That means you, Calhoun County.
Us, in other words.
Brian McVeigh, the DA: “There’s too much violent crime. What we’re doing isn’t working.”
Shane Denham, the Anniston police chief: “Without public involvement we’re going to be dead in the water.”
Joyce Vance, the U.S. attorney: “Calhoun County has a very engaged community leadership that wants to reach out and stop the problem before it becomes too prevalent,” she said by phone.
Sounds like it’s already too prevalent.
Hate to state the obvious, but if Calhoun County’s rate of gun crimes hadn’t reached epidemic level, federal officials wouldn’t be partnering with local law enforcement in an effort to put more bad guys — bad guys with handguns, predominantly — behind bars. The feds don’t come in unless there’s a need.
And, boy, do we have a need.
Calhoun County’s crime map isn’t first-grade simplistic; not every community is prone to gun-related crimes: thefts, burglaries, robberies, assaults, shootings, murders. For every rough part of the county there is an equally placid neighborhood where parents don’t worry about their children playing outside, where homeowners don’t lock down their homes like miniature versions of Alcatraz.
For us, the truth hurts. And, truth is that swaths of Calhoun County aren’t safe, Anniston more so than others. Crime stats prove it. Anyone who’s lived here for more than a few months knows what parts of Anniston you shouldn’t drive through at night, where in Oxford you wouldn’t want your teenager or spouse to visit unchaperoned, what parts of the county are rough around the edges.
This isn’t about race or income; it’s not about indicting neighborhoods’ good, law-abiding people along with those who steal, rob and shoot.
This is about making Calhoun County a safer place to live.
So, with the help of federal authorities, local officials are asking people to pick up the phone and tell them what they know through a special Crime Stoppers number that soon will be plastered on billboards in the county. Who’s committing gun-related crimes, who’s selling guns, who’s committing the violent criminal acts that in Anniston’s case, at least, has soiled the city’s reputation and labeled it as a place with too many crime-infested neighborhoods. The truth hurts, remember.
McVeigh, the DA, was right Wednesday when he said that “(t)his is an opportunity for this county that doesn’t happen all the time.”
It’s up to Calhoun Countians — and especially Annistonians — to grab hold of that opportunity and reclaim our neighborhoods. There is no excuse.
Consider Zinn Park, Anniston’s only significant downtown green space. It’s centrally located, easy to find and infinitely usable for countless sorts of community events: farmers’ markets, concerts, school gatherings. Yet, it wasn’t too long ago that Zinn Park wasn’t an inviting place in which Annistonians felt safe, especially after dark.
Now look at it.
On any day, people of all ages use the park. Young and old, black and white. The Martin Luther King Jr. pavillion is splendid. The playground and workout equipment are nice additions. The new Justin Sollohub Justice Center is next door. When I drove by there last week, several buses were parked on the street, unloading people for a midday visit.
That’s what Anniston needs.
A downtown in which people feel safe.
Parks that lure in visitors.
Neighborhoods not known for their violence.
Plus, as Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said Wednesday, “Crime knows no boundaries — criminals move around.”
That torpedoes the belief that this discussion about Calhoun County crime is actually about Anniston crime. Does Anniston dominate the conversation? Sure. But Amerson’s point shouldn’t be easily dismissed. If you live in Golden Springs, or Oxford, or elsewhere in the Calhoun County, you should welcome this heightened local effort to put criminals with handguns behind bars.
Everything Calhoun County needs is interrelated, a maze of improvements and goals. Better public schools in Anniston, more redevelopment at McClellan, reduced poverty in the county’s poorest areas. Nothing here exists in a vacuum, untouched by outside influences.
Bad guys with guns hurt Anniston in ways both violent and subtle. Calhoun County isn’t immune. McVeigh’s goal to have less violent crime this time next year is now a top priority, advertised and stated.
If that goal fails, so, too, does much of the county’s immediate future.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.