An Akron church pastor said a decision to close basketball courts at Davenport Park in Ellet was not just about safety, but also about race.
The city shut down the basketball courts after video surfaced online of a fight that erupted there in May. Gunshots were fired nearby, sending some nearby children playing little league baseball running. Nobody was injured, but eight people were charged in that melee, ranging between 17 and 22 years of age.
At a recent Akron City Council meeting, a number of Ellett neighbors urged the city to keep the courts closed, but Antioch Baptist Church Reverend Gregory Harrison said the courts’ closing disproportionately targeted black people in that predominately white community.
“I think it’s the big pink elephant in the room that nobody’s talking about,” Harrison said. “When you’re saying basketball, yes I take it as you’re saying black.”
But Ward 6 Councilman Bob Hoch, who represents Ellet didn’t take it that way. Hoch said the courts will remain closed at least through baseball season, not because of racism, he said, but because his constituents didn’t feel safe.
“I’ve never heard anyone say anything about race or black people or white people or anyone that’s here,” Hoch said. "They’re talking about the problems.”
But they’re problems Harrison noted other parts of Akron deal with far more frequently, to much less attention.
“LeBron James grew up 300 feet north of this church,” Harrison said, "If there is a shooting in Lane Field, are we sitting here having an interview? No.”
And seven miles west of Ellet at Perkins Park, Erika Smith watched some of the neighborhood kids shoot hoops in the same inner-city neighborhood where LeBron James got his start.
She agreed park violence should not be tolerated but said closing the courts was not the answer.
“Where’s the kids going to go?” she asked. "It’s needed, basically to keep them off the streets.”