Marissa Levy looked at the bushes in the center of the Back Maryland development.
Trimming them or even removing them would increase visibility — and a sense of community, she suggested.
“It’s literally dividing the apartments in half,” she told Kaleem Shabazz, a member of the Coalition for a Safe Community who helped orchestrate the walk through Atlantic City’s most troubled areas Friday afternoon.
Levy, a criminology professor at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, was along as part of a move to try to bring data-gathering into the anti-violence equation.
The Pleasantville/Atlantic City Municipal Planning Board is the sixth such board that tackles problems such as violence and drugs from various angles, including a university sponsor. Stockton is taking that role here.
“It’s someone with a different attachment, a different eye,” Shabazz said.
Friday was the first walk through Stanley Holmes and the surrounding areas since a federal investigation resulted in charges against 34 people allegedly tied to a group known as Dirty Blok, that a criminal complaint says ruled the drug trade through fear, intimidation and even killings.
“It’s good,” said Cheryl King as she greeted the group outside Schoolhouse Apartments. “They’re all locked up.”
Gun violence is down by about a third in the first three months of the year compared with last year, State Police numbers show. There have been seven people shot in Atlantic City as of March 31, compared with 11 last year, including two who died. This year, there has been one homicide, Tyquinn James, whose alleged killers are also charged in the Dirty Blok case.
Walks began last summer through Stanley Holmes, the Marina District and other bad neighborhoods in an attempt to get people involved and to come forward about violence in the areas. It resulted in more calls to the police with information, Shabazz said he was told.
“It’s community engagement at it finest,” said acting Deputy Chief William Mazur.
As the group walked through the Back Maryland courtyard, separated by bushes, he said police knew the problems of these type of set ups. The enclosed areas made to give a community a place to congregate safely instead often allows crime a safe haven that’s difficult to police.
Tourism Director Tom Gilbert pointed out how fencing was taken down and some bushes trimmed around Brown’s Park to make what goes on inside more visible.
“Police were going through here two-by-two just the other night,” coalition President Perry Mays said as the group moved through Stanley Holmes, which has been described as the city’s most troubled project.
Various spots along the walk were marked with memorials to those who have died. Across the street from Schoolhouse is a pile of stuffed animals, faded and worn, that honor Uthman Griffin, who was shot dead in the street Jan. 13, 2012, as he ran from Brown’s Park toward Schoolhouse. No arrests have been made.
“These are incremental steps,” said acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain, who joined the walk. “There is no one solution. But as long as we have people in the community like Kaleem Shabazz and Perry Mays willing to take a stand and do something, we’re going to keep moving toward something positive.”
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