Excursion 15, Part 3 (Sins of a City)

In which our intrepid hero explores a town under shadow…

One of the more prominent rust belt towns along the Ohio River is Steubenville.  Most Americans had never heard of this town until 2012.  That year, a horrifying news story emerged from Steubenville.  A group of high school students, including members of Steubenville High School’s vaunted football team, sexually assaulted a teenaged girl at a party.   Steubenville adults were nowhere to be seen, it seems, as groups of students drank heavily at various parties around town.  The victim, already drunk, left one party to go to another, accompanied by a handful of football players.  There she drank even more and became incapacitated.  After a while, the group left the party to go to a third, and then to someone’s home.  In the car, one of the assailants removed the victim’s shirt and sexually assaulted her, while others took pictures of the assault.  At the house, the assailants took off the rest of her clothes, then two of them sexually assaulted her again.  Once again, the whole incident was caught in pictures.

What followed was as shameful as the initial assault.

[Remember that you can click on each image below to see a larger, better image]

Afterwards, people present at the rape posted pictures and comments about the incident to social networkng sites.  Some people cast blame on the victim, because the incident threatened the reputation of the football team.   This increased after police arrested two football players and charged them with rape.  However, others claimed that the defendants were given special treatment because of their status as football players.   The police themselves were frustrated that witnesses were not coming forward.  Meanwhile, the high school football coach refused to discipline players who were at the party and later posted photographs.  The principal and the superintendent of schools adopted hands-off approaches.  The hacker group Anonymous, angry that so little had been done in the case, eventually posted a video of some of the students joking about the rape.

In March 2013, the two football players, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, tried as juveniles, were convicted, but received minimal sentences (in fact, Richmond is already out of detention).  CNN coverage of the trial seemed to be more sympathetic to the rapists than to the victim.

Because of the public outcry over the case, Ohio’s attorney general, Mike DeWine, directed a special grand jury to investigate whether coaches and school officials failed to report the rape (Ohio law requires teachers and school officials to report such matters to the police).  In late 2013, the grand jury indicted the school district’s IT director on charges of tampering with evidence, obstruction of justice, obstruction of a public official and perjury.  Some weeks later, prosecutors charged Steubenville City Schools superintendent Michael McVey with obstructing justice, tampering with evidence, obstructing official business and falsification.  Amazingly, these charges turned out to be related to another rape committed by Steubenville High School athletes, this time by baseball players.  Three other school officials were indicted on lesser charges.

Football coach Reno Saccoccia got a new contract.

 

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I reached Steubenville in the early summer evening of August 6; it was the turn-around point for my excursion up the Ohio River.  Of Ohio’s rust belt towns along the Ohio River, Steubenville is perhaps the worst off.  Where steel mills in other towns are shut down or idle, Steubenville’s is simply gone—demolished—leaving residents without even the pipe dream of it restarting.  The population of Steubenville is 18,659 (salute!), which is less than half of what it was at its peak in 1940.  Since then, it has experienced seven straight decades of population decline—including a 20 year stretch in which its population dropped faster than any other town or city in the U.S.  Crime, poverty, and urban decay have all increased, as has corruption.  Crooner Dean Martin, who grew up in Steubenville, would not recognize this version of his home town.  Dilapidated houses, like the above examples, are the rule rather than the exception.

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Many buildings are not simply dilapidated but abandoned.  Stretches of Steubenville, especially those relatively close to the Ohio River, give the impression of a modern ghost town.

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Abandoned, empty buildings stand as lonely sentinels surrounded by vacant lots.  This photo looks towards the Ohio River.  The bluffs in the background are on the opposite side of the river.

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The scene looks even more desolate in black and white.

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Anyone visiting Steubenviile realizes quickly that the city’s glory days are long since past.  One clue is that the tallest buildings in town are all ancient.   Steubenville doesn’t build those anymore; there is no call for them.

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Sometimes it seems to me that the more depressed a town or city is, the more effort residents put into murals.  Here, a mural of a store interior is far more pleasant than the exterior reality.

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This photograph drives home the point:  across the street from the mural is a block of abandoned downtown buildings.

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The murals all look to the past, to better days, such as this view of an amusement park.

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Or one could go even further back in time, to the riverboat era.

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Here’s an ideology-mobile interlude.   I have had exactly one bumper sticker in the history of my life (which I soon regretted), so it is safe to say that I have never understood why some people choose to wear their ideology on their sleeve in such a manner.  Do they think that the more bumper stickers they have, the likelier it is that they will convince someone?  Or is that simply their idea of outshouting someone?

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Here is an impressive religious mural.  The figure in the middle is Catholic bishop John Nepomucene Neumann (described on the mural as “an American saint”), who lived from 1811-1860.  Born in what is now part of the Czech Republic, he immigrated to the United States and later became the bishop of Philadelphia.  He was canonized a saint in 1977.  He briefly lived in Steubenville.  This mural appears on St. Peter’s Church.

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I’d love to have a time machine to go back and see what some of these abandoned buildings were like in their prime.  Even now, the above building has a solid impressiveness to it.

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Or take this old house; this was clearly a beautiful structure, once upon a time.  Even now, falling apart, it retains an elegant air.

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More vacant buildings and vacant lots.

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One of the last things I saw on this trip into Steubenville was this neighborhood.  Though its population is now small, Steubenville sometimes seems to have the crime of a much larger place.   Spray-painted onto the building on the right, above, are the words “RIP Chuck.”

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Not long after seeing the impromptu memorial to Chuck, I drove over the hills up against which Steubenville is set and began heading back home to Columbus.  I did spot this interesting old stuccoed house as I headed out.

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As I headed southwest from Steubenville, I found an even more interesting building alongside a country road.  The ground sloped steeply downward from the road, but an enterprising architect built a large residence along the road anyway, with a bridge from the house to the road.

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I actually circled back to get a better view of the building, in order to illustrate its eccentricity in all of its glory.

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