Residents’ response

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2006

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series on Crime and Safety in Selma.

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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Frank Mitchell has had enough.

The 63-year-old Selma native says city crime is out of control and he doesn’t see an end in sight.

“Oh, my God please!” Mitchell exclaimed, raising his hands to the sky. “It’s just getting outrageous out here. You’re scared to get in your car at night. You’re scared to go anywhere at night. It’s like you’re in New York or Detroit.”

“Selma … it’s bad for real.”

Mitchell owns M and M Car Care on Water Avenue, where passersby often see him washing cars throughout the morning and early afternoon. He closes up shop before dusk sets in.

“I try to get away from here before dark so someone can see me,” he said.

Mary Thomas, also a Selma resident, has an opposing view. She works the night shift at Safety Net Academy in Minter, Ala., 20 miles south of the Queen City. She exercises at the walking trail near Bloch Park four days a week. On this particular afternoon, Thomas was one of two people on the trail and wasn’t the least bit afraid. According to Thomas, Selma crime could be worse.

“Overall, it’s pretty safe,” she said. “From watching TV and reading the newspaper, it seems like crime is going up. But it’s not nearly as bad as it was two or three years ago.

“Every city has its ups and downs. No matter where you go, there are pros and cons.”

Like Mitchell and Thomas, residents have similar and differing views on city crime. Some are uneasy. Some are unafraid. And some are seriously considering packing up and moving.

Entrepreneur Edward Glover, 61, moved to Selma in December 2002 with a vision to boost the city’s economy. He owns two highly frequented local restaurants – The Pancake House and The Steak Pit – and several mobile home parks. Earlier this month, vandals broke into Glover’s mobile home fabrication facility, Global manufacturing. Damages are estimated at $52,000.

Global has been hit before. According to police reports, burglars stole $100,000 worth of construction equipment last year. As he sits in his modest office at The Pancake House, Glover said he is tired of putting his “hard-earned dollar” into something that will eventually be stolen or “gutted up.”

“Who can afford to take these losses?” Glover asked. “I’ve never had a place that tore up faster than I could buy it. It really hurts our feelings. You can’t do anything without somebody stealing it.

“I’ve worked night and day for the city and we came to see what we could do to help. I thought Ed Glover could make a difference in Selma. Now somebody’s got to make a believer out of me.”

Glover and his wife are so heartbroken that they are contemplating moving to Florida or Virginia. Glover doesn’t plan to pursue any more business deals until conditions improve.

“There’s just so much crime,” Glover said. “I see now why (the international companies) didn’t come.”

“The only reason we’re here is because we love the people. Ninety-eight percent of the people in Selma are the finest folks in life I’ve ever met. It’s those two percent criminals that are stopping any industry from coming in.”

Betty Cleckler and her son, Gary, can relate to Glover’s situation. The two run Cleckler’s Produce on Dallas Avenue, where burglars vandalized the business and stole $600 to $700 in merchandise back in December. Betty sums up the current crime situation in one word – “bad.”

“They messed us up good,” she said. “We feel uneasy about it because we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“I wish there was some way they could cut back on crime, but I don’t know how they would do it.”

Local attorney Kincey Green said the first step to curbing crime activity is to acknowledge the problem. Last week, an attempted burglary occurred at the home of one of his neighbors. Green also noted several communities are now looking into hiring security guards.

“I am deeply disappointed when our city leaders, city councilmen and our police chief think they can fool the people in this town by saying our criminal activity is only average or similar to other towns,” he said.

“Admitting that we have a huge problem and that crime is out of control is the first step needed before a solution can be found,” he said. “As long as city leaders try to sell the public on the lie that crime is not out of control, where is the need to control it? Cover-ups help no one.”

Green said safety is one of most necessary needs of a civilized society.

Until the safety issue is resolved, few will be able to devote the needed resources and attention to the higher goals of the community. Green said immediate action must be taken before matters worsen.

“Hope has not gone, but is growing very dim among many people in Selma,” he said.

Taking Action

“People don’t care until (crime) hits them … until it becomes personal,” said Frank Hardy, director of the Selma Youth Development Center.

“Everyone wants to get involved when it becomes personal, but why wait?”

Hardy started the SYDC 17 years ago. Since its founding, the East Selma center has become a haven for area youth to hone their skills and talents while shying away from a life of crime on the streets.

Hardy said he feels “pretty safe” in the Selma community and speculates the majority of crimes in Selma are drug-related.

Hardy later added that crime is not the sole responsibility of city officials, but citizens too.

“What are we doing? What are we doing in our churches? What we are doing in our schools? What are we doing? Not caring is just as bad as perpetuating the crime,” he said.

“We’ve got to stop waiting on other folks to fix our community. Once we come together, things will change.”

Glover believes the police chief and the mayor are doing the best they can, but does offer a suggestion.

“The Selma Police Department needs to be paid more,” Glover said. “They work hard, they’re underpaid and they’re hung up wet.

“Not one cop should be out here for less than $40,000 a year.”

How would one incorporate an officer raise into the city budget? Glover said the answer is simple – “Get a bond issue for the city.”

New vehicles and state-of-the-art equipment wouldn’t hurt either, he added.

Several residents have come together to discuss and resolve crime activity in recent months.

This year, Grassroots Democracy Commission Chairman and Pastor Franklin Fortier and others created an organization called Brother to Brother following the January shooting murder of 19-year-old Andrae Norwood.

Brother to Brother’s mission is to generate a positive dialogue in an effort to dissolve tensions in high crime communities. Fortier said placing a premium on human life is the organization’s top priority. At a past meeting, Fortier revealed that a stray bullet entered his vehicle as he traveled down Water Avenue one evening.

“The whole trend of taking a person’s life or shooting at a person is just becoming too easy and too casual and we want to turn that around because those are the kinds of incidents you can never recover from,” he said.

Some of its members have initiated conversations with gang members, asking them what steps need to be taken to end bitter, violent feuds.

Fortier doesn’t feel 100 percent safe in Selma, but has not given up hope.

“We are optimistic that if we continue to work with the community, the police department and our elected officials, we can create an environment where everybody has a sense of ownership and make sure that we don’t have random acts of violence,” he said.