Medicine is needed -- strong medicine, not the liberal hand-holding and excuse making that only enables behavior that is doing no one any good.
Another shooting, another homicide late Tuesday night in the Balsam/Russett Road area. Before 10:15 p.m. last night a teenager was shot in the 5800 block of Balsam Road -- a day and a half after police held a press conference in the neighborhood asking for witnesses to step forward on two previous shootings.
Madison police have identified the unfortunate fellow as Karamee Collins Jr., 17, of Madison. I am guessing that, being out and about 10 p.m., he was not preparing for either school or employment the next day.
Police say the shootings are not related but I take that only in the narrowest sense. All of these shootings are related.
Just two hours earlier, 28 landlords met with Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele and police officer John Amos, MPD liaison with the Meadowood neighborhood, at the West District police station on McKenna Road.
"It's been crazy," Officer Amos told them. "People are being funneled up here from Illinois with heavy weapons violations ... Gangster Disciples and other groups are coming up here and they are used to 'taking care of business' in a different way. The level of violence and the threat of violence is greater than normal," Amos said.
Officer Amos is a squarely built man in his early 40s with a bullet-shaped head that is closely shaved. He looks cop.
He said police had come across "a knock-off version" of an AK-47 automatic rifle in the areas. "People are arming themselves very heavily -- arming themselves to the teeth."
Officer Amos said two factions appear to be at work in the neighborhood and it has devolved into "a grudge match."
The drug trade and drug use are fueling this shooting war. "I have so many drug houses that I can work -- it's backed up, stacked up."
"It seems like it's out of control," responded Orchard Ridge neighborhood association board member Brent Midelfort. "This district stood up with this alder (Thuy) and got 30 new police officers and I don't feel like I'm getting the results."
"This is the worst year I've seen on Balsam Road," observed Ernie Horinek, a veteran landlord and one of the stalwart community leaders in Orchard Ridge, where he land wife Joan have lived for many years.
In August 2007 Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele derailed the mayor's fixation with trolley cars and forced the city to focus on doing its basic duty: protecting citizens lives and property. Backed by neighborhood meetings that attracted as many as 750 angry residents, she succeeded in getting 30 extra police added to the force. Given the lead time required in the process -- including recruitment and training -- most of those police only recently hit the streets.
For her pains, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz removed her from the influential Community Development Block Grant program and reappointed to the committee that regulates vendor carts.
"I asked why are we spending an additional $500,000 (for in-home child care) on top of $2.5 million already allocated for child care. I was called racist," marveled the refugee from Vietnam and a retired teacher.
Ald. Marsha Rummell, one of the remaining Progressive Dane members on the Common Council, is re-introducing Brenda Konkel's proposal to require police to store and return "possessions" left by vagrants in hobo jungles, Ald. Thuy reported. Such are the priorities of some of our elected leaders.
Midelfort noted that the nuisance abatement ordinance "is under assault. The E.O.C. gets a hold of it and picks away at it."
Police officer Amos said the principal of Toki Middle School will not permit him to arrest children in the school, even though some of them are chronic drug users.
"These people know how to work the system," said another. Yes, they know their rights but not their responsibilities.
I drove over to Leland and Balsam this morning to snap a photograph just to show the neighborhood. This is not Cabrini-Green, folks. These are not high-rises of despair. Most are four-unit apartment buildings, two stories high. A small park with swings and community gardens lies immediately south. The Meadowridge shopping center is just across Raymond Road. The streets are leafy and green.
As I was taking pictures, an angry woman working a cell phone stalked toward me demanding what I was doing. I stated the obvious. She expressed great umbrage. There were children about, she said, that could be photographed. I did see children but did not ask what they were doing out an about on a school day. This angry woman made a big show of taking my license plate number and vowed that she would notify the police. I'm thinking, lady, you got bigger problems than a man take pictures outdoors in the middle of the day. My guess is that you are a contributor to those problems.
Quality of life
Crime does not exist in a vacuum. Criminologists will tell you that so-called "lifestyle issues" feed crime and vice versa. It is a vicious circle.
"It's people saying" 'M.F. this' and 'M.F. that.' You can hear it all the way down the street," Ernie Horinek said.
A young father said, "I don't let my kids go to that park, ever. It's like Lord of the Flies out there, he said, referencing the classic novel of an island populated only by atavistic boys unrestrained by adults.
"There is no parental supervisions, loud music. I put my kids to bed with the windows closed when it's 80 degrees outside."
Amos reminded the citizens of the limitations of the law. As a police officer, "I can't control (all) neighborhood behavior. "I need a witness or a victim." With all the shootings (someone must have seen them) but no one will talk. I can tell you who the drug dealers are but I got to go by the law." In other words, he has to build a case -- get evidentiary proof that will stand up in court.
Another lady said she had witnessed teenagers collecting sofas left on the curb for trash pickup and depositing them in the middle of Raymond Road.
Another lady observed, "These kids don't care. There is never an adult (around)."
Being Blaska, I had to speak out. I did so as a homeowner who, thankfully, is many blocks from all of this trouble but who does not take that for granted. I spoke as one who has empathy for others less fortunate. It occurred to me that this was a roomful of victims -- yes, the landlords themselves (except for one, whom I'll get to in a moment) who must put up with this crap. The neighbors who must live in a degraded environment. And the wayward teens, druggies and gang bangers themselves. Yes, they are victims. Medicine is needed -- strong medicine, not the liberal hand-holding and excuse making that only enables behavior that is doing no one any good.
On May 15 shots were fired north across Raymond Road into the shopping center, smashing out the windows of a car that, police believe, was not even the target. Not late at night but at 6 on a Friday evening when the shopping center was at its busiest. I blogged about it then.
And on May 27, between 7 and 7:45 on the evening of Wednesday, May 27, in front of 5710 Russett Road two men were arrested, Basil Greene and Scorpio Robinson with, as described by Tim Johnson, "lots of police from both Fitchburg and Madison, guns drawn. Apparently the suspects committed the armed robbery in Fitchburg, then Fitchburg PD followed them to the Russett/Madison address. The suspects were armed and did have one ounce of crack in their vehicle. ... Despite their apparently residing outside of Russett, their vehicle went to 5710 Russett Road daily, until it was impounded by Fitchburg PD on May 27."
Let the mayor come to Meadowood!
Landlord Tim Johnson has been stalwart in the fight to save the neighborhood. Unlike many landlords, he lives in the unit he owns and manages on Russett Road He laid out a strategy for his fellow landlords for whom he called this meeting. (Next meeting 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, West District Police Community Room, 1710 McKenna Blvd.)
Tim laid out a series of tools that landlords can use to keep their property crime-free:
- An anti-drug rule guest policy
- Addendum to the lease prohibiting "guests" from staying more than 14 days
- A 5-day notice letter fro the police warning of a drug nuisance
- A 5-day notice to quit (leave) or pay rent
- A 14-day notice to leave or face eviction
- Month-to-month leases that, successfully completed, could lead to 6-month leases, then annual leases.
"The majority of your problems are in the first three months," Tim said, from experience.
Tim said that legislation is proposed to protect landlords threatened by violence. Another tool.
I wish Matt Veldran had attended. (He did not.) Or Jason Joyce, or Brenda Konkel, or Mayor Cieslewicz. In fact, a number of the participants in the Tuesday evening meeting at the Southwest precinct station proposed that Mayor Cieslewicz take up residence in the Raymond Road neighborhood so that he could see and hear for himself.
Y'know, if Barack Obama can go to the Middle East...
A liberal among us
I have written before that Madison cannot combat crime and quality of life issues until it gets over its liberal guilt trip about the past -- particularly race relations and its intersection with poverty and behavior.
One landlord, who shall go nameless here, exhibited all the pathologies of the problem.
This landlord blamed Police Chief Noble Wray for the crime problem just as there has been a liberal effort to label Ald. Thuy as a "racist" and "ineffective" after banding together to defeat her proposed stricter curfew measure.
At one point, he was asking where were the supposed victims so that we could hear their "solutions."
Other landlords accused him of countenancing the operation of a drug house in his apartment building. "Where is the proof?" the landlord demanded. That's the problem Officer Amos was detailing -- building a case that can stand up to such lawyerly cavils takes time and resources.
Amos then countered that a drug bust had recently been made at the attorney's rental housing.
Well, said the landlord, a liberal attorney in town, that was a visitor. I can't be responsible for everyone who comes into the building, he said.
There was also a tale of another resident taking after a man with a knife but the lawyer/landlord had an excuse for that, too.
This e-mail was sent to West District Police Captain Jay Lengfeld earlier Tuesday:
I grew up in the meadowood and orchard ridge neighborhoods. I am now 36, married with 3 kids. My children go to Orchard ridge elementary, we belong to Ridgewood pool, play neighborhood baseball, soccer, and visit the meadowood library. I was so excited to move to this neighborhood and raise my kids here. But soon after I moved here I was hearing negative thing about the schools and the neighborhood and meeting families that wanted to "get out." I am frustrated with the frequent episodes of violence. I was disgusted when I read the paper today and found that Capt. Jay Lengfeld's approach to this increase in gun violence is to "hope" it goes away. I always say that I am staying, that I won't be scared off, but if my children are not safe, how can I stay. How bad does it have to get before this city and the MPD takes this seriously. There should be no tolerance, especially when these crimes are committed so close to schools.
Captain Lengfeld responded in mid-afternoon Tuesday, before the latest homicide shooting:
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 2009 14:33:40 -0500
Subject: FW: Contact City of Madison Police Department
I find it interesting that a few people have taken that statement and turned it a strategy. I would "hope" everybody in Madison would want the shootings to stop. Your question should be what are you doing to stop the shootings? The answer to this question can be found on Madison.com, where you can see and hear the whole press conference. The article that you read in the paper came from someone who did not even attend the press conference. I will save you a little time and tell you that we have 8-9 detectives, ATF, US Marshals, FBI, Gang Task, Crime Lab, and MPD field staff working these cases. I am very comfortable in our response to these shootings and I am confident we will make arrests in the future. But in the mean time I am hopeful we not have any more shooting and I think you hope you will never have one in your neighborhood.
Capt Jay Lengfeld