Community bands together as violence spikes

Published 8:51 pm Saturday, October 31, 2015

In a drizzling rain on Saturday, I stood with my family and others from church and prayed in front of an apartment door riddled with bullet holes.

It was the same apartment where a man had barricaded himself for hours as he fired dozens of shots at police officers. That man was eventually fatally shot after firing at officers as he tried to escape.

The bullet-riddled door can be seen plainly by those who live nearby, including the children who play in the grass out front.

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It’s a sad reminder of a violent season for Brookhaven. Aside from this incident, there have been seven murders in Brookhaven and Lincoln County this year.

I won’t pretend to understand fully how that has impacted those who live here. For lifelong Brookhavenites, this year will be remembered as one of the most violent and deadly. It has shocked those who see Brookhaven only as the “Homeseeker’s Paradise.”

As someone who has lived here for eight months, I’m not qualified to weigh in on that. But I have lived in cities and towns that have been shaken by violence, and I know the potential it has to leave residents fearful of the world around them.

I’ve been that resident. We once lived in a perfectly nice, small city in North Carolina — Henderson — that had slowly become a violent, drug-filled nightmare. Though our golf course neighborhood was nice, we discovered that we couldn’t escape the crime.

We lived on edge. We installed an alarm, kept a gun close by and nervously peered through windows if something tripped the security lights. It was a horrible way to live.

I imagine the folks living near the places where the seven murders and armed standoff took place are living on edge. When you don’t feel safe in your home, it disrupts your entire existence. You become fearful of strangers and afraid to go out at night. It’s a horrible way to live.

I’m not suggesting Brookhaven is becoming Henderson, but I do see similarities. For one, poverty is rampant in both. Almost a quarter of Lincoln County lives below the poverty line. While being poor doesn’t make one violent, poverty tends to breed criminal behavior. Drugs are also a problem here, like pretty much everywhere these days.

But there’s a tangible difference I have discovered. The people of Brookhaven are adamant that this violence is not acceptable, that this isn’t the city they know, and that things will change. In Henderson, residents had resigned themselves to living in a violent, crime-riddled city. Brookhavenites have not.

I’ve heard so many people say, “This is not the Brookhaven we know.” Those same people have endeavored to do something about it.  Some have organized marches, some have organized rallies, some have prayed, some have created youth programs, some have put on badges and committed to protecting their hometown.

While none of those things alone will change this city, collectively they will make a difference. That was made clear to me as we prayed outside that door and talked to those who live near it.

Luke Horton is the publisher of The Daily Leader.