Justice for all in Akron deadly fight

One evening when I was 14, five of my friends and I decided to play “ding dong ditch it.” Not an uncommon pastime for bored teens in the 1970s, we rang the doorbells at random houses and then ran away, our bodies giddily awash with adrenaline. 

We were lucky we didn’t die that night. 

At one house, we rang the bell on two occasions separated by about 15 minutes. The second time, the owner came out and chased us with a rifle. The house had recently been burglarized and the owner suspected the culprits of that crime had returned to strike again. 

The frontal lobes of the human brain are responsible for executive functioning, which includes impulse control, judgment and the ability to plan out steps for a desired goal or outcome.  

Unfortunately, however, frontal lobes do not fully develop until the early to mid-20s (later for males than females), which is why parents often ask young adult children who’ve done something reckless, “What were you thinking?” 

“What were they thinking?” is a question I’ve heard and certainly thought when considering Ethan Liming and three of his friends driving around West Akron the evening of June 2, shooting at random strangers (as far as has been reported) in multiple places with water pellet guns. 

Their fun ended when these four Firestone High School students targeted three young men, ages 19, 20 and 21, playing basketball at the courts next to the I Promise School. Assuming they were being shot at with real bullets, the young men ran. When they realized that was not the case, they turned back and a fight ensued. 

In a news conference, Akron police stated that Liming didn’t deserve to die. Those words land like concrete. The job of the police is to investigate. It’s up to the courts to consider the evidence and make judgments. 

Furthermore, the three young men playing basketball didn’t deserve to be terrorized by four young men who pulled up in a car at or after sunset (8:53 that night), jumped out and ran toward them while blasting two water pellet guns.  

And yet most of the reporting on this tragedy has painted Liming, who was white, as a good young man while leaning heavily on the engrained racist trope of the Black male criminal in the portrayal of the three basketball players, all of whom are African American. 

 If you’ve been following this case, ask yourself what you know about the three who were playing basketball. Are they related? Where’d they go to school? Are any in school now? Who do they live with? Where do they live? 

At most we know one of them has been employed at a warehouse for over two years. I doubt he is any longer after our county prosecutors and a judge decided that the three young men who were assaulted while playing ball are such a threat to society that they are being held in jail on $1 million bonds, or what lawyers sometimes call “publicity bonds.” 

According to Emily Bazelon in her book “Charged,” only two countries have cash bail bond systems: America and the Philippines (hardly a paragon of justice). The rest of the world simply expects people who are charged to show up at court because if they don’t a warrant for their arrest will be issued. 

I live two blocks from the I Promise School and presumably some, if not all, of the three young men playing basketball that night live in my neighborhood. I believe they should be released until trial. 

Let’s talk about my neighborhood.  

In 20 years of living in our neighborhood, my family has witnessed several gun-related incidents. The most recent was on a sunny afternoon last summer. 

My eldest son, Claude, was driving in the first block of Oakdale Avenue, just one block west of the I Promise School. In the span of no more than 15 seconds, the car ahead of him stopped, a man wearing a backpack walked from the curb to that car, briefly spoke to the occupants, then turned away. A passenger in the car held a gun out of his window and shot the backpack man in the lower back. The car peeled away. 

My son called 911 and then, along with other witnesses, aided the shooting victim. 

In my neighborhood, the basketball players had every reason to believe they were being shot at with real guns containing real bullets. 

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. When it sounds and looks like bigotry — be it racial, gender, ability or more — it is. Best way to check? Play screenwriter and change up the scene. 

What if my three (tall, fit, white, blond) sons in their 20s had been playing basketball at the I Promise courts that night when the Firestone four pulled up in their car and began shooting? And what if, in the ensuing fight, one of the two young Black men in the car with Liming had died? Do you think my sons would be sitting in the county jail under $1 million bonds? I don’t. 

And what if my (tall, fit, white, blond) sons legally carried handguns? With our state’s whack-a-doodle gun laws, my sons could have killed each of the Firestone four and used the “Stand Your Ground” law as their defense. No doubt they’d be cleared of all charges, if any were even filed. 

Or let’s say the four Firestone males instead drove to a basketball court in upscale Bath and jumped out, pellet guns a-blazing, at three white males. Again, if in the ensuing fight Liming had died, who would be in jail today? Anybody? 

Or, if you would rather not consider hypotheticals, recall what actually happened to a Black 12-year-old playing with a toy gun in a Northeast Ohio city park with his sister in broad daylight in 2014. A 911 dispatcher received a call of a “guy” with a gun, and two seconds after police pulled up in their patrol car, one of the officers shot Tamir Rice dead. Two seconds. 

Yes, Ethan Liming’s family and friends are deeply grieving his loss. But so are the families of three youths who were minding their business, playing basketball on a warm summer’s eve when they were assaulted by a carload of young men with guns that first appeared deadly. 

What would you have done if you were the three playing basketball? What did the Firestone four believe were the possible outcomes when running at three strangers while shooting them with pellets? I doubt they thought it through. And now seven families and six young men must live with the tragic consequences. 

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on July 10, 2022.


Color my world, starting with my home

“How many houses have you had in the three decades since we met?” my friend Jen asked me this spring. “And you made them all so inviting. You have to come to Philly and help me with our new house.”

The answer to Jen’s question is six, none of which have been new construction. Built to last, costly details in older homes — like ornate brass escutcheons behind glass door knobs on solid hardwood doors — are rare in contemporary housing.

And the quirks of old homes, which they all have, charm me. I have a house with oak floors throughout except for the smallest bedroom, where the floor is pine. The bedroom’s door is solid oak, but the interior of that door, unlike any other in the house, has a pine veneer, presumably so that when the door is closed the wood of floor and door match.

Some old homes reveal messages from prior times. The house I had in central Pennsylvania was built in the 1880s by Quakers who owned significant interest in Thomas Edison’s electric company. When removing modern (and ghastly floral) wallpaper, I discovered the largest bedroom once had been two rooms. Workers removed a middle wall and then signed a remaining one with the date: 1917.

Today I own two homes, which I’ve named after the families who lived in each for several decades. In 2003, Herman Dreisbach was 88 when I bought the home he’d inherited in the 1940s from his uncle, the first owner. Next door lived Claire Cressler, an artist who became a dear friend and regular guest at our dinner table. He died at age 97 in 2008.

I moved into Cressler House two summers ago and have had more fun making it mine than any previous house. For one thing, it is the first house I’ve purchased as a single person. The contents of the home and any remodeling choices are mine alone. I’m not frustrated by someone else’s clutter nor need I negotiate color choices (oodles of purples!).

Secondly, and unlike the Arts and Crafts Dreisbach House, nothing in Cressler House is precious. In the 1950s and ‘60s, Claire and his wife, Gloria, sought to modernize the home. They took photos of themselves gleefully removing all the quarter-sawn oak paneling, pillars and fireplace mantel with crow bars.

That’s not to say that the Cresslers didn’t make choices I enjoy. Claire built a midcentury modern floor-to-ceiling sandstone mantel to replace the 1906 original. And the wallpaper in the front entryway is so groovy cool friends regularly use it as a backdrop for photos.

But the cheapest and easiest way to change the look of a house is paint. Walls rich in color encourage different moods and make art pop, and I have no fear of bold colors.

Standing in front of the seemingly endless array of color palettes at a paint store, however, can be overwhelming. I recommend, as step one, winnowing the choices. I have a few tricks for that, starting with two tips I picked up from Martha Stewart. The first is that green — not white or beige — is nature’s neutral and its various shades are often a good default when struggling to choose.

The second is to let the colors in paintings, rugs or textiles guide you. I’m regularly surprised by what I find when looking closely. For instance, I think of the Persian rug in my office as navy blue. But it also contains a good bit of coral pink and Pacific blue, colors I wouldn’t automatically put together.

I used the glorious 1960s entryway wallpaper, a dark terra cotta with black and reflective-gold abstract flora, as my starting point for choosing colors on my first floor. Farrow & Ball’s Down Pipe, a charcoal grey, in my high-ceilinged living room not only honors the dramatic wallpaper, it makes the room feel cozy — especially when entertaining guests in front of a roaring fire on a winter’s eve.

Feng shui, an Asian approach to creating healthy spaces, was a bit of a craze in the ‘90s and includes recommendations for certain colors in certain sections of a home. It’s not magic and installing purple Armstrong vinyl-composite tile in the prosperity corner of my house hasn’t generated winning lottery numbers. But it sure ties the room together.

I like to see photos of real spaces painted in the colors I’m considering. Farrow & Ball’s palette is my go-to and their website includes multiple photos of spaces, indoors and out, painted in each of their colors along with others that coordinate.

The color of one room should complement the colors of the adjacent rooms to avoid dissonance. The dusky lilac of F&B’s Brassica in my bedroom is accented by Sherwin William’s Camelback (my only non-F&B color) in the hallway, which looks great with F&B’s Vardo (peacock teal) of the bathroom.

Only once have I immediately repainted because I didn’t like a color once it was on the walls. The room looked like the inside of a cantaloupe.

I enthusiastically encourage everyone to consider painting white walls in vibrant hues. It can change not just how your home looks, but also how it abides.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on June 26, 2022.