By Daniel Silliman
There are a lot of pieces to the restoration of a community, a lot of little gestures and actions, both official and personal.
One of those acts, in the story of attempts to bring down the rampant rates of drug dealing, burglary, armed robbery and gang activity along the Flint River Road corridor, occurred last week, when Glenn Dowell bought shoes for 20 children.
Dowell, founder of the Youth Empowerment Project and candidate for the Board of Education District 6 seat, working with the Clayton County Police Department, gave 20 children at Williamsburg South Apartments $35 vouchers for new shoes.
"We're trying to take that community back from criminals," Dowell said. "It's a beautiful place to live, but you've had drug dealers operating with impunity ... I've never seen it as bad as we have it right now, where people assume they can get away with selling drugs, breaking into homes, and even committing murder."
The Flint River Road and Pointe South Parkway corridor, which stretches from Tara Boulevard to Ga. Highway 85, has consistently ranked among the most crime- and gang-ridden areas in the county, according to police statistics. Burglaries rose to epidemic rates, and two murders -- the death of 17-year-old Edward Bernard Mills, who was shot in the back on a Sunday afternoon at Williamsburg South, and the death of Gregory Foldenaur, a 52-year-old banker who was shot for his wallet in his own front yard -- shocked the community.
The Clayton County Police Department responded with heavy patrols, road checks, sweeps, smaller beats and an increase in interaction with the community.
Chief Jeff Turner said the area got so bad, at one point, that "kids were afraid to go outside and play."
Turner said he noticed the children's shoes at a meeting of neighbors, who were concerned about crime in the neighborhood and were looking for ways to help improve the corridor.
"The children's shoes," he said, "were in pretty deplorable condition."
The police department wanted to do something, about the shoes, and Dowell offered to lead the effort. According to the chief, Dowell came up with the $700 to pay for the shoes.
"It's building trust," Dowell said, "and we're doing it one day at a time. When we first went in there, we literally had to go from apartment to apartment to get people involved. We are building that trust and we have a long way to go, but at least we are seeing kids walk around."
The apartment complex is in District 6, where Dowell is seeking to win a board of education seat. He is facing Vernetta Reeves, Mary Baker, John Askew, Mabel Swaby, William Hill and James Stanley in the July 15 Democratic Party primary.
Turner said the crime rates along the corridor have dropped dramatically.
Last week, there were no burglaries in the area, and in the last three weeks, there were fewer than 10 burglaries, Turner said. Gang actives, and calls for service, were also down, by about half, according to police statistics.
"The community is doing their part and we're doing our part and, together, we're making a difference," Turner said. "If you go through there now, you can see kids in the playgrounds and there are no open drug deals."