Is this really the end of Columbus' most infamous gang?
The Short North Posse might be the most notorious street gang in Columbus history. For more than 25 years, it's been the biggest, baddest, gun-totingest, drug-slingingest, most murderous bunch in town. Many longtime residents say the Posse protected its own against outsiders and took care of its Weinland Park neighbors, whether they were gang members or not. But the Posse's presence also kept the neighborhood just east of Ohio State University's campus shrouded under a cloak of violence and fear for decades, no matter how hard the residents tried to shed the violent image. And try they did.
But those who know best say the shroud finally is lifting, thanks in large part to a massive roundup of Posse members following a collaborative two-year investigation by local and federal authorities that resulted in 20 Posse members charged with numerous counts. Thirteen pleaded guilty, often in exchange for their testimony. Six others were convicted by juries and sentenced to life without parole, and one died awaiting trial. In all, prosecutors secured 31 murder-related convictions in the deaths of 14 individuals. Assistant U.S. attorney Dave DeVillers calls it the largest murder investigation in Ohio history.
But there have been other roundups of Posse members in the past. In 1995, more than 40 Posse members were arrested and tried. But sons and nephews of the original members reorganized, and the Posse's next generation took over. More arrests followed—10 in 2006, 19 in 2010. But, as Ellen Moss Williams, CEO of the Godman Guild, a century-old social services agency in the heart of Weinland Park, says, “This time it feels different. I don't think the Short North Posse will ever raise its head in Weinland Park again. There may be individuals who try to gain a foothold in another neighborhood that's not as shored up as ours. But I think it will be very difficult to reoccur in Weinland Park.”
DeVillers agrees. “I think they're done because they're telling me they're done.”
DeVillers has spent his career prosecuting gang members. “Most of the time, they're bragging about how they're going to be right back at it,” he says. “But this time they're telling me there's no one left. They're done. It's the first time I've ever had a gang member tell me that.”
This latest law-enforcement crackdown redoubled the efforts of the Weinland Park Collaborative. Since 2010, the partnership of residents and more than two dozen organizations—including the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Campus Partners, the Columbus Foundation, the Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, Habitat for Humanity of Central Ohio and the Godman Guild—has pumped more than $14 million in philanthropic investment and $37 million in taxpayer money into the neighborhood.
“The tide has turned for Weinland Park,” says Keith Myers, chairman of the Campus Partners board of directors. “It certainly is doing much better than it was even two years ago when you look at what's being built, property values; the school [Weinland Park Elementary] is doing very well. It takes two things to turn a neighborhood around. One is safety. The other is education. Both are improving in Weinland Park.”
But Williams, who co-chaired the Collaborative, says the fight isn't over. She's seen the Posse swept off the streets before in her nearly 20 years with the Guild. “It creates a vacuum. And vacuums get filled,” she says.
Now, Williams says, is the time for vigilance. “You can look up and down the streets; there's less trash, the yards are looking wonderful. The changes have been amazing. Some people think, ‘Weinland Park is done. Let's move on.' But that can't be the case,” she continues. “Now is not the time to stop working. What are our young people in Weinland Park involved in that moves them in a positive direction? We need to have an answer. You only fail if you don't keep trying.”