Public officials in Statesville are “putting band-aids on surgical wounds” after a nine-year-old girl was gunned-down and killed while playing on a neighborhood sidewalk earlier this week.
“The city can revitalize downtown, but in South Statesville, they do everything half-ass; they don’t want to deal with the underlying garbage,” said Danette Glover, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood where three children were struck by bullets in two separate – but likely related – drive-by shootings on Monday.
Ah’Miyahh Howell died from injuries sustained in the first shooting. A second child playing in the area was hospitalized but in stable condition as of yesterday. About two hours after the first shooting, a third child was shot in a separate drive-by at nearby Fourth Street and Newbern Avenue.
Children were not the intended targets, police said at a press conference held Tuesday in the Bentley Community Center, which stands in the same neighborhood where the shootings happened.
During the press conference, Statesville Police Chief David Addison appealed to the public to identify the shooters to police. “The people they’re exchanging gunfire with: they know who the shooters are, but they refuse to come forward and give us any leads,” said Addison, adding that people aren’t cooperating for fear of being labeled “snitches.”
“If this was your child – if this was someone you loved – you would expect someone (to step forward with information) for you,” he said.
“Snitching?!” said Glover under her breath. “They’re not going to come to you because they don’t trust you. This is about building trust and relationships.”
Glover and a handful of concerned Ward 3 residents – including community activist Brian Summers – attended Tuesday’s press conference but weren’t allowed to ask questions. Summers spoke up, however: “This being early into the summer, is there a public safety plan for South Statesville? For these guns?” he asked the chief.
Addison commented that the press conference “was supposed to be just for media only,” but then went on to address the question. “Actually, yes, we actually did an operation about a month ago for which we were actually in the Southside,” he said. “We actually were down there for about a month, and we had one shooting.”
Statesville police worked with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office on the operation “and we’re going to do it again,” Addison said.
When asked by a press member about community policing efforts and how frequently police walk the Southside neighborhood streets, Addison said: “We’ve been engaged in our community – and this is our community because we live here – very often.”
Police recently held a “cleanup” in the community, he said. “We were down there picking up trash. We had a cookout for the community.”
Glover looked around the room, visibly frustrated at Addison’s response, and said what several others seemed to be thinking: “And how did that help?!”
She said city officials have neglected the Southside residents – and, most importantly, its children – for years. “These kids are standing around idle all summer; the Boys and Girls Club can’t do everything!” Glover said. “That splash pad (the city) recently put up for the kids is a joke; that’s supposed to keep kids occupied all summer?”
Crime in the South Statesville community, say its residents, is a symptom of a much larger, far more deep-rooted problem. Public transportation, healthcare and competitive wages are issues outside the grasp of Southside residents, said Summers after Tuesday’s press conference. He pointed at Statesville Mayor Costi Kutteh and said, “look at him, shaking hands.” Then he pointed to a young boy standing nearby. “That child right there? He don’t see hope.”
Glover and Summers grew up as neighbors in Ward 3 public housing. They said times were different for kids then. “We had athletic programs, activities and transportation to places,” Glover recalled. “Our summers were full. It worked.”
Summers recently returned to his South Statesville hometown after spending more than two decades in Washington, DC, where – among other roles – he served under Sen. Jesse Helms and as an aide to President George W. Bush. Upon returning home, he started Sidewalk Institute in Statesville to engage and connect civics and local government.
Summers said his sleeves are rolled up. “No more marches. No more hot dogs. Policy has to change,” he said.
South Statesville has no hospital, no drug store, he said. Residents needing jobs have to look in other parts of the city. “But they can’t get across town to a job because there’s no public transportation,” he said.
Standing inside Ward 3’s Bentley Community Center, Summers looked around. “There’s no internet in this building,” he said. “Why would a city-owned community building not have internet?”
“They intentionally keep everything locked up from you,” he said. “They keep you in that bubble.”
Police across the nation are operating under extreme caution right now because of anti-police sentiment attributed to movements like Black Lives Matter, Summers said. In Statesville, he added, “We’ve got 17 new rookies in a post-Wisconsin, post-George-Floyd environment. Work with the county if you’re understaffed. Team up!”
On the other hand, Summers said, “In my community, if we get pulled, we act apprehensive. We tense up.
“My people have a responsibility. We have to change history. We have to change perception. And that’s not on a Donald Trump. That’s on us.”
But change is going to require a true partnership, Summers said, adding that he is committed to helping bring that change to his hometown. “I’m retired, and I’m home,” he said. “I’m raising hell, and I’m gonna keep on doing it.”