Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Prayer Request

Please keep Margo's mom in your thoughts and prayers as she has cancer for the second time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Residents of Creepy Hollow Part 2

I wanted to provide some context to the growing situation in Creepy Hollow in the the Nutbush area.
"Nutbush" is "Very loosely speaking" bordered by the CSX railroad to the north; Graham Street to the east; Bayliss Street to the south, and New Highland Street to the west. north of Summer ave. in the Summer/Highland area, and has a distinction of not being so much of a neighborhood in the traditional sense, and more of an idea. A negative connotation that has spread to the working class family neighborhoods of Highland Heights, National Acres, and parts of Berclair,these areas have all become annexed into "Nutbush" in the minds of many.

I was in that neighborhood just the other day, talking to area residents about forming a Neighborhood watch, and hopefully using that as a spring board towards creating a viable,strong, Neighborhood association, that is trained in all the fundamentals of Grassroots Organizing. I spoke to an older gentleman named Fitzpatrick, and he told me that at one time, "Nutbush" was not the name of this area, In fact according the area where he lives is called National Acres. This struck me as odd, as I had lived in "Nutbush" for most of my late teens and early twenties and had never heard of such a name.

He later said that legend had it the name came about when the first black family moved into the neighborhood. This house was soon set ablaze via Molotov cocktails thrown by racists residents. The police on the scene later commented that the neighborhood was "Full of Nuts". Hence the name Nutbush.

Whether the story is true or false the point is clearly made. "Nutbush" is a neighborhood on the edge...maybe over the edge. The worst part is that in a way many of the residents have accepted this as a reality.

"This right here is Westwood for Whitefolks." One local White business owner told me, more than a little amused by my efforts. "You see we got all kinds around here,Homeboys, Rednecks, Mexicans...and even Mexinecks."

Another man, a White resident of forty years said,"This part of town used to be alright, filled with good families, but now...with all these renters and Mexicans, the area's just gone down the toilet, good luck to ya son, but I think you're wasting your time out here." Both men warned me about being there after dark, and both men joked...kinda joked about being more interested in arming themselves and "Blast those wannabe gangsters strait to hell

I then spoke to a Black man who lives on near Macon, about forming a Neighborhood association. Again, while sympathetic to the idea, he responded with a fatalistic attitude that has almost become the trademark of our inner city. "I think it's a good idea,we sure need one but it can't work out here. these whitefolks think everyone is out to get them. shit, thing of it is these fools out here are after everyone. Besides how can you have a neighborhood association when no one trusts their own neighbors?" This man also warned me about hanging out by Creepy Hollow after dark, and also seemed a little too eager to arm himself and "Do what you gotta do."

So....I spoke to some Latino residents, who mostly were suspicious and wary of speaking to me. However, they were also the most positive about getting things done BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.I used to work in construction with a Nutbush resident, a good guy named Canelo,who hails from Guatemala. One day we were talking after work and he looked at me with confusion when I told him that I did not own a gun. He asked,"What if someone tries to kill you?...if you have no gun, you can't do nothing." I explained that no one wants to kill me, and that I just did not want a gun. He continued to look confused...he then told me that I sounded just as crazy to him as he sounded to me.

The point is that while a great many people in the area are interested in taking action, their neighborhoods have been neglected for so long, that hopelessness and apathy have gained a foothold in this community. As this economy get worse,"things were already getting bad in Nutbush anyway", things in that area could easily spin out of control from a variety of factors.

1.Race- as with any situation in this city it seems that Race is always the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room. The area is a mix of low to middle class Blacks with a population of low to middle class whites, many of whom are Seniors, and a growing latino population. This is a hub for the future of race relations in the city. Racial tensions run high as Latino gangs in particular The locally based Krazy Ass Latinos, or KALs have moved down from Hickory Hill and are now running drugs in the areas, especially the Wells Station area. Gangs are nothing new to Nutbush. The Dirty Dozen, as well as The Gangster Disciples have been active in the area for quite a while. Many Black and White gangs have called that area home over the years.

In fact the criminal element often seeks to prey on Latino residents as there is a perception that Latinos due to the large number of undocumented workers,and a fear based aversion to law enforcement due to conditions within many of their native countries, that Latinos are less likely to call the police.
Predatory lenders also often set up shop in Latino areas preying on the lack of access to traditional financial institutions. This also feeds the local criminal element's in targeting Latinos, as they are more likely to possess large sums of cash.

As a result, as with all other immigrant groups in the history of this country, you see a rise in gang membership and activity. This rise occurs when a marginalized group of people are victimized and yet have little or no confidence or access to the support and protection of existing societal infrastructures. Lately I have been seeing alot of F-13 tags in that area, crossing out KAL tags and vice versa. F-13 arrival should be a chief concern as this Latino gang has been know to target Black civilian populations in their areas without regard to any criminal of gang affiliation. They were robbed by criminals who happened to be black, and so they target blacks, who in many cases were not in anyway involved.

Racial tensions are growing, people are afraid to go out at night,people do not know or trust their neighbors,no organization exists to unite these communities and gun sales are rapidly rising. This is my nightmare scenario,the further balkanization of the area, with race based vigilante justice, becoming a mainstream idea.

2. Lack of viable financial institutions. This could lead to the same situation of predatory lending on the scale of Frayser and Hickory Hill. There are 5 predatory lenders, and 5 pawn shops in the area. There is however only one bank to speak of.

3. Home Foreclosure- This is of course a nation wide issue, however in Nutbush, their are already large numbers of vacant houses in various states of disrepair and on the horizon, large numbers of people in Nutbush and nearby Berclair that are three to six months behind on their mortgages. The next big wave is coming to Nutbush

4. Lack of Community wide organizations. With the exception of Grahamwood, there is no such vehicle to promote positive development, nor is there a vehicle to promote the needs and desire of the community to their elected officials. thus there is a vicious circle of the city ignoring the problems of an area which leads to local political apathy to low voter turnout, to politicians ignoring an area due to low turn out, which leads back to political apathy.

5. Homelessness, this is a problem that should be of concern to all Memphians, but sadly it seems the city only "cares" about the homeless when they are DOWNTOWN.

So, instead of providing housing, and EFFECTIVE drug,alcohol rehab and mental health programs that work, they push the homeless away from downtown to other areas. Nutbush being but one of them. Running a City has to be more than about Downtown. There are no free shelters in Memphis to serve the growing homeless community. Also as Nutbush sits on the border of precincts, problems are often pushed their way from other areas.

The Center City Commission has a private police force downtown, with a six figure budget, just to harass the homeless downtown. Where is Nutbush's private police force to prevent burglary,car theft, robbery, Drug dealing? know...real crimes that the rest of us who do not live Downtown care about.

Now the good news,

1. Small business. Nutbush/Berclair has a high number of Mom and Pop companies, as well as many affordable shopping choices all along Summer ave. The area does not have a major problem with vacant commercial property. These shops stores and garages are the life blood of the area, and a good foundation, for future development

2. Affordable housing. This area has some real gems,well built homes dating back to the postWW2 era for low prices, Nutbush was always affordable, but now prices are falling threw the floor. there is great potential for redevelopment.

3. Race, odd that this should appear on both lists, but I feel that Nutbush's diversity has great potential to be the area where Memphians of all colors can rally around common problems and issues and become a model for not only community activism, but for race relations as well....this will be a long hard road, but I truly believe that.
You see because despite the racial differences between the various residents, they all want the same things. Safe neighborhoods, Good Schools, Economic opportunity.

4. The People. I have been working in this area for a while now, and I have to say that I am encouraged and inspired by the resurgence of civic pride and a desire on the part of local residents, churches, schools and activists to make a stand against the issues that taint their neighborhood. Highland Height Methodist Church, is currently in the works to build an "Urban School' in the area to serve low income youth.There are many area residents in Highland Heights making efforts to create a new neighborhood association. There is also a second group planning the same in the Wells Station area. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center will be working very hard in the coming year to support and assist the community in all of these endeavours.

I think that "Nutbush" is a diamond in the rough and a community and a neighborhood that can thrive even in these troubling times. Several residents were interested in a name change, and while I normally take a dim view of such things, I think that this is a different case because it's coming from the residents and not some outside force seeking to shape the community according to what they want it to be. Instead I hope that by working with area residents we can make Nutbush...or whatever it ends up being called, into a place that every resident feels proud to call home.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Feel Good Friday-Absurdly Anti-Masculine

You know it's not been alotta fun being a loyal fan of the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis is destroying that team like Godzilla in Tokyo, but I have to stick with them in these lean times. As a Raider fan, I also have a pronounced hatred for the many teams that we count as rivals. I hate the Broncos, I hate the Chiefs, and back when the Seahawks were in the division...I hated them too.

However, I can no longer hate the San Diego Chargers, despite the horrible defeat they dealt to my beloved silver and black.
Why?...because while watching a Chargers game I heard funny, so wonderful, so......incredible, that I found that I could no longer hate a people who have given me so much joy. The following is the CURRENT fight song for the San Diego Chargers.... I kid you not, they play this at their home games. After listening to that, the loss stings alot less.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Residents of Creepy Hollow Part 1

"Brad's Notes"

UPDATE, I have remained in contact with Mr. Winston Gibson and other concerned parties in government,the community and local business owners. Thankfully, Mr Gibson had his judgement from the Health department dismissed, by Judge Potter last week on the grounds that the trash was dumped illegally by trespassers. Mr. Gibson also has erected a new series of poles blocking the entrance to Creepy Hollow and sent men out to clean up the area.I have also placed Mr Gibson in touch with another local business owner who are in the process of installing security cameras, that they are willing to use to extend to the entry area of the woods.

The following is an email that I sent to the admin of the Southern Mudslingers, a group of local ATV riders who often take rides in Creepy Hollow. These guys are not dangerous criminals or bad people. In fact they are just guys looking to ride the trails and have fun, but it's still trespassing and it's still dragging down the neighborhood. Unfortunately closing down that access to the bottoms and trying to drive the criminal element out of that neighborhood means this activity has to stop too. In my next post i'll be introducing you to less benign residents of Creepy Hollow.

Good afternoon,

My name is Brad Watkins and I am the Organizing coordinator for the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

I am writing you today about the service road that leads from the Berclair/Nutbush area into the Covington Pike bottoms at the corner of Wells Station and Chelsea. This location has been a hot spot for criminal trespass activity, as well as car theft, poaching, as well as the sale of illegal drugs. In addition to this, as a result of poaching, several area residents have stray bullets hitting their homes. The Peace and Justice Center, following up on our voter Education campaign Change Memphis, will continue to try and work to help area residents organize and and find nonviolent solutions to these issues. Currently, I am working with area residents , as well as local business owners to try and clear this area of these illegal activities.

It is the intention of the Peace and Justice Center to form a local coalition in order to..

1. Increase Police protection in that area., including the return of patrols in the wooded area with police jeeps. This was effective in curbing such activities in the past.

2. Work with Rick Copeland at OPD and MLGW in clearing of clogged drain water paths. The excess vegetation prevents clear visibility of the Train tracks at the corner of Wells Station and Chelsea, and has served as a "ambush spot" according to two long time neighborhood residents.

3 The creation of a Neighborhood watch program, in attempts to push the criminal effort away from an area with so many elderly residents, residents who now feel largely like prisoners within their own communities. In fact my first call came from a woman, now Eighty Seven years old, who has been robbed three times in the last four months.

We are currently in contact with the owners of said property, G&P Development, Gibson Mechanical, and Comcast, as well as Agent R.A. Pruitt, with the Railroad Police, County Commissioner Mike Carpenter, City Councilman Shea Flinn as well as Steve Henderson with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. We are working to focus government attention to that area of the bottoms and end the open access from that location.

Mr. Winston Gibson, owner of the property directly east of Wells Station has been repeatedly fined by Code Enforcement and the Health Department for trash, as well as dead animals left on the side of the trail. Today he went to court yet again to deal with this matter. The road in question while on Gibson's property leads to a lot further east owned by the Comcast Corporation. So you see that Mr. Gibson is caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand he is stuck with this path on his property, that he does not want or need. Yet he has been fined on at least three different occasions about the trash along the trail. In some cases only a short period of time after he has paid to have the area cleaned up. His attempts at erecting a fence resulted in it being torn down.
Worse still he has many of his neighbors reporting him to code enforcement about this.
So I think we can both understand that he is upset about this.
It's simply unfair.

Now,let me say, that I do not think that your organization is involved in any of these activities, but I am aware that a great many ATV riders use this road to enter the trails. I am respectfully asking you to urge your members to immediately cease entering the bottoms from the Wells Station trail. I understand and respect those who have called for the formation of an official organization to help keep the area clean and clear, and have proposed organizing cleaning efforts in that area.I also understand that this proposed organization would try to contact property owners and try to make arrangements to have permission to ride on said property. It is my hope that perhaps the Peace and Justice Center can perhaps help you set up some kind of arrangement in the future, that works to all concerned parties satisfaction.

I am also aware that as members of your club are trespassing on private property,and that from time to time some of your membership may witness any unusual or illegal activity down along the trails, but may be reluctant to report such activities as they would not want to incriminate themselves. I can understand that as well, but I am hoping that if your members do see anything down there that you would please work with us to pass that information along to the proper authorities. If your membership is worried about possible incrimination, they can pass this along to us to contact the police ourselves.

I would like to talk to you more about this situation, and as your group seem to be innocent of serious wrong doing. I hope we can work on this with you as coalition members.

Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

Throwing My Hands in the Air

The Fords never cease to amaze me. We defend this woman who won a suspect election, never comes to the Senate, wastes taxpayer money, and is a useless waste of a chair, yet kick Kurita out of the party for a fraction of the reasons AFTER she won the election. We reelect the John Fords and Rickey Peetes, and I've heard plenty of people long for the "good-old-days" of convicted felon Kathyrn Bowers running the party. The local party's steering committee blatantly misuses the party's funds to promote its own agenda, while insulting the intelligence of voters and nothing happens. Did you look at some of the candidates we ran for county-wide office 2 years ago? It sure hurts to have voted Republican in those races, but the candidates we had were jokes.

We deserve to lose. We deserve to have lost the state legislature. We don't deserve to be running much of anything. Locally, my party disgusts me, and I'm done with it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a progressive and a Democrat. But I have WAY BETTER THINGS to do with my time then lift a finger for this disgusting, incompetent organization.