The Killer [00:00:00] Stick to the plan. Trust no one…
Trailer Narrator [00:00:04] From the director of Se7en, Fight Club, and Gone Girl…
The Killer [00:00:08] Anticipate. Don’t improvise…
Trailer Narrator [00:00:11] Michael Fassbender…
The Killer [00:00:13] Forbid empathy. Empathy is weakness. Weakness is vulnerability. This is what it takes if you want to succeed…
Trailer Narrator [00:00:23] The Killer. Rated R. Under 17 not admitted without parents. In select theaters October. Streaming on Netflix November 10th.
Roman Mars [00:00:33] With no fees or minimums, banking with Capital One is the easiest decision in the history of decisions–even easier than deciding to listen to another episode of your favorite podcast. And with no overdraft fees is it even a decision? That’s banking reimagined. What’s in your wallet? Terms apply. See capitalone.com/bank. Capital One, N.A. Member FDIC. This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. In a lot of ways, Lincoln Heights, Ohio sounds just like any other suburb. If you walk around town, you’ll hear kids playing outside the local elementary school. You’ll hear the highway that takes commuters down to Cincinnati. At the woods on the edge of town, the birdsong is delightful.
Christina Cauterucci [00:01:24] Lincoln Heights is small–less than one square mile, with about 3,100 people.
Roman Mars [00:01:29] Christina Cauterucci is a senior writer at Slate.
Christina Cauterucci [00:01:32] It’s a quiet residential place that seems far from the bustle of the city, even though it’s just 13 miles north of Cincinnati. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. If you live there, it’s hard to get anywhere in town without someone stopping you to say hi. There are well-kept single-family homes and low-lying apartment complexes. People gather in their grassy backyards for cookouts and in parking lots for pickup basketball games. The town feels calm and peaceful, at least until the gunfire starts.
Roman Mars [00:02:06] Most weekdays, it begins in the morning and lasts through the afternoon. Sometimes it goes past sundown and occasionally into the weekends. Once the shooting begins, it comes in rapid fire waves throughout the day. People say it makes it hard to focus or relax. And those who work the night shift say they can’t sleep.
Christina Cauterucci [00:02:29] Residents worry about what the gunfire is doing to their hearing and their stress levels. They’re especially concerned about their kids, who are listening to gunshots all day long while they’re trying to play or study.
Roman Mars [00:02:43] The noise of gunfire isn’t from street violence. It all comes from an open-air gun range that’s owned by the Cincinnati Police Department. This thing is huge–the size of about 22 football fields. It sits just outside of Lincoln Heights, right along the town’s northern border. And the cops use it a lot. In 2019, the department reported that officers train there about 300 days out of the year.
Christina Cauterucci [00:03:12] The constant nerve fraying sound from that gun range has been plaguing Lincoln Heights for the last 75 years.
Daronce Daniels [00:03:19] That noise truly was just like birds chirping. It was just like your environment. You just grew up with it.
Christina Cauterucci [00:03:24] That’s Daronce Daniels. He’s a town council member in Lincoln Heights. His family goes back five generations to when the town was founded. He went away to college in North Carolina. And one Thanksgiving break, he brought his roommate home to visit.
Daronce Daniels [00:03:37] You know, we were just kind of outside, just kind of hanging out. And he can just constantly hear that boom, boom, boom, boom sound. And we’re right in front of my parents’ house. He just literally looks at me. He said, “What is that noise? Who’s over there shooting? What’s all that going on?” “You know, it’s just the gun range.” He’s like, “Y’all just live around that every day? That’s kind of what y’all just deal with every day?”
Christina Cauterucci [00:04:00] It was the first time Daronce had really thought about it–about how he wasn’t even startled by something that was alarming to anyone who didn’t live there.
Daronce Daniels [00:04:08] That kind of just, you know, was an awakening for me that this isn’t normal.
Roman Mars [00:04:14] As if living with the relentless sound of gunfire wasn’t bad enough, there are a lot of things that make the situation even worse. This is nonstop police gunfire bombarding a town where almost all of the residents are Black.
Christina Cauterucci [00:04:29] And Cincinnati police–the cops who practice there–don’t even patrol Lincoln Heights or any of the other towns around the range. So, these are out of towners coming to let off shots in Lincoln Heights’ backyard.
Roman Mars [00:04:40] A majority of Lincoln Heights residents live below the poverty line. And they can’t help thinking that if their town were wealthier or whiter, the city of Cincinnati would never get away with this.
Christina Cauterucci [00:04:51] When I started reporting on this gun range, I was expecting to get a straightforward story about a particularly disturbing kind of noise pollution. But there’s another layer to it because Lincoln Heights isn’t just any suburb. It’s the first Black self-governed town north of the Mason-Dixon Line, founded almost a century ago with ambitions of becoming a sprawling, self-sufficient community.
Roman Mars [00:05:14] That vision never fully came to pass. And today, the bullets that echo through town are a daily reminder of how the founders’ dreams for Lincoln Heights were obstructed right from the start. During the Great Migration, Daronce Daniel’s great grandfather and his great-great-grandfather joined a group of others making their way from rural Georgia up to southern Ohio.
Daronce Daniels [00:05:41] A lot of the men first started moving up towards this area in the early 1920s–late 19 teens. Then my grandmother, my great grandmother, and my great-great-grandmother–they also kind of came up with my aunts a year after that.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:05:57] The folks that were leaving the South–this first wave of migrants–were individuals who were filled with hope and the possibilities of a better life.
Christina Cauterucci [00:06:09] Henry Louis Taylor Jr. is a professor at the University at Buffalo and an expert on the history of Lincoln Heights.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:06:15] They were very high-spirited individuals who believed in hard work and wanted to be in a situation to control their own lives and their own destinies. As one of the Lincoln Heights residents said to me, “I came here to live better and to do better”
Roman Mars [00:06:34] After crossing the Ohio River, which separates northern Kentucky from Cincinnati, the migrants first tried settling in the city. But property was really expensive, and racist real estate practices were rampant.
Daronce Daniels [00:06:46] So they found a space 13 miles from Cincinnati where they were able to buy some land, organize, and say, “Hey, let’s create our own community.”
Christina Cauterucci [00:06:56] The spot they settled on was north of the city, deep in unincorporated Hamilton County. There was a lot of land there, and since it had no electrical grid and minimal running water, the acreage was cheap. With plans to build a whole new town from scratch, the residents started homesteading in the 1920s.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:07:15] These were people from rural areas. They weren’t far from the city. And so, they knew how to build systems. They knew how to tap into the waters and build wells. So, looking back at what they managed to accomplish with limited resources was quite astounding.
Christina Cauterucci [00:07:37] Once a critical mass of Black people had settled in the area, those homesteaders had a realization. In order to have any real power over their own lives, they needed more than just land. They needed to govern their own space. And they knew from living under Jim Crow what it was like to be denied that autonomy.
Roman Mars [00:07:55] By the late 1930s, plans were underway to open an aircraft manufacturing plant in Hamilton County. Once a rural no man’s land, that region would soon become an industrial hub.
Daronce Daniels [00:08:07] So there’s a lot of opportunity where an all-Black neighborhood was going to become an economic powerhouse right in the middle of Hamilton County. It was already set for it.
Christina Cauterucci [00:08:15] So a group of residents took a county map and drew a set of ambitious boundaries around nearly ten square miles in Hamilton County. The space encompassed the homes they’d built and lots of land prime for industrial development, plus plenty of room to grow. The map was part of a plan to incorporate all of that space into a single town. It would be their town–a place they would control. They named it Lincoln Heights.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:08:40] It was a brilliant strategy. They would have an industrial and economic base to help support the community. And that taxation would have allowed them to develop their schools–their roads–and would have created a level of prosperity that would not have existed before.
Roman Mars [00:08:59] It was a bold move for an all-Black community to lay claim to this much land, especially with white towns nearby. Henry says the founders were excited and full of hope. In 1939, they presented their Lincoln Heights plan to the county for final approval.
Christina Cauterucci [00:09:18] But the white county leadership and the neighboring suburbs all put up immediate, heavy resistance. They were terrified that an expansive Black community would attract people from the so-called slums of Cincinnati out into the suburbs.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:09:31] And the idea of a small group of Black people getting a foothold was something nobody wanted to see happen. And there was a movement under way that simply attempted to wipe the town out.
Roman Mars [00:09:48] Hamilton County officials deliberately slow-walked the Lincoln Heights plan for seven years. In that time, a lot of other property in the proposal was snapped up by the surrounding towns.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:09:59] Once whites began to understand their ambition, they waged a relentless campaign designed to keep Blacks from acquiring these industrial lands.
Christina Cauterucci [00:10:13] One critical piece of that land was an open-air gun range. It was 30 or so acres, owned by a group of war veterans who had a shooting club. In 1946, the city of Cincinnati bought it as a place for its police to train. At that time, the only other building in the immediate area was a school for the deaf.
Roman Mars [00:10:33] The local Black community had asked for that parcel of land for themselves seven years earlier to develop Lincoln Heights.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:10:40] If they had succeeded, you would probably be here telling a very, very different story because they would have also had control over the land where the gun range was located and certainly wouldn’t have agreed to allow it to be placed there.
Roman Mars [00:11:00] In 1946–the same year the Cincinnati Police Department took ownership of the firing range–Lincoln Heights was finally approved for incorporation. But the Black residents only got a 10th of the land they’d originally set out to govern–less than one square mile shaped like a teacup–really just the original housing settlement with no aircraft manufacturer or any other big businesses.
Christina Cauterucci [00:11:23] Yes, it was a victory. They had created the first Black self-governing town north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but they didn’t have the industrial tax base or the open developable land the town would have needed to thrive.
Roman Mars [00:11:36] And to add insult to injury, because the way the county had divvied up the land, the Cincinnati police gun range was now right on the border of Lincoln Heights. And because Lincoln Heights was granted precious little space for expansion, residents would ultimately end up living right next door.
Christina Cauterucci [00:11:55] But whatever nuisance the range presented, it wasn’t enough to dull the shine of an all-Black town on the rise. In the 1950s and ’60s, the population of Lincoln Heights ballooned, small businesses thrived, and the community started its own police force and town council. The aircraft manufacturer became a General Electric plant. And although it wasn’t in Lincoln Heights like the founders wanted, residents still got good jobs at GE.
Daronce Daniels [00:12:20] This is Wakanda if you ask my grandpa. He says, “We did it all.” I’ve literally heard– You name it, we did it. We had everything here.
Christina Cauterucci [00:12:30] Daronce Daniels loves regaling his kids with stories from the town’s glory days that he heard from his elders. They would tell him, “I’d work a job here, go to the grocery store here…”
Daronce Daniels [00:12:42] “I went to a pharmacy here. My dentist was here. I went to go party here.” Everything was here, and you never had to leave it. Everybody looked like you. And everybody knew you. And everybody was essentially family in some aspect of it. That sounds like paradise.
Roman Mars [00:13:01] But of course, it wasn’t perfect. Daronce’s grandfather, Elbert Daniels, has lived in Lincoln Heights since before it was even called Lincoln Heights.
Elbert Daniels [00:13:10] Oh, yeah. I was born here in 1927–born down there on Beale Street.
Roman Mars [00:13:15] In the 1970s, Elbert got elected to the town council, and he always told Daronce that when he thought back on his tenure, he had one big regret.
Elbert Daniels [00:13:24] Oh, the gun range? Oh. Years ago, when I got elected to council, I couldn’t get nobody on council to go along with me to start fighting it. I think they were scared. They figured they would lose.
Christina Cauterucci [00:13:35] A few decades after Lincoln Heights was incorporated, the town fell on hard times. First, manufacturing jobs started disappearing in the 1970s.
Daronce Daniels [00:13:44] You have a crack epidemic in the ’80s–the crime bill in the ’90s and late ’90s and early 2000s. It was crazy out here.
Christina Cauterucci [00:13:53] When Daronce was a kid, the community lost a lot of young people to drugs, gun violence, and prison.
Roman Mars [00:14:00] At the same time as home values rose in the surrounding towns, inside Lincoln Heights, they tanked. It was no longer the place Black Cincinnatians wanted to be. In the year 2000, Cincinnati Magazine ran a feature called The Best Places to Live, ranking all the communities in the metro area. Lincoln Heights came in at number 84–dead last. Today, its population is less than half the size that it was in 1960, which means there are a lot of abandoned lots and buildings around town.
Christina Cauterucci [00:14:35] And as life got harder in Lincoln Heights over the decades, the noise from the gun range was also getting worse. Cincinnati’s police force grew by the hundreds in the ’60s and ’70s. And starting in the ’90s, the department ramped up its use of military grade tactical weapons, just like other police forces around the country.
Roman Mars [00:14:54] That meant more and more officers spending more hours training with bigger and bigger weapons, like shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, and sometimes even concussion grenades. Today, Cincinnati police spent a cumulative 50,000 hours a year training at the range.
Christina Cauterucci [00:15:11] And because Lincoln Heights is so small, it’s had little choice but to build closer and closer to the edge of the range. There are a lot of reasons why Lincoln Heights has struggled over the years. The nerve rattling chaos of constant gunfire is one of them.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:15:25] The way land use occurs within these metropolitan areas and regions, Black space is devalued.
Christina Cauterucci [00:15:35] Here’s historian Henry Louis Taylor again.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:15:38] And the moment you put a gun range next to a community, you have truly devalued that space because you’ve created structural noise pollution.
Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey [00:15:51] My name is Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey. I’m the mayor for the village of Lincoln Heights. Lifelong resident. I grew up in Lincoln Heights–born and raised.
Christina Cauterucci [00:16:00] Ruby told me that several years ago, a developer had a plan to build a series of single-family homes in Lincoln Heights. The properties would have been a big boost to the town’s tax base. But once the developer realized how loud the gunfire was, the deal fell through. Even though Ruby loves this town, there’s an alternate history she sometimes imagines.
Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey [00:16:20] When I go to other communities and stuff, I think about what would Lincoln Heights look like if we didn’t have that shooting range? And if we would have had that land, what would we be like? What would our population be?
Christina Cauterucci [00:16:33] The closest the town ever came to realizing this vision was back in 1999. The mayor of Cincinnati offered to close the range, which sits in a wealthier majority white suburb called Evendale, right next door to Lincoln Heights. Cincinnati would then give some of that land to Lincoln Heights so the town could zone it for commercial use and generate extra tax revenue.
Roman Mars [00:16:53] But the Cincinnati Police Department was not okay with that. It had no interest in moving the range. The firearms training commanders said the facility was too valuable to give away. “And besides,” he said, “the noise couldn’t really be that bad in Lincoln Heights.”
Christina Cauterucci [00:17:09] The president of the police union went even further. He said, “Anyone who supported the plan was spitting on the graves of officers who’d been killed in the line of duty.”
Daronce Daniels [00:17:19] The talking points have always been that this is a police safety matter–that if you try to take this away, you are against police safety, and you’re against the police. It wasn’t a real argument. It was emotional gaslighting to keep a gun range–to keep an environmental injustice–right outside of a Black neighborhood. I mean, that’s all it was.
Christina Cauterucci [00:17:41] After all that police push back, the plan fizzled out. That was almost 25 years ago. Today, the residents of Lincoln Heights have been hearing that gunfire for nearly eight decades. There are people who have lived their whole lives in this town and never known quiet.
Roman Mars [00:18:00] Lincoln Heights’ predicament is extremely rare. Usually, city lawmakers aren’t eager to place open air, government-owned shooting ranges in the middle of dense neighborhoods because the people who live there would get fed up and vote them out.
Christina Cauterucci [00:18:14] That is the heart of the problem in Lincoln Heights. Cincinnati owns the Range, and Lincoln Heights residents don’t vote in Cincinnati. And the land that the range sits on isn’t in Lincoln Heights or Cincinnati. It’s in a third town. But hardly anyone who lives in that town can hear the gunfire because their residential areas are way off in another part of the community. So, no one with the power to move the gun range is directly accountable to the people who have to live with the noise–the people of Lincoln Heights.
Roman Mars [00:18:44] This type of cross jurisdictional conflict happens all the time, whether it’s between neighbors who share a fence or nations that share a border. Pollution, noise, a hideous display of lawn ornaments–if someone is producing it on their own land, they don’t always have to listen to you when you ask them to stop.
Daronce Daniels [00:19:06] So we’re Marianna Terrace. So, we’re literally, like, another fence line apart from us and the shooting range right now.
Christina Cauterucci [00:19:14] When I visited Lincoln Heights, Daronce took me to one of the corners of town that gets the worst of the gunfire. It’s called Marianna Terrace. It’s a public housing complex with 76 units spread across a few low-lying apartment buildings and townhouses. On one side of the development is a playground and I-75, which goes down to Cincinnati. On another side is a long chain link fence–the edge of the gun range.
Daronce Daniels [00:19:39] So it might be just a little separation from about 50 feet between us and the shooting…
Christina Cauterucci [00:19:47] At one end of the gun range, there’s a wall that’s supposed to dampen the noise, so it won’t bother one of the other towns nearby. But for Marianna Terrace, that wall has had the exact opposite effect.
Daronce Daniels [00:19:58] The sound is amplified because where the wall is, it projects and echoes those sounds back. So, we don’t just get the initial boom, we get that and the echo pushing back towards Lincoln Heights.
Christina Cauterucci [00:20:09] You can probably hear the gunfire in the background of that clip. I assure you, in person, it’s way louder and a little scary if you’re not used to it.
Roman Mars [00:20:23] There’s been quite a bit of research on the effects of sustained loud noise on the nervous system. As you might imagine, none of those effects are good. Background noise can impair a kid’s cognitive performance. It can cause chronic stress and hypertension.
Christina Cauterucci [00:20:37] And of course, it’s not great for your ears. Regular exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can cause hearing loss over time. An audiologist from the University of Cincinnati went to Lincoln Heights and made a recording of gunfire noise in the neighborhood. It repeatedly spiked to over 100 decibels–louder than a construction site.
Alonda Brooks [00:20:57] I can’t actually… As an entrepreneur, it’s very hard to work from home and try to get anything done. I do multiple different things. And this is constantly, you know, all day, every day.
Christina Cauterucci [00:21:07] Alonda Brooks has lived in the complex for eight years with her three kids.
Alonda Brooks [00:21:11] Actually, a lot of the people on this side of the street work nights. How do you get any rest during a day? There’s no way to muffle it even inside of your home. So, it’s really bad–to the point where you can be having a conversation with somebody inside of your home with the doors closed and everything, and they’re like, “Oh, my God! What is that?” You tell people all the time, “I live at the back of a gun range,” and they’re like, “Wow, that’s crazy.” It’s traumatizing.
Christina Cauterucci [00:21:32] Do you ever feel like you don’t want to bring people to your house because of that?
Alonda Brooks [00:21:35] Oh, yeah. No, I don’t really have visitors.
Christina Cauterucci [00:21:39] When we drove away from the complex, Daronce told me he’s not a gun guy, but he’s learned a lot about firearms from listening to the range his whole life. He talks about it like it’s the weather. There are good days and bad days, and none of it is under your control.
Daronce Daniels [00:21:55] Yeah. So, today’s a light day. So, you probably had about maybe three or four officers using their hand weapons–just a nine-millimeter. But you can still hear the intensity of the sound. It’s just a pow, pow, pow, pow. Those days when they’re doing the shotgun weapon days are bad. Your automatic rifle days are bad. Just the constant ka-ka-ka-ka-ka! You know?
Roman Mars [00:22:18] A lot of people in Lincoln Heights have their own horror stories about the gun range. Some people remember times when there were real shootings in the community and the victims were hurt. But because everyone who heard the shots just assumed they came from the range, the emergency response was delayed.
Christina Cauterucci [00:22:34] And then there was the time in 2008 when a stray bullet escaped from the range and broke the windshield of a car parked nearby.
Roman Mars [00:22:41] Parents in Lincoln Heights worry about possible lead in the soil and water from all those bullets in the ground. And kids in town have a history of busting through the chain link fence and sneaking onto the range to collect bullet casings as a game.
Christina Cauterucci [00:22:54] And the gunfire you hear in Lincoln Heights is not just any gunfire. It’s police gunfire, which makes the range feel even more intimidating.
Alicia Franklin [00:23:04] I don’t even know how to put it in words. It’s kind of like a traumatizing experience, even through adulthood.
Christina Cauterucci [00:23:14] Alicia Franklin grew up in Lincoln Heights. And now she’s raising her kids there–four Black boys.
Alicia Franklin [00:23:20] Conversations with my sons have kind of looked something like, “Okay, we have a gun range. That’s the gunfire you’re hearing. The reason that the police have the gun range is so that they can practice. Now, when you possibly get into some kind of trouble, there could possibly be an escalated situation. And police shoot Black men for no reason.” Followed up with: “Well, why?” which is typical for a kid. And there’s no way that you can explain it. And so, it’s basically like you’re saying, “They’re using this range as target practice for you.”
Christina Cauterucci [00:24:11] Like a lot of communities in the U.S., the Cincinnati area has seen multiple Black men killed by police officers over the years.
Alicia Franklin [00:24:19] I also have a five-year-old. Now, the five-year-old is questioning. Like, “Mom, what’s that noise?” He hears guns, and he knows that they are associated with violence. And it makes me feel helpless because there’s not really anything that I can do except move.
Christina Cauterucci [00:24:40] People like Alesha had grown up hearing the legend of Lincoln Heights–how it was built from scratch by Black migrants who had escaped Jim Crow and sacrificed everything just to have some real control over their own community.
Roman Mars [00:24:53] But the gun range has made many of the residents feel powerless. Historian Henry Louis Taylor says that’s not just a feeling. To some extent, it’s reality.
Henry Louis Taylor Jr. [00:25:03] The idea of controlling the space that you live in is a very, very powerful idea in the African American population. But there’s a limit to what you can do with that level of control when everything else is outside of your power. And that’s what we learn from the experience of Lincoln Heights.
Christina Cauterucci [00:25:31] Over the course of eight decades, people have tried again and again to move the gun range. Daronce’s grandfather led that fight back in the 1970s. The mayor of Cincinnati tried in the ’90s. Every effort failed.
Roman Mars [00:25:46] And then in 2019, a new movement took off in Lincoln Heights. And the energy behind that effort was unlike anything the town had ever seen before. That is coming up after the break.
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Christina Cauterucci [00:30:27] The firing range, they believed, was an existential threat to the town’s survival. The population had been shrinking since the 1970s because who wants to stay in a place–much less move to a place–that constantly sounds like it’s under siege?
Daronce Daniels [00:30:42] If Lincoln Heights fails, it’s our fault. It’s not our grandparents’ fault anymore. It’s not our parents’ fault anymore. You can’t blame the kids. It’s on us now.
Christina Cauterucci [00:30:51] With that mindset, Daronce put his head down and got to work. In March 2019, on his 32nd birthday, he showed up at an open meeting of the Cincinnati City Council.
Daronce Daniels [00:31:02] And that the constant hearing of bang, bang, bang throughout the whole community echoing is a problem. I have two young kids that can tell you the sound of an automatic rifle–which kind of gun that is–before they can do their ABCs. I have kids that have a playground…
Christina Cauterucci [00:31:17] Daronce was asking the Cincinnati Council members to show some empathy.
Daronce Daniels [00:31:21] Just kind of pleading with them like, “Hey. From one council member to another, do you guys know that you’ve been down here shooting?” A lot of the councilmen didn’t even know where they practiced at. It was like, “Wait, we have a gun range in Lincoln Heights?
Christina Cauterucci [00:31:37] To Daronce, this was the crux of the problem. The gun range wasn’t affecting any residents of Cincinnati, so no one was complaining about it to Cincinnati lawmakers. So, they had no reason to think about it.
Roman Mars [00:31:49] Later that year, Ruby, the mayor of Lincoln Heights, teamed up with the mayors of the other towns around the gun range to send a letter to the Cincinnati mayor asking for relief. They went down to city hall to make their case to the council, too.
Christina Cauterucci [00:32:03] But Cincinnati was not ready to budge. The vice mayor of the city said if the residents of Lincoln Heights wanted the gun range to move, they should be prepared to pay for it themselves. The facility had been there since the 1940s. “It was Lincoln Heights that made the decision to keep building next to the range,” the vice mayor said. “Basically, it’s your fault not ours.”
Roman Mars [00:32:23] That argument doesn’t hold water. The founders of Lincoln Heights were living in that area long before Cincinnati police started shooting there. And because they only got a tiny fraction of the land they wanted to incorporate, they had no choice but to build right up to the border of the gun range.
Christina Cauterucci [00:32:39] So, Daronce had truth on his side. But he knew that compared to Cincinnati, Lincoln Heights was small. If it wanted to make itself heard, it needed allies in its corner. So, when U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown came to the area to talk about health care, Daronce showed up and raised his hand.
Daronce Daniels [00:32:55] I’ve never been bashful to ask a question, especially if you’re an elected official. You know, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask the question.
Christina Cauterucci [00:33:05] Daronce asked the senator, “Speaking of health care, did you know there’s an open air, government-owned gun range in your own state that’s causing health problems in my town?” Senator Brown was shocked. His staff said there might be federal money available to relocate the gun range, especially because federal officers practice there, too.
Daronce Daniels [00:33:25] He was very aggressive on “let’s do something about it.”
Christina Cauterucci [00:33:30] By this point, Daronce and Ruby had been pressing their case for the better part of a year. They’d spent all this time making appearances at City Hall, educating Cincinnati council members, and recruiting supporters from other towns in the county. And now they had the backing of a U.S. senator. The movement seemed like it was finally gaining momentum.
Roman Mars [00:33:50] Then in March 2020, COVID hit. All of a sudden, kids were going to school at their kitchen tables. People were working from home if they could. In Lincoln Heights, that meant no escape from the gunfire. Even if you were used to it before, you really noticed it now. For lifelong residents like Alicia Franklin, a sense of urgency was building.
Alicia Franklin [00:34:11] Because now you’re hearing it all day. You don’t get to leave home and then, you know, have a little bit of peace. No, you’re hearing it all day into the night.
Roman Mars [00:34:24] And soon, whenever Lincoln Heights residents turned on the TV, there was one news story and one horrifying video dominating the airwaves.
Newscaster [00:34:33] A wave of protests over the death of George Floyd spread from coast to coast on Saturday and spilled over into the morning. At least 25 cities across the U.S….
Daronce Daniels [00:34:43] Strategically, we felt our best way to honor George Floyd–the best way to kind of honor our residents–was to be more aggressive with this situation.
Protester [00:34:51] Do we want it in our neighborhood?
Protesters [00:34:53] No!
Protester [00:34:54] Is it time for it to go?
Protesters [00:34:55] Yes.
Christina Cauterucci [00:34:56] On Juneteenth, 2020, Daronce led a protest right outside the gates of the gun range.
Daronce Daniels [00:35:03] CPD!
Protesters [00:35:04] Don’t shoot near me!
Christina Cauterucci [00:35:09] A few months later, he brought the fight down to Cincinnati with a rally outside City Hall. The city council agreed to hold a hearing specifically dedicated to the gun range issue.
EIG Committee Meeting [00:35:21] Good evening, everybody. And welcome to what on the city hall side is the official meeting…
Roman Mars [00:35:26] This would be the first time many Lincoln Heights residents had a platform to tell Cincinnati in the official record how its police force had been terrorizing their town by way of the shooting range for nearly three quarters of a century. One by one, people from the community sat in front of the council and told their stories.
Christina Cauterucci [00:35:45] One of them was Alicia Franklin. She showed the council a video she’d taken of one of her sons.
Alicia Franklin [00:35:51] Hey, why don’t you have your hands over your ears?
Christina Cauterucci [00:35:54] He’s standing outside on their stoop, covering his ears, and pointing in the direction of the gun range.
Alicia Franklin [00:35:59] I can’t hear you.
Alicia Franklin’s Son [00:36:01] They’re going to shoot.
Christina Cauterucci [00:36:03] It’s gutting. He’s so young–way too young to make sense of what’s happening. But you can see his instincts sounding the alarm, telling him something’s wrong.
Alicia Franklin [00:36:13] Do you think they’re going to shoot again?
Alicia Franklin (Committee Meeting) [00:36:22] The four-year-old who you all saw on the video–he used to get startled and scared when he heard those gunshots. And that video wasn’t long ago. Now, they don’t faze him, which is very concerning.
Roman Mars [00:36:38] Audiology expert Brian Earl also spoke at the hearing. He told the council about one time he visited Lincoln Heights to measure the sound levels near the range.
Brian Earl [00:36:48] My eyes widened, and my ears started to flutter. We have what is called an acoustic reflex that starts to trigger when our bodies are telling us that it’s too much. My ears were doing that from a distance. But in between me and the range was a housing development and a playground. So, there’s the father in me, but… That’s too close.
Christina Cauterucci [00:37:10] You can hear Brian getting a little choked up in that clip. It happened when I interviewed him a couple of years ago, too. Seeing children in Lincoln Heights not even reacting to the noise that was making his ears twitch–it was almost too much for him to bear. The housing development he visited was Marianna Terrace–the same place I went with Daronce.
Roman Mars [00:37:28] Daronce was at the hearing, too. He gave his own testimony.
Daronce Daniels [00:37:32] I coached football. I teach at the elementary school. I’ve lived through it. My dad lived through it. My grandfather lived through it. Why does my son have to live through it, too? It doesn’t make any sense. You heard that crap, man. Nobody wants to live in that. You are killing us through stress. I’m sorry if I look like I’m animated right now, but I’m not playing. We ain’t playing.
Christina Cauterucci [00:37:55] The residents of Lincoln Heights had been trying to get rid of the gun range for almost as long as the town had existed. But now, finally, after this hearing, the generations-long gridlock seems to dissipate. Even the Cincinnati police, which had long refused to relocate the range, now said it was officially open to the idea.
Roman Mars [00:38:21] The city of Cincinnati began searching for a new place for its police to train. And it landed on location in a less densely populated township just a few miles west of Lincoln Heights. The advantage of the new location is there is actually already an open-air firing range there where the county sheriff’s department trains. Now, there are plans in the works to expand that facility so Cincinnati police can train there, too.
Christina Cauterucci [00:38:45] It’s such a simple solution–elegant, almost. The cops will get a brand-new facility, and Lincoln Heights will get some peace and closure. It almost makes you wonder why it took so long for Cincinnati to come around. The move will cost about 31 and a half million dollars. Cincinnati only agreed to chip in about 4 million. The rest is coming from the state, the federal government, and the county. I asked the Cincinnati police for comment, but I haven’t heard back.
Roman Mars [00:39:12] This past January, the county officially announced the plans for the new range and the expected closure of the old one next to Lincoln Heights. Alicia Franklin saw Daronce’s post about it on Facebook.
Alicia Franklin [00:39:23] I just really could not believe it. I’m like, “Is this for real?” Like, I mean, I was just elated. I lit up. This is, finally, you know, going to happen.
Christina Cauterucci [00:39:35] But nobody’s planning a victory party just yet. Daronce told me the most excited he’s been so far was the day he called me in January to tell me about the county’s announcement that the range was getting moved. But after we hung up, later that day…
Daronce Daniels [00:39:49] I came home. You know what I heard? They’re still out there shooting. So, you don’t get to get too excited because they’re going to continually remind you that they’re still here.
Christina Cauterucci [00:39:59] When I talked to people in Lincoln Heights, I heard lots of different opinions about the projected closure of the range. Some people think it’s definitely going to happen. Others think those people are just fooling themselves and they’ll believe it when they see it. And a lot of residents think moving the gun range isn’t enough. They say Cincinnati owes Lincoln Heights reparations for 70+ years of pain and suffering.
Roman Mars [00:40:23] There’s also a cynical read on this story. Some Lincoln Heights residents believe Cincinnati is moving the reins less because of public pressure and more as a sensible business deal. Evendale–the town where the gun range sits–has been itching for years to reclaim that land from Cincinnati. They want to use it for industrial development.
Daronce Daniels [00:40:42] Evendale is utilizing and leveraging the efforts that the residents are putting forward to make this happen. But with politics, I think you always try to realize how do you benefit from it? That’s just the game that we play.
Roman Mars [00:40:58] At the end of the day, a win is a win. Daronce says he’s already seen a change in the mentality of some of the residents who helped mobilize against the rains. There’s a feeling of power and possibility now that wasn’t there before.
Daronce Daniels [00:41:10] Like, I want the residents to really realize what they did here–not only what they did here but what y’all can do moving forward with this community–because the community was just an idea 75 years ago. Just a bunch of Black folks that come together and say, “We want to provide Black people jobs.” And that was just an idea. Now we’re still standing here. And that is now going to lead to who knows what 75 years from now. And that’s the coolest thing about it from my perspective.
Christina Cauterucci [00:41:39] Today, the gun range on the border of Lincoln Heights is still active. It’ll take at least a year or two for the new facility to open–knock wood. And the shots will continue until then. But if all goes to plan, the day the Cincinnati police shoot the last bullet at that range will mark the end of a struggle that has been passed down through Lincoln Heights families for generations. The way Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey sees it, that would put them one step closer to realizing the dream the founders had for a town in control of its own destiny.
Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey [00:42:10] You know, I lost my father last year, and I know he wanted that to go. He would be really happy and proud of me that I helped get that gun range moved. And so, it’s going to be like a new story. It’s going to be like opening a door to a new day.
Roman Mars [00:42:43] 99% Invisible was produced this week by Christina Cauterucci. Edited by Christopher Johnson. Sound mix by Dara Hirsch. Music by Swan Real. Fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Our executive producer is Kathy Tu, Delaney Hall is our Senior Editor. Kurt Kohlstedt is our digital director. The rest of the team includes Chris Berube, Emmett FitzGerald, Martin Gonzalez, Vivian Le, Jayson De Leon, Lasha Madan, Jeyca Maldonado Medina, Kelly Prime, Joe Rosenberg, and me, Roman Mars. The 99% Invisible logo was created by Stefan Lawrence. Special thanks this week to Stephen Kramer of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum. 99% Invisible is part of the Stitcher and SiriusXM podcast family, now headquartered six blocks north in the Pandora Building… in beautiful… uptown… Oakland, California. You can find us on most of the social media sites, but we should probably all spend a little less time there. But you can find other Stitcher shows I love as well as every past episode of 99PI and 99pi.org.
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