Lakewood Residents Call On City To Replace Basketball Hoops At Madison Park

Madison Park in the Lakewood, Ohio, Birdtown neighborhood
The Madison Park basketball courts have seen two shootings in about a month. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]

Two shootings led to the removal of the basketball hoops at Madison Park in Lakewood’s Birdtown neighborhood, but residents are calling the move racist and demanding their return.

Removing the basketball hoops is unfair to those who rely on them for recreational activities, said Lakewood Outdoor Basketball Committee member Casey Davis, particularly as other parts of the park – like baseball diamonds and soccer fields – remain open.

“It’s very concerning to me that there’s this consistent negative narrative around the kids and young adults playing basketball,” Davis said. “It’s very concerning to me that we’re telling these kids, ‘You’re not worth it. We’re taking your sport away. But baseball can go on, and soccer.’”

Removing the hoops contributes to racial stereotypes, Davis said, implying an association between basketball, the people of color who use the Madison Park courts and gun violence.

“We’ve tried to be really patient in bringing up the topics of racism and discrimination,” Davis said, “but it’s kind of hard when you’ve got kids showing up to play basketball and their hoops are down, but they look over and the soccer nets are up and there’s kids playing soccer.”

The basketball hoops at Madison Park in Lakewood's Birdtown neighborhood were removed following two recent shootings.

The basketball hoops at Madison Park in Lakewood's Birdtown neighborhood were removed following two recent shootings. The rest of the park's facilities are still in use. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]

Lakewood residents banded together to encourage people to continue using the courts after the first shooting March 12. Resident Randy Brown created a Facebook group to help combat some of the negative associations with the basketball courts by buoying collaboration and communication.

The group held a meeting Saturday to discuss ways to improve the neighborhood’s feelings about the courts. City council members showed up to listen to concerns.

But that was before the second shooting and the removal of the hoops. Now, Brown said, the primary concern is to get the hoops back.

“I really don’t want it to be any longer than a week. I don’t really see why it needs to be any longer than it is already. Today’s a nice, sunny day. They should put them back today,” Brown said. “The fear is valid, but the response to the fear can’t be to take the hoops away. That’s not right.”

Brown’s family has used the courts almost daily for the last three years and has never been worried about safety. He and his wife, Mary Brown, want the park to go back to being a safe and enjoyable place. But right now, the concern is how recent events might contribute to prejudice and biases, Mary Brown said.

“It’s really difficult. There’s so many things that this particular bold move on the part of the city and our mayor, so many things that this resonates with. I’m fearful of that,” Mary Brown said. “I live in Lakewood because I love that it’s diverse and inclusive, and has outdoor amenities.”

As the weather improves, the park becomes more important for kids in Lakewood and nearby, she said.

“For some kids, this is it. That’s where they go in the summer,” she said. “I don’t want any kid or adult who comes down to experience any kind of negative stereotyping or bias.”

Lakewood Mayor Meghan George said the city’s decision to remove the hoops at the request of the police department was not made on the basis of racial stereotypes, though she understands how the move could be interpreted that way.

“The police department and I both take this matter very seriously,” George said. “Neither one of us wanted to make this very difficult decision to remove the hoops temporarily, but it was in the best interests of public safety.”

The situation is temporary as the police department investigates the shootings, George said, and the city is talking about ways to reduce gun violence and make the park safer, including increased patrols at every park, an additional police officer stationed at Madison Park and the installation of more security cameras around the city. Bringing in security personnel through the parks department is also under consideration.

But alternatives to a police presence, such as having adult residents supervise park activities, would be preferable, the mayor said.

“None of us want to live in a police state, none of us want to have a police officer permanently at the park,” George said. “We have to look at ways that our parks continue to be safe, and this is going to take a community-wide effort.”

Lakewood’s Division of Youth is also available to provide resources for young residents struggling with mental health or trauma, she said, particularly in light of the shootings. And the city is also asking its Anti-racism Task Force for input on safety policies, she said.

Laura Rodriguez-Carbone, a co-chair of the task force, and city council candidate, said the steps the city has taken so far, including taking away the basketball hoops, have not included input from the people of color who live in Birdtown.

“I think the removal increases the fear, rather than decreases crime,” she said, calling it a “knee-jerk” reaction. “In communities of color, we have to deal with these measures being taken without our input.”

But gathering that input is an additional struggle, she said, because people of color living in the area don’t always feel comfortable taking part in those discussions.

“They don’t necessarily feel comfortable coming out, and don’t feel comfortable with the structures in place,” Rodriguez-Carbone said. “They don’t necessarily feel like if they come out, their voices will be incorporated and heard. I think there’s definitely room for improvement.”

Public officials should be working to engage with and talk to their local communities at times other than the wake of a crime, Rodriguez-Carbone said. Those connections will help to improve conversations if and when crime does occur.

The Lakewood Public Safety Committee will discuss the shootings and the removal of basketball hoops during a 6 p.m. meeting Monday.

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