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Urban Lore: Sneakers Linked To Drugs

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posted on Apr, 23 2003 @ 01:40 PM
Angela Townsend
Plain Dealer Reporter

They are probably an urban legend, but stories of drug dealers dangling sneakers from power lines as an advertisement have raised genuine concerns in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood.

City Councilwoman Sabra Pierce Scott, who heard the stories from neighborhood children, has urged police and utility workers to remove all hanging shoes in an anti-drug effort.

"I was floored," said Scott, who mentioned the concern at last week's City Council meeting. "I thought it was just a fun thing that children do."

Sneakers hanging from wires have been spotted along Superior Avenue, East 105th Street and some side streets. Police have agreed to help remove them, even though there's no evidence that they are tied to drugs.

In fact, there is ample evidence that the stories are nothing more than oft-repeated tales.

An Internet search using the words "tennis shoes" and "power line" yields many explanations. An online discussion on says the shoes serve as territorial markers for gangs, memorials for people who have been killed or billboards for drug deals.

The Web site lists those explanations and others: A last-day-of-school tradition, a prank by children or a hazard marker for low-flying aircraft.

It's virtually impossible to track the origins of the sneaker stories or any other urban legend, said Timothy Tangherlini, a folklorist and associate professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.

Tangherlini had never heard of the drug connection but has heard of dangling shoes being linked to a satanic cult.

"They don't mean anything," Doniesha Jacobs, 12, said while waiting with her brother Robert, 10, outside Empire Computech Elementary School, a couple of blocks from three pairs of hanging shoes.

It's just kids throwing their shoes in the air, she said.

But classmate Dominique Robinson, 12, said people throw the shoes on wires to remember someone who was killed.

Tangherlini said the meaning isn't as significant as what compels people to spread the story, and who's telling it. A typical reaction is to relate an unexplained phenomenon to a tangible threat, he said.

"What I'm hearing is, 'We've got a real problem with drug dealers. How are we going to address this?' " he said.

Sixth District Commander Lester Fultz, who started hearing the stories last summer, said that he hasn't seen a solid link to drug dealing. But perception is everything, and if people think Glenville is a drug haven, that idea must be eradicated quickly, he said.

"If the kids are saying that, it's something we need to address."

Throwing sneakers on utility wires is considered criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. But someone who damages a wire could face felony charge of disrupting public services.

Fultz said that he doesn't mind the incidents generating talk about how better to combat drugs in the community.

"Once we start that two-way dialogue, we can work together," he said.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-3894


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