Crime up in downtown Dayton, but homicide is first since Oregon District shooting

Man in custody in connection with Blackstone’s death; assaults fuel crime increase; leaders say much progress has been made

Downtown Dayton has seen a significant increase in violent crime this year, and the urban center last week had its first homicide since the 2019 mass shooting in the Oregon District.

However, local officials say downtown is still very safe and that serious violent crime is comparatively rare. The fatal shooting this month was only the third time that deadly violence has occurred downtown in the past 10 years.

“As it relates to the (city’s) three police districts, Central Business District deals with the lowest level of crime in all categories,” said James Rider, a police information specialist with the Dayton Police Department. “A violent crime such as this is rare for downtown.”

At about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 1, Dayton police responded to the 100 block of South Main Street, near East Fifth Street, after hearing gunfire, officials said.

Police discovered that a 51-year-old man named Robert Blackstone had been shot in the chest, according to Dayton Municipal Court documents and emergency dispatch.

“The officer immediately went toward the direction of the threat and observed that the victim had just been injured,” said Dayton police Lt. Steven Bauer. “The victim was pronounced deceased on the scene.”

Police later that day arrested a 43-year-old suspect, Antonio Marvin Murray, who was charged with two counts each of murder, felonious assault and having weapons while under disability, according to municipal court records.

Murray, who has a long history of run-ins with law enforcement (convictions of burglary, forgery, drug trafficking and other crimes), was prohibited from having a firearm because of previous felony convictions.

Police say the fatal shooting is still under investigation and they do not have have more details to release at this time about what led up to the violence.

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

Credit: Montgomery County Jail

But a friend who shares three children with the victim said Blackstone didn’t know the shooter, and that he was killed after he went downtown to pick up a friend.

Blackstone is the first homicide victim in downtown Dayton since the Aug. 4, 2019, Oregon District mass shooting, when nine people were gunned down on East Fifth Street. Friday was the four-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Blackstone’s killing is one of just three downtown incidents that Dayton police data categorizes as murder or nonnegligent manslaughter in the last decade.

Downtown has less crime than other parts of the city (it is a smaller region), but it has seen a roughly 53% increase in violent crime this year, according to police data obtained by this newspaper.

Through early August, the central business district had 10 robberies (which is three more than last year during the same time period); three aggravated robberies (+2 from 2022); 15 aggravated assaults (+1); 99 simple assaults (+37); and 50 incidents of menacing (+18).

There also have been 8 forcible rapes reported to police (the same number as in 2022); 1 kidnapping/abduction (-1); and 20 simple assaults related to domestic violence (-3).

The central business district recorded about 212 incidents of Part 1 and Part 2 violent crime through early August.

By comparison, the entire city had more than 2,930 incidents of Part 1 and Part 2 violent crime in roughly the first half of the year.

Crime in downtown tends to receive a lot of attention because the center city is where many people across the region come to work, dine, drink and enjoy the arts, entertainment and other recreational activities.

Local leaders have worked hard over the years to change perceptions about crime and safety downtown because they say some people see the urban center as being far more dangerous than it actually is.

“We did have, and today we continue to have, somewhat of a perception that downtown is not safe,” said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. “But we have managed to turn that significantly around in the last 10 years.”

A 2022 citywide survey found that about 41% of Dayton residents said they feel safe or very safe downtown.

In comparison, about 28% of survey respondents said they feel unsafe or very unsafe downtown, while the remaining survey-takers said they were neutral on downtown’s safety.

Gudorf said people aren’t going to want to live, work and play downtown unless they feel safe.

She said the good news is that a shrinking number of people see downtown as a dangerous place, especially with the addition of so many new amenities, restaurants, bars, breweries and apartments.

“We still have work to do — there’s no doubt,” she said. “But we’ve made great strides.”

A true artist

Blackstone, the shooting victim, was an artist who created a large and constantly evolving installation called “Crystal City,” which he began more than three decades ago on his grandmother’s dining room table.

The installation is on display in the first floor of a vacant office building at North Ludlow and West Second streets in downtown.

The artwork contains many found and cast-off objects, including toys, miniature cars, yellow police tape, various lights, a boxing glove, a road sign, a license plate, a world globe, musical instruments, masks, historical artifacts, memorabilia and much else.

The expansive work is partly a eulogy to the matriarch who raised Blackstone, says an article in the summer 2019 edition of the UrbanGlass Art Quarterly.

“Like the actual Dayton, Blackstone’s sculptural city is constantly in flux, building and rebuilding in an unrealized fantasy of renewed relevance and commercial sustainability,” the article states. Crystal City is “dense with piled and purposefully positioned content, to expose inequity from its rotting source.”

Art was Blackstone’s passion, but he was a “jack of all trades” who was good with his hands and he loved cars, said Hope Brookshire-Hendricks, a friend who shares three children with Blackstone.

Blackstone — who is survived by four children and two grandchildren — was warm-hearted, silly and he reveled in making people smile and laugh, Brookshire-Hendricks said.

“His thing was living life and being happy,” she said. “He liked fixing cars, doing things around the house, helping people move — he always had multiple jobs, so he was always staying busy.”

She added, “His children are having an extremely hard time because they were very close to their father.”

Some of Blackstone’s loved ones gathered at the Crystal City display on Sunday night. His children hope to keep the memory of their father alive through his art, Brookshire-Hendricks said.

“If you have never walked in and seen it, you really should to get a better idea of who he was,” she said.

Staff writer Kristen Spicker contributed to this story.

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