Beyond the bullets

Published 9:13 pm Saturday, August 10, 2013

Suffolk pastors like Emanuel Myrick are working on strategies to meet young at-risk men “where they’re at,” blending activities like basketball with mentorship.

Suffolk pastors like Emanuel Myrick are working on strategies to meet young at-risk men “where they’re at,” blending activities like basketball with mentorship.

When bullets fly in Suffolk, chances are it’s at a public housing complex a stone’s throw from Zelda Hill’s Lake Kennedy Drive home.

The 56-year-old mother of two and grandmother of four said she was sitting in her den when Lloyd Randolph Green Sr., 21, was shot dead at Cypress Manor about 1 a.m. on June 29.

“I didn’t hear it,” she recently said. “My daughter heard it. … She came through the door and said, ‘Mom, mom, did you hear those gunshots?’”

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That third murder in three years on Cypress Manor’s Cogic Square — each a bloody crescendo amid a burble of less-deadly shootings and other crime — is causing Hill and others to call for action.

“Sometimes it’s random shooting over there,” Hill said. “One or two occasions, my daughter has called (the) police because it sounded so close, like it’s in my backyard.

Bishop Russell Wallace

Bishop Russell Wallace

“By the time police get there, they’re all spread out. …  To me, I feel like it needs more police to circle through there.”

In April — before Green’s murder — “several residents” expressed concerns over shootings in a letter to the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s executive director, Clarissa McAdoo.

The letter is cited in an email sent to her last month by LeOtis Williams, who serves on the organization’s Board of Commissioners.

Judging from failed attempts to seek comment from three of them — Chairman Branch T. Lawson, Vice Chairman Regina Hall and Cypress Borough Commissioner Mary Herndon — the commissioners are resisting publicly discussing the issue. Lawson didn’t respond to phone messages, Hall didn’t reply to emailed questions, and Herndon said commissioners “have decided that in order to speak to the newspaper, we will turn questions over to the chairman.”

But Williams’ email, released by McAdoo, indicates what those responsible for the authority’s direction are hearing from residents.

“On a daily basis I am receiving calls and visits from residents of Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick stating that they are afraid to go in and out of their units,” Williams wrote.

He appealed for the cash-strapped authority to find a way of funding “some type of security” inside the complexes. He requested an update on security measures, before ending with, “What we don’t want is another murder … because of lack of security.”

A briefing on safety and security is set for the authority’s joint committee meeting on Aug. 19.

McAdoo said Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick, contiguous communities with a total 206 apartments, share a property manager who was not around when the three fatal shootings occurred “in the early morning hours.”

Crime, whenever it happens, is “an immediate law enforcement concern,” she said, while “any management issues surrounding the incident become a property management concern.”

Police and the property manager “working together … is the partnership that has been working in the past in handling crime issues when they arise,” she stated, adding that all alleged perpetrators and victims in the three shootings were non-residents.

Suffolk Police Department figures on the two communities for July 2011 through near the end of last month show two murders in the first half of 2013 — Green’s and Angelo Fleming Beale, a 24-year-old gunned down in Cypress Manor on March 24.

Sexual offenses and aggravated assaults appear steady, but the first half of 2013 saw 29 crimes categorized as “other assault,” up from 22 in the second half of 2012, 18 in the first half and 16 in the second half of 2011.

The first assault by mob and second assault on a police officer of the period occurred in 2013, while simple assault and simple domestic assault crimes have climbed, with 14 and 13, respectively, against eight and seven in the last half of 2011.

“There are some systemic issues there,” said Maj. Stephanie Burch, the police department’s deputy chief, adding that patrols in Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick have been stepped up since this year’s murder there.

“We feel this isn’t really just a police issue. … It’s going to require investment from the community itself … as well as the other agencies. We are looking to do a multi-agency approach.”

Judging by his recently-taken-down Facebook page, replete with photos sporting gang signs and violent, misogynistic song lyrics by rap and hip-hop artists such as Yo Gotti, Chief Keef, Meek Mill and Cassidy, the man police accuse of killing Green, 21-year-old Jeffrey O’Neil Jennings, has been enmeshed in a subculture upon which Suffolk pastor, Bishop Clarence V. Russell, pins a lot of the blame.

“Some people are walking videos,” said Russell, who often leads the funerals and comforts the grieving when the young men fall.

“They try to replicate what they see on MTV.”

When Russell led Green’s funeral last month, Suffolk police officers kept watch outside St. Paul Baptist Church, as well as at the graveyard afterward. Burch said intelligence had suggested a police presence would be “in the best interests of the family,” adding “it’s not unusual” for funerals of homicide victims where a suspect remains unknown and can garner “good intelligence.”

Russell and another Suffolk pastor, Emanuel Myrick of Bethlehem Christian Church, are working on strategies to give young men “some other alternatives.” They’ve reached out to Suffolk Parks and Recreation, the Boys and Girls Club, Crocker Funeral Home and others.

“There are going to have to be some creative things done, because with a lot of the violence, the issue is with the already-out-of-school 18 to 25 age range,” Russell said. “As a church, that’s where we are going to have to come in and help create some things.”

The project has been dubbed SOS, or Save Our Sons, and events are already being planned.

Myrick speaks of the “condition of the heart.” He said: “There has to be a change of the heart, but before that can be facilitated, we have to find some practical ways to address it.”

Traditional church falls short “because young men are not coming to church,” he said.

“The church is in competition with pop culture, the Internet (and) social media. … It’s very important that the church steps outside of the box. We simply can’t do church-as-usual. We have to have activities and engage young people.”

Vice Mayor Charles Brown, a former housing authority commissioner who now represents Cypress Borough on City Council, sees the potential in SOS’s target audience. When he taught math at John F. Kennedy Middle School, some of the brightest kids hailed from Cypress Manor and Parker Riddick, he said.

“I’m hoping that the (current) commissioners (can) work with the city and other agencies to find out what’s going on over there and fix it,” he said. “Good people have to come together and do great things.”