Ohio University alum Wilbert L. Cooper, now an Associate Editor at Vice, has written a vivid long-form piece about the scrap-metal community in Cleveland, Ohio — a bustling community indeed. Foremost among his revelations is that Cleveland ranks first in the U.S., by a substantial margin, for metal theft per capita.
Cooper follows scrappers — most of them in the Central neighborhood on the city's east side — and learns the ins and outs of the trade. He even chats with councilman Anthony Brancatelli to provide perspective about how the housing crisis and metal theft are inextricably linked.
Here's one of the more thought-provoking moments in the story:
If Anthony [Brancatelli] and locals favor demolition, though, to people like Shorty and Jay—unemployed and without many legal job prospects—demolition represents a wasted economic opportunity. As I left Slavic Village, I thought of something Shorty had told me. “You’ve got thousands of condemned homes in Cleveland,” he’d said. “What do they do with all the stuff in those buildings? They send it to a landfill. Why wouldn’t you let someone who is unemployed go into a building and get what they can get? It’s going to be demolished anyway.”
Maybe that is the paradox of scrapping: the same economic forces that created the housing crises also helped create the scrappers who survive on its wreckage. And so, while city leaders like Anthony might see scrappers as their enemies—leeches on the city’s meager resources—both parties are part of the same destroyed economy and neither will likely stop harassing the other until the city finds some larger economic salve for its wounds. They’re all on this sinking ship together.