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Linmar Terrace quiet in wake of killing

Sunday, April 01, 2001

By M. Ferguson Tinsley, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Perched at the top of Waugaman Street in Aliquippa, amid the winter-weary trees, Linmar Terrace looks not much different than it has for decades.

Long, brown-brick apartment buildings, set in pleasing, orderly parallel and perpendicular lines, are capped in green, blue, beige or white aluminum siding. The grounds are not garbage-strewn, the units not boarded over with plywood. Graffiti isn't scribbled on its walls.

Bernard S. Wallace is an elder at Aliquippa's Church in the Round, which serves Linmar Terrace, where residents such as Jerry Williams, left, are coping with the fatal shooting of police Officer James Naim. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

The 94-unit World War II-era complex, most of it occupied, doesn't have the desperate, destitute image that often overlays communities nicknamed "the projects."

But these days, Linmar Terrace stands quiet.

Since the March 15 shooting death of Aliquippa police Officer James Naim on a Linmar street, residents say they feel they are under police scrutiny 24 hours a day. They have complained about police raids and roundups, and there is a noticeable lack of children on the streets, even though kids make up more than half the 206 residents.

For community leaders, the shooting and the resulting tension of the past two weeks have been a setback.

To counter crime, including two shootings on the streets since 1997, the Beaver County Housing Authority helped set up a police substation in the complex, and criminal incidents have dropped. Naim, who was one of the officers staffing that station, was generally liked by residents. One of the two men charged with homicide in the case, Darnell Hines, 19, is from Linmar Terrace. The other, Jamie Brown, 23, is from Plan 11, a different neighborhood in the city.

Now both Linmar and the police face a future, that, at least for a while, will be filled with mistrust.

Prejudice is a problem

Linmar Terrace has never been mistaken for a genteel suburb.

Football great Mike Ditka lived in Linmar Homes, another section of the housing plan that was sold off as private homes in the 1950s. He described his old neighborhood in a 1986 autobiography.

"We lived in a housing project in Aliquippa," Ditka wrote. "It was a government-subsidized housing project. Low-class condominiums. It was a single house in a row of six houses. They were called the Projects. There were so many kids around.

"Our life was a good life because the steel industry was booming. My dad worked all the time and made good money. We always ate good and dressed good.

"The people in the town were great. They always helped. ... [But] it was a very ethnic area, which was also very prejudiced. Whether you were a Polack or a Hunky or a Jew or a Dago or a Cake-eater or Colored ... it was prejudiced. No one got away from it."

That long-standing prejudice is part of Linmar Terrace's current problems, say some community leaders. The town's founding in ethnic and racial segregation is firmly entrenched in today's minds, they say.

Linmar Terrace spun off from Jones & Laughlin's carefully planned company town called Woodlawn.

Built early in the 20th century, Woodlawn was purposely separated into areas called Plans. There were 12 of them. Each section was designated for a certain class or ethnic group.

Years later, the name of the town changed, but the community mindset didn't, residents say.

The J&L legacy carried into the early 1940s, when immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy arrived to help the steel maker's war effort. They moved into the neighborhoods set aside for them. Black immigrants came from Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, too, and followed suit.

Linmar Terrace was meant to be temporary, but 58 years later, maintenance keeps Linmar Terrace occupied. Six units are vacant, said Carl DeChellis, the Beaver County Housing Authority executive director.

Rocco Cianfaglione, 79, and his wife Marian, 71, have lived in Linmar Terrace for 30 years. They weren't there at the beginning, but they remember Linmar when it was a different place.

"Everybody was working good back then," Cianfaglione said as he and Marian sat in their tiny living room among her doll collection and knickknacks.

"When we first moved in, it was mostly white," the retired school bus driver continued. He said that changed a few years after they settled in, but added that he always got along with his black neighbors.

Religious leaders in the black community said black people began moving into Linmar and nearby developments in the 1970s, 10 years before the steel mills closed. They now make up 196 of the 206 Linmar residents.

For a while, jobs were plentiful and paid well. Rent at Linmar was cheap. The tenants could keep more in their pockets because rent went to meet the Housing Authority's operating expenses only, DeChellis said.

Even now, rent can be as low as $50 or as high as $350, depending on income and area market value. Averaged out, Linmar Terrace residents spend about $181 a month on rent.

DeChellis said the Naim killing stunned him, along with everyone else.

"I'm at a loss for words," he said. "I don't know how to describe it."

DeChellis said his office had worked with city officials for 10 years to rein in crime in Linmar.

Using a federal drug elimination grant, the Housing Authority set up a community center five years ago where Linmar residents can receive social services, including after-school programs, drug counseling, tutoring and job skills training.

Some of the grant helped pay for Naim's salary and for the substation he worked out of, DeChellis said. He said residents had requested the help.

"We thought we had made a positive impact for the residents there," he said.

From January to June 2000, the Linmar Terrace area, which includes its sister communities Linmar Terrace Extension and Griffith Heights (242 apartments total), saw 23 incidents of crime. Nine of those were aggravated assaults, one was a rape and the rest were property crimes.

From July through December, incidents dropped to seven: One aggravated assault, three burglaries, one larceny and two auto thefts.

The notable drop came as the Linmar substation neared its first anniversary, DeChellis said.

Tension runs high

A police station goes only so far in solving a community's woes, however

The Rev. Melvin E. Clark Sr. and his administrative assistant, Bernard Wallace, head the Church in the Round in Plan 11, which provides a score of social programs and groups with outreach as far as Ohio and West Virginia.

Wallace said that, in the early 1980s when the steel mills in Aliquippa shut down, it began a domino effect. The merchants boarded up their stores and moved out. The people began leaving and those who remained had no jobs.

Some were the blacks who had moved into Linmar Terrace a decade before.

"Many, many people had a time of hopelessness because of the unemployment," Wallace said. "Husbands who'd started out by making a life for their families couldn't any longer."

Homes broke up, and today, 78 of the 88 occupied units in Linmar are headed by single mothers, with 121 of the residents 17 or younger. But most of those households -- 72 -- are supported by women who are working in the service industry, not public assistance. The average household with a wage earner makes $13,107 annually; public assistance households take in $8,896.

Wallace said many of those women work at Pittsburgh International Airport. However, a large hurdle they face in getting and keeping jobs is the limited public transportation.

Wallace said the reaction of police to Naim's killing, including reports that officers kicked in front doors and hurled racial slurs as they worked, reflected the town's long-standing divisions. He said he hoped the officer's death and all that has followed it would spark a change in attitudes.

"After all of it is addressed and exposed, we still have to live together," he said.

Last weekend, the Beaver County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People announced a new scholarship for Linmar Terrace children that will be named after the slain law officer. Chapter President Willie Sallis said it was a fitting way to memorialize the well-liked officer.

The group also collected 25 written complaints about police from Linmar residents, although Sallis said they remained so afraid it was difficult to coax them to allow their names to be included on the notarized statements.

Sallis said the chapter planned to take them to Aliquippa police Chief Ralph Pallante first. Pallante has said that he has heard about incidents but hadn't received written complaints.

State-level NAACP representatives also will be sought for advice, Sallis said.

In the meantime, however, tensions stifle Linmar Terrace.

On a recent sunny afternoon, more than a week after the killing, a new-looking jungle gym with a pretty purple roof and a hot pink corkscrew slide stood idle next to the Housing Authority office.

Young children didn't stay outside to play. Instead they made a beeline from one apartment to the next. Mothers weren't out on their front stoops chatting. Teens seemed unusually absent.

Only a restless spring breeze ruffled the silence in Linmar Terrace.



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