Thursday, January 5, 2006
For years, the Battlefield Park neighborhood, cupped between Gallatin Street, U.S. 80 and Terry Road, has been a high-traffic territory for illicit drug activity and prostitution. Many local residents look upon the frenetic crime with embarrassment. "I've been living here all my life. We own too much property around here, so I couldn't just sell it, but I've watched this place go down," said one resident, who asked that his name be withheld for fear of retribution. "My family's been here for more than 100 years, and it's been getting worse. I've shot at people breaking into my house while I'm in it."
Years ago, Sheriff Malcolm McMillin decided to take the area under the wing of the sheriff's department. County patrol vehicles stepped up their presence in the community, and crime took a temporary dive during the years when crack, a new, cheaper version of cocaine, was raging through the streets and driving up the city's murder rate.
Crime control was in the hands of local residents, however, whom the sheriff's department relied upon to report criminal activity. As residents moved away and a newer, more introverted, class of residents took their place, the area again fell into decay.
Lately, though, a new breed of occupant has taken up residence. Today, groaning buildings, blasted with water damage and crumbling foundations and covered with boarded-up windows and smashed doors, sit alongside newer, cleaner homes, wearing a fresh coat of paint and littered with potted plants and Christmas decorations. New homes, intended for family ownership, have been built through various partnerships between HUD, the city of Jackson, and local churches and institutions. A new, nervous class of residents with children and families has moved into the area, and they find themselves outraged at the state of the neighborhood.
On Dec. 29, McMillin officially returned to the neighborhood, speaking at a community meeting arranged at the Steel Workers International Union Hall, on Guidici Street.
The sheriff department's success in working with the neighborhood public school has emboldened McMillin. George Elementary has gone from a Level 1 miasma to a Level 5 powerhouse since the department officially adopted it, sending in inmate workers from the county's penal farm to clean and do minor repairs and county employees to mentor the kids.
"It wasn't mandatory," McMillin says. "I just told 'em they had to do it."
The department has also concentrated on cutting prostitution directly around the school and has used inmate labor to tear down the long-deserted Grace Methodist Church, once used by prostitutes and drug dealers. County inmate labor has also been used to tear down other dilapidated buildings in the area. McMillin admits that it's still bad in the area, "but it used to be worse."
Joined by county officials and City Council President Marshand Crisler, McMillin tried to appeal to local residents to continue a partnership begun years ago between the neighborhood and the county.
"The commitment I'm making to you tonight is if you'll help me, I'll help you. If you'll get involved with your neighborhood, in your church, with your neighbors, with your children and grandchildren and say 'we can stop this,' then we can do it," McMillin said. "I pledge to you that Marshand (Crisler) will take a list of condemned properties that need to be torn down and if we got permission to do it from the city, then we're gonna tear it down and haul it off. And we'll sweep the streets, and paint the curbs, and even paint the fire hydrants, but we'll need a commitment from other people that they're going to do the same thing to their property. When I see people cleaning the streets, hauling off junk and tearing down houses, I want to see you out there. I don't want you to be spectators. I need you to be participants, and I need you to get the neighbors to be participants. I got 200 (penal farm inmates) who are just dying to sweep these streets but we can only turn this around if we work together."
McMillin told residents that by now they knew what illegal activity looked like, and asked that they inform the sheriff's department when it was spotted, saying the department needed residents to be the department's eyes.
Crisler said McMillin could probably pull it off "because he's got the zeal and the determination to do it."
"It really goes back to the key word being a partnership between the city of Jackson and Hinds County, but most importantly the community," said Crisler. "The community will probably keep its focus in this if the situation is dismal enough, and believe me, the situation is dismal enough."
The next morning, Hinds County inmates were clearing away shrubbery from the train tracks just down the street from the union meeting hall. McMillin said more activity was scheduled throughout next week and for many weeks following.
Resident Claudette Nolan said she had high hopes regarding the partnership.
"I think the sheriff is going to do what he said he's going to do," Nolan said. "There will be another meeting here with him in another two weeks or so, and I'll be here for it. I think many of us will."
Has anybody considered that McMillin would make an excellent Mayor? Just a thought. I'll bet he could glean alot of Black votes. The majority wants action regardless of race. He seems to be able to deliver. Just a thought.
I agree, and have considered him a great potential mayor for a long time, but he'll never run because I'm sure he doesn't want the headaches of the power struggles resulting from the never-ending racial politics in Jackson.
- Jeff Lucas
He'll never run because he lives in Clinton.
- sny guy
"It wasn't mandatory," McMillin says. "I just told 'em they had to do it." YOGI BERRA LIVES! It's good to see that there are still level-headed people among us. Hadn't heard about this on the news, unless I missed it.
He'll never run because he lives in Clinton. Yeah, so. Melton's "homestead" was in Texas. Rules are pretty lax in this here Dodge City.