending upward for the last 10 to 15 years. Police are deploying more of their stretched resources to areas of Oklahoma City where violent assaults are high by using overtime programs, he said. Homicides – the most extreme form of assault – tend to occur in areas where violent fighting happens.

I took that nugget of info – and two photographers – with me to Willow Cliff apartments, a complex in northwest Oklahoma City that has experienced its fair share of violent crime this year, including the unsolved slaying of a 27-year-old woman found dead in a burning car.

The photographers and I rolled around the sprawling complex, which is flanked by ponds that draw ducks, geese and cranes. I stopped and talked to 11 people. The first eight declined to be interviewed. Most of them walked away, shaking their heads, when I told them who I was.

As we were pulling out of the complex, a bunch of squad cars ripped into the place and we turned around.

A fight broke out right in front of us.

About a dozen young people were yelling. The group pulsed with energy, a back-and-forth that looked like it was about to explode. Cops jumped out of their cars, people scattered and one youth got thrown into the back of a squad car.

Some of the young people in the mix had just declined to be interviewed.

The action drew residents out of their homes. Two men, neighbors, shaking their heads, told me that the complex has gone down hill in the last few years, and that “The drama is in the back,” meaning the back of the complex. One man worked for the city, the other was in the Army. They were upset that this fight happened in the front, which people living at Willow Cliff feel is safer. Neither of them wanted to be named in an article.

We were about to leave when I had the photographers turn back. A man paced back and forth near the action, looking concerned. He looked like he cared. I got out and introduced myself.

He wasn’t so sure about me at first.

I’m not in the business of making people talk to me, I explained. We kept walking and talking. I motioned for the photographers to come on over.

“I don’t have to live with the consequences, if there are any, and I don’t know if there are. You do,” I said.

I pointed out the positives – if no one ever speaks out, nothing changes – but cautioned him to weigh his options.

He decided, on his own, to talk. We stood outside. It was close to freezing that day, and windy. He told me that he fishes in the ponds, catching bass and crappie. Children play soccer in the near by park and residents like the walking paths there. The sounds from Putnam City High School marching band float over homes some evenings. He lives by his mother’s place, and won’t leave his mother because she won’t leave. In her little apartment, family gathers – as many as 40 or 50 family members at a time. They hold hands and count heads, then they pray. She’s lived there for about a dozen years and this is her home. They’ve had so many happy times in that apartment.

I named him in the story but for this blog I’ll just call him Bennie. He’s a retired Army veteran who now works in manufacturing.

Here’s what he had to say about recent violence:

A lot of the things we took for granted — the peace, the quiet in the evening. It’s gone. It’s gone now.

Bennie lives around violence and it disappoints him that young people lack respect for each other, for anyone. Parents are absent and so, too, are values in their children, it seems to him. He said young people have fallen away from the church. While he didn’t want to speak on the topic of religion, he said,

“I am a Christian, amen, and thank you Jesus.”

Besides the woman found dead in the burning car, there has recently been a stand-off and an incident in which a man broke a police officer’s leg as that officer tried to arrest him. Last year, police shot a man after they responded to a call. Bennie lives by the dead man’s parents.

As for the recent fight that drew Bennie and his neighbors outside – police didn’t even bother to make a report.

It was just another day in Bennie’s neighborhood.

This is my story.

Below is Bennie, an Oklahoma City man and an Army vet who lives around violence.

Bennie. Edited in Instagram,
Bennie. Edited in Instagram,
by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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