Doreen Bailey speaks with the determination and sense of moral purpose rooted in the recovering dope addict. "Eight years," she'll tell you early and often. The beaten house on West 37th was part of her resurrection.
The single mom arrived four years ago with her two boys. She'll show you the flooring she's laid, the new paint, stucco, and trim, the place in the small back yard where playground equipment will someday rise. Slowly but surely, it's becoming a fine if modest home. She narrates the tour with the pride of one who rebuilds with her own hands.
But Bailey will also show you the two video cameras she's installed. They monitor the front yard, gathering evidence. She speaks of these in swings of disappointment and anger. Bailey is convinced that she's been subjected to a nonstop series of hate crimes. She is equally convinced that no one will do anything about it.
Her tormentor, you see, is an 11-year-old girl.
Bailey claims that the girl has thrown rocks at her home and broken a window on her van. She has a habit of giving Bailey the finger. But her worst sin is her propensity for calling the Bailey family "nigger," according to a police report. And since Bailey runs a home day care, it's a greeting that extends to visiting children and parents as well.
"She'll come out and call my daughter nigger, bitch," says Vanessa Wright, a Key Bank employee whose nine-year-old attends day care in the home. "My daughter doesn't understand why this girl calls her names."
It's hard to tell whether Loretta, the girl in question, actually dislikes black folks, or just has a strange habit of flipping people off and calling them nigger. At times she's tried to befriend Bailey -- in a curious sort of way. "She'll come over and ask for a popsicle -- after she got done calling me nigger bitch and all," says Bailey.
Loretta's behavior might be odd enough to overlook if her mother, Mary Bistak, were apologetic about the whole affair. But Bailey says Bistak, who lives next door, has done nothing to curb her daughter. In fact, she claims to have heard Bistak's fiancé say, "Loretta, go harass the niggers next door."
It's reasonable to expect that your kids should be able to play outside without facing racial slurs. So Bailey has peppered her councilwoman, the mayor's office, and the police for help. "The city hasn't done nothing for me," she says.
She also contacted the NAACP. They didn't return her call. They did send her a membership application.
In a sense, it's understandable why Official Cleveland has not come to her aid. Free speech is involved, which provides for the inalienable right to talk like an asshole. Besides, this is only one of perhaps thousands of family feuds running across the city. And the two sides tell stories so divergent, it's hard to tell that they live in the same country, much less on the same street.
In Bistak's mind, it was the Bailey boys -- ages 9 and 12 -- who ignited the fight. They punch Loretta, "They call her a bitch, they call her a whore, they call her a slut," says Bistak. Doreen Bailey has been equally insulting, she adds, calling her a "fat miserable heifer," among other epithets.
"I've been called worse by better people," says Bistak. "I've been made fun of all my life." She pretends to slough it off, though she sounds as if she's about to cry.
Bistak is adamant that she's not a racist. Her proof: She affirms that she has black friends, babysits black kids, has danced with black men. Loretta may have used the word "nigger" once, she concedes, but only because she was provoked, and only because she's mildly autistic. "Loretta's social skills aren't like a normal person's," says her mom. "She can be intrusive. She can be overbearing."
Yet "this isn't about racism," Bistak quickly adds. "It's about her two sons thinking they can do whatever they please."
And so the feud has devolved into a series of allegations and counter-allegations. Police reports show each family accusing the other of throwing rocks and trading slurs. Bailey's day-care operation was investigated for neglect. Bistak's fiancé was probed for child abuse. Both were cleared. In the most recent incident, Loretta "threw spaghetti on my son and was calling him all kinds of niggers," says Bailey. All three children are now involved in juvenile court.
Cassandra Bledsoe, the city's director of hate crimes, has tried to mediate between the families, but she won't talk details. Deborah Adams is more candid. She monitors Bailey's day-care program for the county and has spoken to both sides. "I don't know what to believe," she says.
Bistak and Bailey both seem weary of the fight. Bistak, because she must raise a troubled daughter, because she's been ridiculed all her life. Bailey, because she's still driving toward her place in the sun, which she will never reach as long as her boys can't play outside without being called "nigger."
She talks about a recent day, when the temperatures were in the 70s, and her boys had to stay inside. She didn't need another fight. "Why don't you just move?" a cop once asked. But she's not the kind to run, not from this home she's rebuilt, not from this life she's remade.
Yet there's only so much a large and indifferent government will do about rocks and words and thrown spaghetti. Theirs is triage work. The biggest and baddest get immediate attention; the rest they just hope will go away.
"They're telling me it's not a hate crime, so I have to tolerate these people calling my family niggers," says Bailey.
And so both sides will continue to call cops and councilwomen and juvenile workers. Just after Scene interviewed Bistak, her fiancé called to threaten to sue the paper. It seems that no one gets immunity in this fight. Such is life on West 37th.