By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A forearm whipped against his neck stopped Miller in his tracks. Kicks to both legs sent him to the sidewalk. Then fists and feet came from everywhere, each blow reminding him why getting out of his car was a bad idea. "This is happening while I am chasing a thief," Miller says, not quite believing the words. He doesn't think the group of black men who assaulted him and took his wallet even knew he had already been robbed.
"They just saw me running and figured, 'Hey, let's beat his ass,'" Miller says. "There were things like that going on all night when I was walking to my car. There was just, like, surges of crowds, where one guy'd be chasing another guy and the whole crowd going in that direction. It was weird."
Despite this, Miller intends to keep going to Deep Ellum. "I'm just going to walk very carefully," he says. It's good advice, but many people believe there are even better words to live by: Don't go there at all.
Stuart, who works in one of the stores on Elm Street and asked that his last name not be used, is just waiting to put those words into practice. His lease at the Gaston Yard Apartments is up in October. After that, he'll find a new place to live and a new job, too. Stuart just wants out.
He's been feeling this way since April 19. After closing time, he stopped by Franzini's Pizzeria, picking up a couple of slices to take home and unwind with. His boss trailed behind Stuart in her car, making sure he got home safely--same thing she does every night after work. She was, he guesses, maybe 100 feet away. She might as well not have been there at all.
Halfway home, Stuart saw a car out of the corner of his eye, edging its way toward him. Something about it spooked him. Actually, everything about it did. Before he knew what he was doing, Stuart was running toward his apartment. Then he heard the screech of brakes and a voice: "Stop! Get down or we'll shoot! Don't run!" He turned and saw two men with guns.
He threw his dinner into the parking lot and followed it onto the pavement. The men took his cell phone, breath mints, the caffeine pills he takes to combat the late hours and the few bucks he had in his pocket. Even the change.
"Thirteen cents," Stuart says. "To the penny, they took it. I went back the next day, and there was no change on the ground. Not even a penny." He began planning his escape.
He's not the only one. Promoters and club owners have had fairly serious discussions about opening alternate venues, far from the growing concerns in Deep Ellum. The Arrangement and East Wind, both longtime fixtures on Elm, are leaving the neighborhood. And the list of lost customers is too long to even begin. "I've got women telling me they're scared to come down there now with their purses," says Club Dada's Brewer. "I've known them for 12, 14 years."
Robberies and assaults are a problem. But the thing keeping people away, however, is the stuff that goes unreported.
"Harassment, sexual harassment, intimidation, physical confrontation, assault--this kind of stuff is way out of bounds," Wisdom says. "And that's the kind of stuff that doesn't get on anyone's blotter. If you're walking down with your girlfriend, heading to Trees to see a show and some guys reach over and grab her breasts, and then the next thing you know, you're looking at six or seven different guys and they're all just dying for you to say something--that never gets on anyone's blotter. But you aren't coming back down here again."
Brewer remembers the night when a throng of men crowded onto the sidewalk outside of Club Dada, creating an unwelcome gauntlet for every woman who tried to leave. "I should have just popped off some Mace and gotten rid of them, but I tried not to do that," he says. "But yeah, there was like 20 of them grabbing every woman's ass who came out of the club."
Everyone in Deep Ellum, it seems, has a story that mirrors this one. Brewer does his best to make sure every sentence of each one finds its way to the ears of someone who works for Mayor Laura Miller. He thinks the police are doing the best job they possibly can, but it's not enough; they don't have the resources. So he hands out slips of paper with the number of the mayor's office to just about everyone who comes through the door at Dada. He's appeared on the radio discussing the issue. Whatever it takes. The way he sees it, the mayor is breaking the law.
"Well, the Department of Justice stipulates that the mayor of a major municipality is responsible to offer ample security to its citizens," he says. "I've got 10, 12,000 people down there. Some nights we got six cops, and two of them are on overtime. I'm pounding. I've been pounding people--give them her phone number, call her, call her. Because supposedly they log those calls. And I want her phone to get jammed up. 'Cause, you know, she wanted the job, and she got it. Well, let's do it, sweetheart."