Rock Island neighborhood a 'war zone,' alderman declares

2009-08-15T02:00:00Z Rock Island neighborhood a 'war zone,' alderman declaresDustin Lemmon The Quad-City Times
August 15, 2009 2:00 am  • 

Recent shootings in the Longview neighborhood have prompted Rock Island Alderman Terry Brooks to declare the area a "war zone" in hopes of getting residents to respond to the problem.

In a letter Brooks submitted to the Quad-City Times this week, he said the violence in the area is escalating and he criticized residents, the City Council and church leaders for not doing enough to stop it.

The area Brooks cited is between 9th and 18th avenues and 11th and 15th streets.

"I have seen and heard many gunshots in this targeted area," Brooks wrote. "I presently know home owners who have ducked bullets that have entered their homes and yards."

The council has not followed through after making community violence a high priority last fall, Brooks said. Local churches that three years ago set up a plan to address violence in Rock Island's neighborhoods also never moved forward, he said.

Most of Brooks' criticism, however, is aimed at those committing the crimes and residents who stay quiet instead of providing information to police.

"I'm here to blame the insurgents in these communities," Brooks wrote. "I'm here to blame people for not being willing to identify people who are perpetrating these crimes."

Brooks, who represents the 1st Ward, said Friday that he hopes the letter prompts action from those in the community. He noted that Mayor Dennis Pauley has held meetings the past two weeks on forming an anti-violence task force and thinks that's a step in the right direction. He wishes something had been done sooner.

"I feel we lost a year," Brooks said. "I have confidence (Pauley) will do what he said will be done (with the task force), but we have lost a year."

Rock Island has had no homicides this year and violent crime is down, Police Chief John Wright points out. But Brooks said he's seen an increase in recent weeks of violent incidents without serious injuries that have frightened neighbors. He described many of the altercations as family feuds.

"I don't think the majority of it is gang- or drug-related. That might be a little bit of it. Some of it just started with fights," he said. "People feel mistreated. They feel their manhood or womanhood is being challenged."

Brooks said a friend of his who lives in the area recently had someone fire several shots at his front door.

Neighborhood response

Walking around the neighborhood Friday afternoon, it was difficult to find residents who would talk about the neighborhood's problems or share their names.

Brooks and other residents said people are afraid that if they speak publicly about the shootings, someone will retaliate against them.

Alton Metcalf, who moved back to the neighborhood in 2000, said he's seen the area endure more violence but agrees that it's been worse lately.

"The last couple of years, we've had sporadic things happening," he said, noting there have been fatal shootings within blocks of his house.

He thinks residents can do more to stop the problems, including more calls to police.

"I definitely think we could do better," he said. "In order for us to have a good community, we as homeowners and our children have got to respect the law."

Sam Grandberry, who was outside trimming his shrubs Friday afternoon, said he doesn't think the problems this year are any worse than in years past. He added that there always seems to be more shootings in the summer.

He thinks residents are pretty good at reporting what they see and doesn't think the violence is as bad as Brooks claims.

"I wouldn't say it was a war zone," he said. "If it came to be a war zone, I'd get away from here."

The task force

Pauley has held meetings in recent weeks to set up the Safer Community Task Force. He plans to appoint 15 to 20 people to the task force, which should have its first meeting in September.

Their job will be to study crimes, examine law enforcement activities and develop a strategy to get residents involved, the mayor said.

"All of the citizens in Rock Island should be able to expect to live in a safe community," Pauley said.

The task force won't just focus on the neighborhood Brooks called a "war zone" but the entire city, Pauley said.

As for the delay in forming the task force and addressing the council's anti-violence priority, Pauley blamed that on the April elections in which he was elected mayor and some new aldermen took office.

"We just made it a priority last fall," Pauley said. "I don't know if anyone has sidestepped it on purpose. We're just now getting to it."

Wright said police have already been working on the problem and taking steps to address concerns from the community. Brooks' letter made it a point to say he was not blaming police for not being able to stop the recent violence.

Wright said 93 percent of the city's verified shots-fired incidents this year have occurred in the area of 17th Street to the Mississippi River and 18th Avenue to the Mississippi River, which includes the area Brooks identified as a problem.

"Obviously, there are social and cultural issues taking place in these neighborhoods that have an effect on violent crime," he said. "Terry knows the neighborhood and the culture, and he is trying to get them engaged; he knows change has to come from within. I applaud him for that."

Church involvement

In 2006, several Rock Island churches put together a plan to address violence. Those included: Greater Antioch Baptist Church, Destiny Baptist, Olivet Baptist, Church of Peace, House of Fire Ministries, Second Baptist, Macedonia Baptist, People's Baptist and two Rock Island Police Department chaplains.

Church leaders planned to get out in the community more and get actively involved.

Jay Bland Sr., a minister at Greater Antioch Baptist Church in Rock Island, said he's been doing that and agrees with Brooks that more needs to be done to engage the people in the community.

"It's all about trying to get the community involved," Bland said. "Either you're going to be a part of the problem or be a part of the solution."

Bland also agrees with Brooks' assessment that the neighborhood has become a war zone. When he is out in the community, he meets with children and adults and questions them about the direction they're heading - be it with drugs or skipping school.

"I just try to be a peacemaker, to show them a positive way," he said. "I draw them in and say, 'Where do you want to be in five years.' "

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