Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

TOP STORY >> City officials put spotlight on Sunnyside

BY PAUL PETERSON and PEG KENYON
Leader staff writers

IN SHORT: Resident, alderman speak out on crime in neighborhood and all of Jacksonville

For bubbles and basketball, children and adults came together for the Sunnyside Addition Commun-ity Outreach and Awareness Day at Galloway Park in Jacksonville recently.

Helping out People Everywhere (HOPE) Community Development Corporation sponsored the event and Theresa Watson, director of the City of Jacksonville Community Development, showed her support for making the Sunnyside addition a better place to live. After several attempts, Watson sculpted a balloon into the shape of the dog. Adults painted butterflies on the faces of children.

Two men — one a white city alderman and a black Sunnyside addition resident — attending the weekend event agreed homeownership is pivotal in making it a more stable neighborhood. However, Eric Applewhite says after living in St. Louis, the Sunnyside addition feels like living in Mayberry, the fictional, quiet town in the Andy Griffith television show.

“People here are real nice and friendly,” Applewhite said.

Several other Sunnyside residents who live near Applewhite are also purchasing their homes. These neighbors watch out for each other, he explained. City alderman Kenny Elliott agreed with this assessment. “Crime seems to follow rental areas,” Elliott said. Before the event, Watson indicated that rental property ex-ceeds homeownership within the Sunnyside addition.
“The majority ... 59 percent is rental and 41 percent is homeownership,” Watson said.

There are loans available, but Watson says, “The key point is an investor … that’s the piece lacking.”

Watson warns it will take patience to revamp the Sunnyside addition so no major displacement of people will occur. She also mentioned there is a need for a multi-housing complex to built within the area because of small lot sizes. There are 495 lots in the area.

Watson believes the area has unjustly gotten a bad reputation. “You’ve got crime everywhere,” she said.

On Monday, Capt. Charley Jenkins, public information officer for Jacksonville Police Department, said he believes thefts and burglaries are the most troublesome criminal activities in the Sunnyside addition. Since Jan. 1, police investigated theft-related crimes ranging from larceny to residential burglaries, according to a call-sheet document released by JPD officials.

However, violent crimes often occur in the Sunnyside neighborhood nearby Galloway Park. Since Jan. 1, an armed robbery, a gunshot wound, an aggravated assault in-volving a firearm, a domestic dispute, vandalism and a juvenile dispute were among the calls worked by local police officers in the 100 block of Galloway Circle. Between March 16 and March 23, police also responded to a fight in progress and a stabbing in the same block.

On Pike Avenue, about 17 disturbance calls ranging from noise complaints to domestic disputes have been phoned into the police department so far this year. However, Roosevelt Road experienced three drug-related incidents while Pike Avenue listed one. Meanwhile, Galloway Circle registered two drug-related calls to the police. The document indicated none for Jaxon Circle and Jaxon Street.

“Sunnyside may be more attractive to criminals, but I don’t think you could confine crime to just one particular area,” Jenkins said. “Crime occurs over the entire social-economic areas of the city.”

Overall, Jenkins says burglaries and thefts are a concern in the Sunnyside Addition because of less homeownership and more renters, which come and go. He also mentioned there are fewer burglar alarms installed in houses, and taller shrubbery, which shields thieves.

On Central Avenue, however, police received only one theft-related incident since the beginning of this year. The document listed this as a theft from an automobile. On Victory Circle, there were no theft-related activities listed, but Union Avenue was the location of three larceny incidents between Feb. 10 and March 23.

Although some residents are reluctant to discuss neighborhood problems, others are willing, provided they remain anonymous, due to retaliation against ‘snitches.’

One individual, a male who calls himself ‘Larry,’ who withheld his age and occupation, expressed his sentiments regarding the past and current environment of Sunnyside.

Discussing the once non-existent patrolling of the neighborhood, Larry said the situation has improved remarkably. “Oh well, I noticed for a couple weeks recently that patrols have stepped up a bit,” he said. “Especially the last two weeks. Before that, they’d come if you call them. I call them quite a bit. We have a pretty bad drug problem in the neighborhood. There’s lots of it here.”

Jacksonville alderman Reedie Ray agreed that the police department has increased its presence in the Sunnyside addition, as has the alderman himself. “I’ve patrolled the area myself a couple of times lately,” he said. “Everything was quiet. Me and the police chief talk all the time. They’re on top of it. They’ve got Lee Street on dope surveillance now, and even got me on camera when I drove through there three times, real slow.”

As for Larry, perhaps what concerns him most of all is the safety and well-being of his family members and close friends, some of whom have decided to sell their property and relocate.

“I’ve lived most of my life here. I’ve been in this area almost 20 years,” Larry said. “My son’s been robbed about three times. I have a daughter who had a little bit of trouble once. It was just some young girls in a gang trying to fight her years ago.”

The situation was so bad, Larry said, that young children showed no qualms about kicking in doors of homes looking for money made from outdoor yard sales.

“About three or four years ago, when we were selling sodas from our front yard, some little boy robbed us,” Larry said. “He took our money we made. We weren’t the only ones to have that happen to us. Police found a trail of coins leading to the park. His older sibling was just picked up for armed robbery. They’ll kick your doors open and try to break in if they think you have anything. The last time I contacted police was over a domestic dispute. A friend of mine was on drugs real bad. I’ve also got family a member on drugs real bad, too, but she’s locked up. Most of Sunnyside’s problems are definitely drug related.”

Among the more saddening aspects of such living conditions include the hazards of reporting crime. Larry, like others in Sunny-side, has experienced danger for his vigilance.

“I’ve seen quite a bit of retaliation,” he said. “They got a thing about snitches. They want to kill them. Once people get a grudge against you, they hold them after that.”

And what about the former neighborhood association that has since faded into non-existence?

“There was a neighborhood association,” Larry said. “I knew the president. She’s moving. She’s selling the house and leaving the neighborhood. There have been times when drug activity went on right down the road from the police substation, when police were actually there. All this took place on the same street as the substation. It’s been there for several years, but the drug people don’t care that it’s not really open. It’s been there for five or six years. It’s even been robbed before.”

Larry believes some sort of court-ordered rehabilitation could possibly do some good. “We don’t have anything like that in Jacksonville,” he said. “I’ve seen some evil, mean stuff, like people stealing from their momma’s house and leaving her nothing to pay bills with.”

What Larry also cites as a major cause for concern is sporadic gang activity. “I see them regularly mostly in the evening,” he said. “We’ve had a bad gang problem. I had a real young boy tell me all of them have guns. He had one, too. I see some of them. Sometimes young boys sell drugs to older men, and the older men can’t pay for it, so the boys get real mean and real disrespectful. Gang activity is starting up out of nowhere. One drug house moves out and another one moves in.”

As often is the case, where drug activity prevails, dead bodies are likely to follow. “There’s a lot of unsolved murders in neighborhood,” Larry said. “And they don’t like snitches.” Referring to vigilante retaliation not uncommon in drug-infested areas, Larry compared it to street justice overseas. “It’s sort of like in Africa,” he said, “where they take the ones who snitch and hook a rubber tire around their necks and burn it up. And we’re African descendants. It’s the same type of mentality, punishing the poor to make to make it look like they’ve done something wrong. But dealers start taking on attitudes as mafia and big drug lords in movies. And people are scared. It’s a real bad thing. In rap songs, snitches are considered worse than the person doing the crime.”

Larry said keeping one’s mouth shut is similar to taking out a life insurance policy. “I went to prison to visit a friend of mine and was talking to a person there who’s got a son doing 10 years for robbery in Pine Bluff,” he said. “The son was shot for being with the actual robbers and got time for it. They were never caught. And the parent told me, ‘but at least he didn’t snitch.”’

The root of such degradation, as Larry sees it, is simple: crack cocaine, the key factor of a cause-and-effect relationship that breeds monsters and perversion. “Even the old people are getting evil,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of 20-year users in this neighborhood. They can’t stop and don’t want to stop. And their children are just as evil. It’s perversion like I’ve never seen. I know a lady who said her kids smoke crack with her boyfriend.”

Larry sighed and said regretfully, “That’s just the generation we’re coming to, and it’s getting worse. Someone can be hollering for help and neighbors just ignore it. They’re afraid. We can’t even depend on neighbors anymore. It’s hard to sleep at night. You might wake up any time with someone in your house looking for money or jewelry. People have turned in to fiends, monsters. You know, for Easter, kids used to get a new dress, hunt for eggs and candy. Kids don’t get nothing now. I’m a member of a church, but very few people come to church. But at Christmas, there’s hundreds. I’ve never lived where the whole neighborhood doesn’t want to come to church.”