SPECIAL EDITION OF THE CRIME: Highland Avenue Community Remains Shooting Gallery

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By: Ken Hamilton

Highland’s story IS not only a Niagara Falls’ story, it is what happened here that caused the events of concern, why they happened and what is soon to come to the surrounding neighborhoods of the city and its suburbs – unless we fix our thinking around it. That’s why the Reporter exists.

While in the absence of an autopsy and the final Niagara Falls NY Police Department report, restaurateur Jesse Richardson was found dead last week in his Calumet Avenue home of at least one gunshot wound.

Richardson’s home was a 4-minute walk from the corner of Highland and Centre avenues; and it was there where in the years of the depression of 1929 there once stood the neighborhood Centre Avenue Elementary School, and across from it was a store owned by the family of Armand Castellani, himself being one of the founders of the TOPS Supermarket chain that eventually became the largest grocery retailer in western and central NY and parts of Pennsylvania. It was also there where some 4-decades ago, Fred and Alma Brown staked their claim to servicing the community much as the Castellani’s had once done and opened their store. Brown expanded his operation in a newer, much larger building as a Wilson’s Farms franchisee of TOPS, subsequently breaking off and going at it on his own. Some 2-decades ago, Richardson established the restaurant that bears his name and specialized in ribs, wings, subs, chicken and seafood.

The neighborhood had always been an immigrant community and one of several important business centers in the city; one that was filled with opportunity and in constant change. But lately, the change hasn’t been so good, nor has the area’s reputation.

 

Jesse Richardson, photographed above, made a mark in the Niagara Falls community.

 

Either despite or because of the social engineering that took place and has continued since the beginning of World War Two, where once stood a plethora of homeownership units and businesses, now the largest and most abundant housing units are the heirs of military war housing that have become public housing, and of HUD Section-8 units. It has largely become a sanctuary for the poor and otherwise less-privileged. Whereas through the 1940s and 60s, Louis the USPS mailman told this writer that he delivered mail to a street that once had 3,000 residents living on it, not including the rest of the Highland neighborhood that stretches south from Lafayette Avenue to the former Lehigh Railroad switch yards, west to the railroad prior to Monteagle and McKoon avenues, and then eastward to Hyde Park Blvd.

The once busy Highland Avenue once sat amid an industrial hub where 15,000 Niagara-area citizens found living wage employment in the private sector; where there were no vacant lots and even fewer vacant hopes. Now, even though you can shoot a bullet down the street and not hit anything, in the last few decades, too many bullets have been fired and have hit their mark in far too many citizens.   

Found dead of at least one gunshot wound in his Calumet Avenue home last week was restaurateur Jesse Richardson. In front of his restaurant more than 300 people attended a candlelight vigil for him. In attendance was Mayor-elect Robert Restaino, city councilmen Ezra Scott, William Kennedy and Ken Tompkins, as well as Superintendent of Police Tom Licata. More importantly, there were the preachers and people of the community.  The mantra of the night was, “If you see something, say something,” but all befuddled as to where do we go from here.

The Niagara Reporter means no diminishment on the death of Richardson and will be doing a comprehensive series on crime in Niagara Falls – especially as it pertains to homicides, but as stated, it is still too early to ascertain what happened on the night of his shooting.

In all of it, the echoes of the July 27, 2019 shooting of Roderick Haslip, that took place just a 3-minute walk eastwardly down Centre Avenue from where Richardson’s vigil took place, have all but faded from memory; and the gun shots that where heard a brisk  3-minute northerly walk up Highland just hours after the vigil, may have even involved some of those who may have been at Richardson’s vigil.

 Government can’t fix the problem, and government housing like that at HOPE-VI – that was supposed to make the community safer, has changed nothing. We cannot stop all crime, but if understand it, we certainly can anticipate and abate it. Interviews with the families of victims, those who were involved in crimes and those who have redeemed themselves have already been had, set-up and with more to come.

If you would like to be a part of the story or the solution – and are willing to use your name, then please message me on Facebook.

Stay tuned and in touch.

 

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