"Do It For the Kids Who Are Still Alive": Congolese Community Urges Traffic Calming After Death of Five-Year-Old in Cleveland

click to enlarge Handmade sign urging motorists to slow down on W. 50th street in Cleveland's Clark-Fulton neighborhood. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
Sam Allard / Scene
Handmade sign urging motorists to slow down on W. 50th street in Cleveland's Clark-Fulton neighborhood.

On W. 50th Street, just south of Clark Avenue in Cleveland's Clark-Fulton neighborhood, a home-made sign urging motorists to slow down has been installed on a tree lawn. The urgency of the message is dramatized by the makeshift memorial over which it presides, balloons and teddy bears where mourners have marked the death of  five-year-old Apolina Asumani.

Asumani, a young member of Cleveland's Congolese community, was struck and killed by a speeding driver on W. 50th Saturday evening.  According to the police account, Apolina ran between two parked cars into the street and was struck by a 17-year-old driver. The driver then ran over her and kept driving. Apolina was taken to MetroHealth, where she died.

(A GoFundMe to help the family pay for funeral costs is now live.)

The family is now staying at the home of Apolina's grandparents on Cleveland's east side, where friends and family have been gathering to mourn. There has not yet been a vigil. As of Monday afternoon, Apolina's body was still with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.

Though they were unavailable for comment Tuesday, the President of the local Congolese Community, Mayele Ngemba, spoke with Scene and said that they were heartbroken.

"The whole community is heartbroken," he said. "I don't know how we are are going to repair. A life has been taken too soon."

Ngemba said that while community members were devastated by the loss of the child, they have also been shocked not to have heard from local elected officials. Neither the local councilperson, Jasmin Santana, nor a member of Mayor Justin Bibb's administration has reached out to the family, according to Ngemba.

"[Mayor Bibb's] campaign was all about the people," he said. "But many of us are now asking the question: are we at the forefront or are we in the back seat like always?"
 
Ngemba said that the death of Apolina, coupled with the death of a nine-year-old boy, who was also struck and killed by a motorist this weekend, should motivate local elected leaders to enact measures creating safer streets. 

"I don't know if they are afraid of making speeds slower, but people are flying down these residential streets," he said. "It's crazy. Kids want to be outside and play. This is where they live!"

Ngemba said that neighbors have called for lower speed limits, increased enforcement of reckless driving and other traffic calming measures.

"If the memory of Apolina cannot push them to do something," he said, "they should do it for the kids who are still alive."

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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