BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Galvanized by the recent murder of 8-year-old Ah’Miyahh Howell, Statesville residents and community activists on Monday urged the Statesville City Council to take wide-ranging actions to improve the quality of life and prevent another senseless murder.
During Monday’s council meeting, residents took advantage of the public comment period to push for a host of reforms.
They asked for improvements to basketball courts and restroom facilities at city parks, enforcement of minimum housing standards, respect for low-income residents and activities for at-risk teens.
But, more than anything else, they asked for unity.
Sharon Owens told the council that she worries about gangs — including the Bloods and Crips — and gang violence. Unless the city works to provide safe, healthy alternatives, the next generation will face the same pitfalls that have ensnared the young men who have been implicated and charged in Ah’Miyahh Howell’s death, she said.
“They are going to turn to the drugs. They are going to turn to the sex. And they are going to do things they shouldn’t be doing,” she said.
Daphne Goodson lobbied for police cameras in high-crime areas and said residents don’t feel safe sharing information with the Statesville Police Department.
“We’re not safe in our neighborhoods,” she said. “There’s nothing for our kids to do.”
People who earn less than $50,000 a year cannot afford decent housing in the city, and high rent and inflated utility costs associated with substandard housing rob them of additional income, she said.
Statesville Branch NAACP President Todd Scott said everyone, himself included, is accountable for the conditions in South Statesville.
If the city council and residents do not devise a strategy for addressing the crime, housing and economic issues plaguing the community, these issues will still be plaguing Statesville in five years and 10 years, Scott said.
“Let’s put politics aside,” he said. “Let’s not worry about getting elected again. Let’s worry about doing what’s right for everybody in Statesville.”
Kimberly Wasson agreed the time was past for discussing the problems. The focus, she said, must be on identifying and implementing solutions.
She was accompanied by several children who participate in a mentoring program Wasson is involved in.
The state of Kimbrough Park, she said, illustrates how South Statesville has been treated. The basketball courts do not have lines, nets are missing from the hoops, and the park’s bathrooms are “nasty,” Wasson explained.
“This gives the impression we are treated like second-class citizens. Is that okay? I don’t think so.”
Furthermore, the city has sat on the sidelines while landlords have taken advantage of residents and provide substandard housing, Wasson complained.
Skip McCall told the council that solving these issues requires a unified approach by all residents and city leaders.
“The time is running out and we don’t have any time to waste,” he said. “We must come together and realize there’s only one Statesville.”
In a fitting conclusion to the meeting, City Manager Ron Smith provided the council and residents with an update on what the city has been doing to address some of these issues:
♦ The Statesville Police Department, under Chief David Addison has been working to build relationships in the community through district meetings, picnics and clean-up drives.
♦ The SPD has also partnered with Iredell-Statesville Schools to offer a free camp this week at the Bentley Community Center.
♦ The city’s Recreation and Parks Department is working to build partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club to provide additional services and programs for youth.
♦ The city has also begun plans to develop a new linear park, and recently purchased Harris Park from I-SS.
♦ City officials are also working with the N.C. Department of Transportation to make crossing Garner Bagnal Boulevard easier for cyclists and pedestrians.
♦ Addressing other transportation issues, like providing public transit from distressed communities to employers and healthcare will require bringing more stakeholders to the table, Smith said.
♦ Efforts to recruit a grocery store chain to South Statesville have not proven successful so far, Smith said.
♦ Construction of a new city fire station in South Statesville could be a spark for private development.
♦ Finally, Smith said, the city’s efforts to condemn and demolish dilapidated housing — and work with other property owners to rehabilitate homes that are salvageable — have been “a huge success so far.”
Mayor Costi Kutteh thanked residents who took the time to share their concerns during the meeting and asked them to help address these issues.
“We have been called to greater action. We all have,” Kutteh said. “All of us sitting up here — but also all of you sitting out there, we’ve been called to greater action than we have before.
“One thing we all have in common is we love Statesville and we want Statesville to be the best it can be,” the mayor added.
Councilwoman Doris Allison again called for the city council to invest in South Statesville. She said the time was past for speeches — and implored candidates for city office not to use the tragic death of Ah’Miyahh Howell for political gain.
“I’m asking everybody, including myself, that we take more responsibility,” Allison said. “When you leave here today, and the people who left here, I hope they be fired up to get up, show up and do up.
“We don’t need speeches. We need work. We need people who are going to take responsibility and be in it for the long haul,” Allison added.