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West End residents: Stop drive-by shootings

SALISBURY — Kenneth Hardin moved out of the West End 10 years ago after bullets fired near his house shattered a neighbor’s window.

A decade later, little has changed, Hardin said. On Monday, bullets were fired into his parents’ home on West Bank Street during a drive-by shooting like the one that caused Hardin to move his family to another neighborhood.

“Where is the progress?” Hardin asked Salisbury City Council.

Two bullets struck his parents’ house and caused considerable damage to their bedroom, Hardin said.

“If someone had been in the bedroom, it probably would have been fatal,” he said.

His parents, who are in their 70s, are terrified, Hardin said. They have lived in their home for 42 years.

Hardin was one of several speakers during an emotional public comment session at Tuesday’s City Council meeting where NAACP members and advocates for the West End pleaded with the city to stop the gun violence that has plagued their neighborhood.

Carolyn Rice said a stray bullet from a March 22 gunfight went through a TV and lodged into the wall just a few feet from where her two granddaughters were sleeping in her West Horah Street home.

The bullet came from a multiple-shooting incident on nearby Grim Street where three men were injured, she said.

A fourth shooting in as many weeks occurred Saturday on Grim Street when police say a card game got out of hand. Investigations into all the shootings continue.

To make matters worse, Rice said, someone broke into her home Wednesday in broad daylight, destroyed property and stole several items, including her granddaughter’s new shoes, which Rice said she cannot afford to replace. Rice said she felt violated.

Several West End residents told City Council on March 4 that they live in fear, afraid to walk in their neighborhood after three murders in 11 months and numerous home invasions and vehicle thefts, even from church parking lots.

“I hope that you will hear the human cry that we have in our community,” resident Deedee Wright said Tuesday. “This is serious.”

Wright said Police Chief Rory Collins’ report to City Council on April 8, which detailed a reduction in West End property crime like burglary and larceny, did not tell the whole story.

“The report was incomplete,” she said.

The neighborhood wants real statistics on what is happening in the West End, Wright said, and the city needs to have a meaningful dialogue about the area.

“We are being less than ingenuous when we sit up and say nice kinds of things to each other rather than hearing each other,” she said.

While City Council members seem to “really care,” they are not asking the hard questions that need to be asked, Wright said.

President Scott Teamer said the local NAACP chapter wants to meet with City Council but did not receive a response to a request sent to Mayor Paul Woodson via certified mail.

Council members have met with the group one or two at a time to pacify members and make promises, Teamer said. But the community wants a genuine discussion with city leaders to address underlying problems and come up with real solutions.

“We want to put it all on the table,” Teamer said. “We want a business relationship with the City Council.”

City Council eventually agreed to hold a meeting in the West End with the neighborhood and NAACP. The date has not been set, but Woodson said he would like to meet in May.

Teamer, who grew up in Salisbury, said he remembers a time when prominent white citizens showed respect to his grandparents and their peers.

“It disturbs me when a city manager is allowed to disrespect someone double his age who lived through segregation and the hurtful era of Jim Crow,” Teamer said. “That’s when inexperience comes in, and something should be done.”

City Manager Doug Paris told City Council he would be happy to move one of the city’s monthly police and code enforcement community meetings to the West End. When Councilman Pete Kennedy said that was not enough, Paris said he would be delighted to set up a meeting for West End residents.

Teamer complained that Salisbury Police are alienating the neighborhood rather than building relationships with residents. Collins is preparing to add a second Police Interdiction Team, as well as another community relations officer. All will focus initially on the West End.

Teamer said that’s not the answer.

“This aggressive street police thing is not going to help,” he said.

African Americans in the West End continue to be stopped by five or six police cars at a time for a traffic violation, he said. Teamer said he has been stopped by police excessively, but when the mayor sent Collins to the neighborhood recently, the police chief “didn’t say a word to us, so we are concerned there are games being played.”

Teamer said the NAACP wants to do “everything we can to have a meaningful dialogue and to improve the community.”

“We want to take responsibility on our part, but we want the city to meet us halfway,” he said.

Councilman Brian Miller said the comments left him confused. Teamer seemed to be suggesting that the city should back off enforcement in the West End while others talked about the need for additional protection, Miller said.

If the neighborhood is plagued by drive-by shootings and broken street lights, as some complained, “it seems to me that more enforcement is the answer – not less enforcement,” he said.

Every citizen deserves protection, and “no neighborhood is more qualified or more able or more worthy of our concern,” Miller said.

Woodson said any confusion about Teamer’s remarks would be cleared up during the upcoming meeting.

The city must find a way to stop shootings in the West End, Woodson said.

“Chief, you’ve got a big job to try to figure out how to stop these shootings,” he said to Collins.

To residents, Woodson pledged that City Council “will do whatever we can to try to make it better.”

“We want to make the West End a place where you can live and not have fear,” he said. “We’re all in this.”

Kennedy said despite recent efforts, people in the West End feel the city is not doing enough.

“There is still a disconnect,” he said.

Kennedy suggested Paris and Collins meet with West End residents to tell them how they can help identify criminals and stop the shootings.

“Go talk to these people,” he said.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander went a step further and suggested the entire City Council meet with West End residents. Kennedy agreed that communication is the key. Alexander and Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell met with a group from the West End last week, but residents want all City Council members together, she said.

By consensus, council members agreed. Blackwell said the NAACP deserves a response to Teamer’s letter “as a sign of respect.”

During his remarks, Teamer asked council members who has the courage to stand up for the entire city.

“Because we deserve that,” he said. “We are citizens, we are taxpayers, but more importantly, our fathers have contributed to the wealth of this society, and we’re going to demand respect.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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