Fear grips neighborhood after double homicide

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The day after a double homicide occurred on Griffin Avenue, people tried to get back to their normal routines.

Two men played cards on the hood of a white sedan, three children rode bicycles in a yard and a woman talked on a cell phone while sitting on her front porch.

But the death of two young men hung over the neighborhood like a heavy fog.

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Speculation about the murders spread like wildfire. One witness, who lives near the scene of the shooting, said he heard the shots ring out and watched from his bedroom window as the four-door, Oldsmobile sedan rolled to a stop.

“I thought, somebody got some New Year’s firepower,” said the man, who refused to be identified. “It sounded like a cannon went off.”

While talk of the shooting ran wild, no one wanted to be connected with it. Fear gripped this East Selma neighborhood.

When people were asked why a careful of teenagers was riding around with guns, their eyes darted toward the asphalt and not one sound escaped from their lips.

One resident said people are just plain scared to talk.

“They’re scared what will happen,” she said. “They don’t want their house shot up.”

An atmosphere of fear is detrimental to the community and police work, said Selma Police Chief William T. Riley III. He said people are afraid to talk to the police and the press because they fear violent retaliation.

“When you have that fear, that can hurt the police department,” Riley said. “We’re slowly trying to break down those particular barriers to help us solve those crimes.”

He said when criminals are caught and cases are solved, it encourages people to cooperate with the police. However, it is often difficult to get information in the first place.

“When the information is given, results happen,” he said. “Individuals are arrested, prosecuted and go to jail, and so people can feel that what they’re doing is meaningful.”

Building a relationship with the community is an important part of solving crimes.

Riley said when he became police chief in March, many people did not trust the department.

“People said, You know what? We’re not telling ya’ll nothing because you’re not going to do nothing with it,'” he said. “We had to change the culture and mindset of the people in the community.”

Walking down the streets of East Selma, it is clear the culture has not been completely changed.

A woman said she did not think anyone would ever find out what happened inside that maroon sedan.

Hundreds of people gathered at the crime scene Monday night. Just minutes after the murders occurred, people were already discussing what would come.

A woman who lives near Griffin Avenue said crimes like this make her scared to leaver her house.

There is no magic switch to flip, Riley said.

“It can’t happen overnight. It takes time,” he said. “But we’re slowly getting there.”