Residents say outsiders to blame for drug activity near Douglas School
By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor
Whatever problems exist around Douglas Intermediate School can't be blamed on the owner of a nearby apartment complex or the residents who call it home.
That was the message from many who live in the apartments or nearby at a meeting called to address reported drug dealing activity in the area.
Residents said they, too, are worried about drug dealers, but charge the traffickers are coming from other areas to ply their trade.
"I live in the Freeman Street apartments," said one woman. "There are no drug dealers living there. They come and deal from cars. They sit in the parking lot and do things."
"This dope stuff's coming in daily," said another. "I don't know where it's coming from, but you can't blame the [apartments]."
While some of the approximately 50 people attending the meeting at MLK Church of Christ were concerned about undesirable activity near the school, there were also many alarmed by a flier they received that mentioned the possibility of demolishing the apartments.
"All I can afford is this apartment," one woman said.
Owner Amir Rahman, who owns the Freeman Street apartments, which sits adjacent to Douglas, said he had "severe reservations" about the approach to the problem, especially as his property had been singled out.
"The ends and means both have to be justified," he said, adding he and his family had been embarrassed by the turmoil. "We can do this in a different way.
"Is it my desire to have people do undesirable activity? No," he said, adding he had done his own patrols of the grounds at 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning, something other residents verified. "Just four or five days ago I was told, 'Amir, you're going to get yourself hurt.'"
Jason Lindley, who said he grew up in the apartments, where his mother still lives, called Rahman "a good man."
"It's been a good apartment," Lindley said.
"We don't want them closed down," said Valanderous Bell, minister of MLK Church of Christ, who expressed regret the flier calling for the meeting mentioned "demolition." "But we want a clean living environment. Our aim is to help, not hurt."
The consensus, by both city officials and residents, is that there are drug dealers operating in the area near the school that all fifth graders in the Sulphur Springs Independent School District attend.
"We're proud of Douglas School, and I feel the people that live in that neighborhood are proud of Douglas School," SSISD Superintendent Patsy Bolton said. But, she added, "There are things that are out of our control, and it bothers us that it's happening in close proximity to Douglas."
"There is a problem, and something needs to be done," said City Manager Marc Maxwell. "The question is, what?"
Police Chief Jim Bayuk said the problem is not isolated to any one part of the city, much less one apartment complex, but he only has so much manpower — on some shifts, there are only four officers to patrol the city of 15,500.
"I need 15 officers just to work narcotics in this town," he said. "It's an epidemic."
More than one person agreed with C.D. Dial, who lives across the street from the apartments, when he said police are working as hard as they can.
"They're busting their tails," said Dial, a penitentiary guard for 12 years, adding that he has had problems with local law enforcement before and isn't exactly fond of the force.
"But I'm in the police academy — I want to make a difference."
Dial also cautioned, however, that trouble is brewing in the area.
"I see everything that goes on out there," he said. "I just want my kids to be able to play outside.
"It's going to boil down to shooting, and if someone's shooting around my house, I'm going to protect my family."
At times, the meeting grew emotional. One woman fervently called for more efforts at rehabilitating young people with drug problems.
"If you're really concerned, help the kids who are on drugs," she told District Attorney Martin Braddy, who also spoke. "Racism's not going away, selling drugs isn't going away, and the crackheads aren't going to stop smoking."
Some, like Jason Lindley, offered solutions, such as installing lights in the areas in question.
"Light it up," said Lindley, who said he served in the Marines for 15 years. "If they shoot it out, replace the bulbs. If it's lit up, they're not going to sell drugs."
Lindley also said volunteer foot patrols would deter criminal activity, and he had no problem volunteering to do just that, or to train others.
"I'll walk those apartments myself," he said.
He also suggested mandated curfews for school-age children, with progressive punishments for violations: community service the first time, an additional fine the second time, and for a third offense, contacting Child Protective Services to investigate.
Like many others at the meeting, he put part of the blame on a change in the way children are raised, saying all needed to band together to support other families.
Dorothy Thomas agreed with Lindley's assessment of foot patrols because of her own experience. A few years ago, she and many others did just that when problems surfaced in the Pacific Park area.
"That did help when we had trouble in the park," she said.
Bell said another meeting will likely be held in the future.