Spending some time in a supposedly sketchy neighborhood

Curtiss Lewis, Sr. relaxes in Lubertha Johnson Park Monday, October 11, 2010 in the Las Vegas neighborhood bordered by Carey Avenue to the north, Lake Mead Boulevard to the south, Revere Street to the east and Comstock Drive to the west. The neighborhood was named the third worst neighborhood in America by the website WalletPop.

It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I’m standing at the edge of what is supposedly America’s third most dangerous neighborhood. This section of Lake Mead Boulevard just east of MLK looks unremarkable compared with the rest of non-Strip, non-suburban Las Vegas—busy and a little gritty. There’s a CVS on the corner, a public library down the block and a gleaming charter school campus in between. It’s a world apart from Dubuque or Boulder City, but I’m not exactly looking over my shoulder either. Can this really be among the places where I’m likeliest to be assaulted or robbed or worse, as a recent report suggests?

Most Dangerous Neighborhoods

Eric Demaree, 59, has lived in the area off and on for 15 years, long enough to see his share of violent crime. He praised the “extremely active” police here while sympathizing with what he says is a perpetual challenge for them: Getting witnesses to cooperate. Demaree lays most of the blame with “drugs everywhere, and people dealing on street corners.” So does he feel safe day to day? “I’m comfortable anywhere in the neighborhood—as long as my foot’s feeling okay and I think I can run.” The smile creasing Demaree’s face tells me he’s joking, kind of.

In a recent study of FBI and Census Bureau data, called out Demaree’s neighborhood and two others in Las Vegas, ranking them the third, fourth and eighth sketchiest in the country. The report quickly drew national attention, followed by a round of denunciations by officials here and elsewhere who questioned a methodology that admittedly produced “predicted” figures.

Over at a tiny, worn-looking church on Revere Street, everyone agrees that the rankings are bunk. As a kindly man sells tamales from a Crock Pot, I ask customers about violence in their neighborhood. “Everywhere’s dangerous,” more than a couple say. Many seem to resent my questions, likely irritated by the indignity of a writer’s visit to this out-of-the-way church for a story about crime.

Toni Davis, 28, says the neighborhood is nothing like Detroit, where she lived previously, and probably has no more crime than green and gated Summerlin. “The difference,” Davis says, “is that those people do their thing at home, behind closed doors.”


John P. McDonnall

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