A sign stands in the front lawn of the house police and prosecutors say was once the home of the ringleader of a Rock Hill-to-Brooklyn gun-running operation. It reads: “Crime Watch.”
There was crime all right, police say, and the cops sure watched.
The former Rolling Green Road home of Earl Campbell Jr., 23 – charged with 237 felonies in New York City – sits within sight of Finley Road Elementary School.
It’s a place where children as young as 4 and 5, starting with the new school year today, will get off school buses to learn.
On Tuesday – the day after the arrests of Campbell and seven others from York County were announced – Billy Parker stood across the street from the house where Campbell lived with his mother.
Parker has lived in his home for 30 years. His yard is immaculate, filled with flowers. He is retired, former military.
Parker is disgusted by the gun crimes of young people.
“Drugs and guns,” Parker said. “But, in my day, we worked for what we had. Earned it.”
Police say Campbell, who has a previous conviction for assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest, wanted to earn a living by selling guns to people in New York who would sell them to others for who knows what.
Almost certainly, crime.
Gun laws in New York are very strict. Gun laws here are not, and some politicians and gun rights advocates here where all these guns were sold want people to be able to go armed into Burger King.
Guns in the hands of criminals means shootings and funerals, no movie scene with lovable, torn-between-good-and-evil tough guys.
The streets of Rock Hill are now safer, for sure, with the 250 guns – from pistols to semiautomatic machine guns – now off the streets. Police here, and in New York and North Carolina worked on the bust. It certainly saved lives.
“The streets are safer with Earl Campbell off the streets,” said Marvin Brown, commander of York County’s Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, which helped with the investigation. “He was the ringleader. He took the guns to New York.”
The gun bust was the largest ever in New York City.
Campbell sold 90 of those gun to an undercover officer in New York after arriving there by bus, police say. Sometimes Campbell brought his girlfriend, Kendall Jones of Rock Hill, who is now locked up too on five felony gun charges.
The guns, police say, were bought both legitimately from gun stores in South Carolina and in street transactions. Anybody who passes a background check can legally and legitimately buy a gun in South Carolina.
Every one of those guns that was not intercepted by the cops could have been used to shoot, maim, kill. Campbell was not holding gun shows in New York. He was not a hunter or sportsman. The guns would go to someone, eventually, who would use it to shoot somebody.
“The crooks are in it for the money, I can see that,” said Rock Hill’s Peter Krenn, “but when are the politicians going to do something about how easy it is to get these guns?”
Krenn’s son, Eric, who was just 16, was gunned down 15 years ago on a Rock Hill street not far from where police say Campbell ran his gun operation. He had made the mistake of pulling into the wrong driveway to turn his car around and was murdered.
Eric Krenn died just around the corner from where two of the other major gun suppliers to Campbell lived, according to police. A brother and sister, Larick Michaux and Warquisha Michaux.
Warquisha’s nickname is “Chopper,” for her favorite gun, according to police. She had a handgun in her possession when arrested in a predawn raid on Aug. 5, Brown said.
Warquisha Michaux said in conversations captured by police wiretaps that guns without bullets are not enough.
“wats tha point of a gun if u ain’t got that ammo might as well get a stick,” she wrote in an intercepted text message.
In another text, she called those bullets “cop killers.”
Just one block behind where Warquisha Michaux lived in Rock Hill, a cop named Will Reap was shot by a drug dealer four years ago. Another officer, Trista Baird, was wounded when Reap returned fire.
Both Larick Michaux, 26, and Warquisha Michaux, 28, lived on Jefferson Street with their mother, Monique McClinton.
Two blocks away, a mother who worked at McDonald’s was gunned down last year while sitting in her living room. Rock Hill police never solved the case. They said the victim was not the intended target.
That woman, Elonia Ware, died from a gunshot that went through a wall in a drive-by shooting.
That’s what guns in the hands of criminals do in Rock Hill.
Larick Michaux, who has spent time in prison for burglary and has been arrested before for drug crimes, among others, has six children, his mother said Tuesday. He had no job.
Yet his nice, shiny Dodge Magnum sat in the driveway – owned by a 26-year-old man who has six kids, no job and lives with his mother.
McClinton said she is “speechless” about the arrests, which she has known about since both of her children were locked up more than two weeks ago.
She said it is “a valuable lesson to learn to watch people.”
McClinton blames Campbell, whom police call the ringleader.
The New York indictments allege that Campbell and Larick Michaux argued over who would make the most money from the gun sales.
“Your so-called friends, they try to hurt you and destroy you,” McClinton said.
Also arrested from York County for allegedly conspiring to supply Campbell with guns are:
Arthur Antonio Barber, 27, who lived with his parents east of Rock Hill on Rivercrest Road. He has convictions for burglary and break-ins.
All the suspects – 19 in all who allegedly bought or sold guns illegally – remain jailed pending trials.
Authorities held a big press conference in New York on Monday to make a big deal about getting the guns off the street.
Nobody here in Rock Hill held any news conference. That’s because the guns came from here.
What happened was tough cops arrested a bunch of people from here, though, after intercepting guns that came from here.
There is no evidence, said Marvin Brown, the drug unit commander, that any of the guns in the sting were used in crimes here in York County.
Those guns never will hurt or maim here or anywhere, because the guns were seized.
Nathaniel Jaggers, retired, longtime president of the neighborhood association, lives down the street from where Larick and Warquisha Michaux live. He has spent decades fighting for street repairs, streetlights, storm drains that work.
And now America sees that two alleged gun runners live down his block.
“All we want in this neighborhood, the good people who raise kids, the retirees, is a safe place for children to go to school, to learn,” Jaggers said. “These people, this arrest, they don’t care about safety, security, children.”
Maybe for now, the people who work hard and send kids to school today in Rock Hill will not have to hold their breath any longer and wonder if there are guns for sale down the street.