Vocal Yokels

Bosnians give some folks in St. Louis Hills the willies

But aside from a bushel of parking and speeding tickets, this isn't normal fare for a city cop. Oldani says there have been no calls concerning fights, no assaults, no robberies, no drugs. "They don't drink," Oldani says. "We haven't found any alcohol on these kids." Yikes. These kids aren't assimilated yet.

Lynn Muench, chairwoman of the block-captain program in St. Louis Hills, thinks the constant harping by a few members of the St. Louis Hills Neighborhood Association has triggered too much attention from the police.

"I'm concerned there is an inordinate amount of police attention to Willmore Park," says Muench. "Other parks and neighborhoods in South City are not getting the type of police protection they deserve. We're having a rash of garage break-ins and car thefts, and the cops are down at Willmore Park."

Friday evening at Willmore Park
Jennifer Silverberg
Friday evening at Willmore Park

There's the rub. In the upper-crust St. Louis Hills 'hood, drive-by shootings and armed robberies are something they watch on the 10 o'clock news. Squealing tires and macho-man stares from uppity young'uns -- that's the time to call the cops.

Ginny Nester, the original chairwoman of the block-captain program, says Willmore Park is being used more now than ever before, and she's glad of it. She's visited the park more lately because of the complaints, and she admits that speeding cars have been a bit of a problem, the same way they have been on and off for the last 30 years. The increased police presence has decreased the problem, she says, but she doesn't like the tone of recent events:

"My concern is when a very, very insignificant number of people in this neighborhood can go out to the political people and the police, presenting this as a huge problem when in reality it is not. It affects my neighborhood unbelievably. St. Louis Hills does not always enjoy the best reputation in the world. In my dealings with other neighborhoods, they say, 'You're part of that elitist group.' This is my home. At times I am ashamed to say I live in St. Louis Hills. This is one of those times. I've said at board meetings, 'Who's going to be next? Who's going to decide who the next target will be?' That's what I'm concerned about."

Oldani has heard this concern, and he's defensive about the ethnic-profiling allegation. "Anybody who comes in and says the police are profiling the Bosnians, that's a load. We're not," he says. "The radar gun, when it picks up a car coming at you from two blocks away, can't differentiate who's in it. It just picks up the speed."

Ron Klutho, of the St. Pius V Refugee Support Program, says Bosnians may be using Willmore to replicate what is known in Bosnia as the korzo, an evening gathering place. Normally the korzo would be a place to stroll around near downtown or an area with shops and cafés, but a park could serve the same purpose. A coffee shop several blocks north of Willmore on Hampton Avenue is called Café Korzo. Whatever the intent of the Bosnians using the park, Oldani wants to make it clear that they are welcome there, as long as they follow the rules.

"There's a couple of things I need to set straight here: Some St. Louis Hills residents, as well as Bosnians alike, think we're singling the Bosnians out. We're not. We're not singling anybody out. I'm not sure they know what the ordinances are," says Oldani. "The police are not trying to wage a war against the Bosnian community. We just need to keep the peace in the park. The park is for everyone. The park needs to be made safe for everyone."

And not just the people who got here first. Besides, where did those Indians go?

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