Community key to solving Rock Hill violent crimes

ColumnistJune 14, 2012 

— The daytime Sunset Park neighborhood showed itself Thursday.

This is not the nighttime neighborhood, where a man was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Where a neighbor who never had a job in his life was charged with murder three months later – only to have the charge dropped.

The charge was dismissed because of a problem with the evidence police so far had – and an unwillingness of those who might know what happened to tell police.

A violent crime now is unsolved. When violent criminals are removed, people who work and study and save and go to church can live and dream.

The daytime Sunset Park is a thrilling place of so many laughs and dreams that a computer could not tally all of them.

It was where Anthony Lee, 15, took his cousin to play basketball at Friedheim Park on Thursday.

Lee is a B+ student, heading to the 11th grade, and plans to attend college. He is 6 feet 6 inches tall, plays basketball at Northwestern High School, which he hopes will help him get to college.

But his goal is to be an “entrepreneur.” A businessman, maybe a fashion mogul.

“I do my best in school,” said Lee.

His little cousin who lives just around the corner, Ja’Bari McClurkin, 7, was so proud to say: “I get good grades, too!”

A 13-year-old from down the street named Cameron McClanningham showed up. He and Lee did not know each other, but they shared the basketball.

Cameron then shared his dream – the same dream – of someday going to college and maybe having a career in technology.

“Computers,” said Cameron.

Behind the court, three dozen younger kids ate lunch under a shelter. The only sound aside from chewing was laughter. Nobody needed to call the police to report the presence of joy in Sunset Park.

Still, just a block south on Orr Drive is where that January murder took place. Alexander “Boot” Hardin, 65, was beaten to death in his own home.

The murder charge was filed three months after he was killed against a convicted felon who had been charged with a robbery that took place four days before at the victim’s home.

The murder charge, so far anyway, is flimsy, so prosecutors dismissed it, maintaining their right to bring the charge again.

That means that Mary Hope, president of the Sunset Park neighborhood association – who lives on the block where the murder took place and where the formerly accused lived – is left with an unsolved killing close enough to her front door to see the bloodstains.

“This whole case has really been bothering me – and not just me,” said Hope. “We have talked about this as neighbors. We literally are praying that someone will come forward and do the right thing, and tell police what they know.

“We can’t say it is not ‘our’ problem, because it is a problem for every one of us. It happened right here. It is unsolved – again.”

‘Expect safe streets’

Rock Hill police and prosecutors said – after the dismissals of both the Sunset Park case and another case from a shooting death on Crawford Road just a few blocks away – that information from people in the community who know what happened is crucial to solving the cases.

People calling police with evidence and information is vital, said Rock Hill NAACP president Melvin Poole, but the people in Sunset Park and Crawford Road also should expect the cases to be solved properly and quickly.

Mary Hope from Sunset Park, and Margaret Anderson from the Crawford Road North neighborhood association, also said people should expect police to arrest the right suspects – and for those arrests to stick.

“It appears that this case involved charging a convenient suspect,” said Poole. “But the fact now is, there are two unsolved murder cases in these neighborhoods, where 98 percent of the people work hard or are retired and have every reason to expect safe streets.”

In the Crawford Road neighborhood killing, Jamar Ferguson, 31, was shot four times while in the middle of the street.

Anderson said the violence must stop, and people must come forward to tell authorities what they know. The killing that now is unsolved was the main topic of a community meeting earlier this week.

“If the police aren’t called, and people don’t say what they know,” she said, “the people who do these kind of things will keep on doing it.”

Almost all the residents in both neighborhoods, and all the people involved in both cases, are black. The neighborhood association leaders are black.

Why bring that up? Because in a similar situation in an all-black neighborhood in York just three months ago, it was quick action by black neighbors who called police immediately after a shootout in the street that led to three arrests of suspects.

Those arrested were black. Yet, without question, these suspects had endangered the lives of dozens of residents – all black – with a daytime shooting spree that could have ended with innocent kids dead or wounded.

In that case, several neighbors immediately called police. A swarm of officers started a search and had one man in custody after a chase within minutes. Even the police chief was involved. Other suspects were identified and arrested. All face serious felony charges.

“If people in that neighborhood – the residents themselves – did not call us immediately and say what happened, I don’t know that we would have found” the suspects, said Capt. Brian Trail of the York Police Department. “The fact is, the people there cared enough about their neighbors to call us – and we handled it from there.”

The Rock Hill cases required weeks or months of investigation – partly because the information from neighbors was sparse, at best. And now, with the dismissals, those cases start over – months later.

Just Wednesday – in a case surely not a murder but still disturbing – Rock Hill police arrested two suspects, 15 and 12, after they allegedly stole a younger kid’s iPod at a city park across town.

A police report shows one suspect also apparently acted like one might have a gun. The man who called police and reported the crime is black. The victim, his son, is black – just 11. The suspects are black.

Police handled the crime and made that park safe again because that father reported the crime. That man’s actions show it is not acceptable to steal and threaten.

Color makes no difference. Victims of all races should demand action by police – and their neighbors.

The people of Rock Hill have every right to expect safety and police protection and timely arrests of violent suspects.

But it seems clear that – unless those who see what happened or hear what happened or know what happened – help the cops and prosecutors do their jobs, that cases will not be solved.

Kids such as Cameron McClanningham and Ja’Bari McClurkin and Anthony Lee, who are so proud of grades, should not have to think about or be reminded of killings within earshot of where dreams are dreamed.

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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