I Wanted Flowers, You Gave Me Bullets

Photo by Keith E. Lee.
Photo by Lynn Lee.

Ah, springtime in Stone Mountain, GA. The month of March usually has me anticipating yard work and bright, colorful flowers. But as the weather gets warmer other signs of the impending equinox become noticeable. One is the loud thumping rap bass from passing cars. The other is bullets flying through the air.

The entire metro Atlanta region seems to experience a surge of violent crime as things warm up. It was this time a year ago that roommates of a friend of mine were killed in cold blood just yards from the entrance to my favorite watering hole. Crime has been a serious issue for decades within Atlanta’s city limits, and I’ve seen my share of the carnage. I was at the scene of an infamous murder that took place in the spring of 1991. In recent years it has spread out to the suburbs.

My concern that I will die a violent death at the hands of criminals was lent further credence one morning recently when several shots were fired from a .45 automatic pistol about ten yards from where my wife and I were sleeping. It was a drive-by shooting. They stopped the car (which was probably stolen) and fired about a dozen rounds into the air. The shell casings pictured above were left at the end of our driveway. There were many more the police took into evidence—all left directly in front of my house. The responding officer was nonchalant about it, telling me the police had been dealing with one “shots fired” call after another. She went on to say that it was most likely “teens” being “dumbasses.” We heard even more rounds being popped off in the distance as we stood talking on my front porch. Several neighbors in the surrounding communities reported hearing shots at various locations around the same time.

It is pure speculation on my part, but I’m guessing these seemingly random bursts of gunfire were intended as some sort of message—a warning, either to rival gangs, to the residents of the area, or both, affirming that this area is theirs.

Even though the local news offers a slew of violent crime reports daily, few people I know seem to seriously acknowledge what is happening all around them. It’s almost as though the truth is too terrifying to confront. For the longest time I didn’t want to believe it. It was disheartening to realize that the home I purchased with the intent of living out the rest of my days is located in an area that has changed so drastically for the worse since I was a child attending Stone Mountain Elementary School in the 1970s. Back then the area was tranquil with hardly any violent crime. My friends and I played outside every chance we got.

Now my neighbors with children refuse to let them play outside under any circumstance. And few young families would consider purchasing a home in a Title I school district where 85% of the student body is classified as economically disadvantaged. Twenty years ago Stone Mountain High School was one of the top performing schools in the state; now it’s yet another low-performing DeKalb County school where 77% of the students are proficient in English and only 33% are proficient in math. In the past few years crime in my subdivision has risen over 700%. There were 415 crimes reported last year within a one-mile radius of my home.

The dichotomy of my neighborhood is striking as just 12 hours before the drive-by shooting occurred a local aspirant politician was parked in my driveway to deliver a yard sign advertising his campaign for County Commissioner. A bucolic neighborhood with a canopy of trees and bird songs can imbue one with a sense of peace. You’ll see elderly folks walking their dogs and people mowing their lawns. But you’ll also see Section 8 homes and open-air drug-dealing dotting the area. This a very different world from the one I grew up in. This is suburbia in the 21st century.

What, then, has happened to change things so drastically? Demographic changes and an aging population are a few things. Also, this area bears the brunt of an influx of refugees from a United Nations resettlement program. These people have needs that the community and county cannot meet and there is little (if any) coordination between the various entities managing this program. This lack of oversight has resulted in what has been called the “worst neighborhood in America.”

I have volunteered hundreds of hours working with my community to combat violent crime. The remarkable thing is—and it’s a sad truth for me to admit—that when I heard the gunfire from outside of my bedroom window at 1:43AM I was not shocked or surprised. In one quick motion I was out of my bed, armed and ready. I’ve been vigilant for long enough now that I was prepared when a neighbor recently called to report a man who had attempted to enter their home was headed toward my property.

This is not what I wanted. I am a pacifist by nature and find violence abhorrent. But I also refuse to be a victim. I will fight back. I will meet force with force. At this point my main concern is self-preservation. Crime stats and their causes are not abstract theory to me, they’re an everyday matter of life and death. And if something happens to me I want people to know what I’m dealing with. TC mark

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