Sunday, November 11, 2007

Highland... We Have A Problem


Much is being written and spoken about the increased drug problems in areas of Kingsport, now that the drug dealers have been effectively driven out of Riverview.

Most of the concerned letters to the editors of the Kingsport Times-News have come from, or about, the Highland Addition, across Center Street from Dobyns-Bennett High School, and also the east side of Eastman Road. Your Douglass Website has shared some of the letters with you recently.

So I decided to see for myself how bad the problem is in the Highland Neighborhood. I spent several hours of a pleasant Saturday afternoon in quiet observation of its streets.

The Highland neighborhood is a seemingly quiet section of front-porch homes in Kingsport, built close to the streets, and also close to each other. Almost every home has an alley in back. You'd think on a Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the mid 60's, front porches would be crowded with folks relaxing, talking, just settin'.

Such togetherness breeds family-type atmospheres where everybody knows their neighbors. It would seem surprising such a neighborhood that sports several American flags hanging in yards would become a haven for drug dealers.

I saw several children, both black and white boys and girls playing ball, and trying to ride skateboards in the streets.. unashamed, unabashed youth, close to the sanctuaries of their front yards, innocently unaware of what was going on, just a couple of streets away.

Eventually that afternoon, what I witnessed is the same type of drug activity that swarmed parts of Riverview like a plague only a few short months ago. It quickly became painfully and nervously apparent to me, why there were no folks sitting on their front porches.

They might be afraid to.

The young man leaning into this car, at first tried to wave ME down when I drove past him (I have blurred his face because as of this writing, I know of no charges filed against him). Never met him before, never saw him before. The second time I drove past him, he said in my passing window, "'sup, what'd ya need?" I kept driving. As I checked my rear view mirror, I saw that ultimately, he was successful in his motives, when I soon observed this Ford Taurus stop, and he leaned over inside.

It only took several seconds, then the car drove off, and the young man went back to his friends in the car across from him.

WOULD he have sold me drugs?

"I'm not surprised he, or anybody else around here, tried to wave you down," says Jeff Salyer, who no longer lives in Highland, but who is in the neighborhood every day, tending to his late parents' home. He saw the actions of the young man when I did.

"This neighborhood has gone from the quiet, peaceful, working-class neighborhood I grew up in, to one where drugs are everywhere, and people are afraid to be outside for long."

Mr. Salyer remembers a big drug bust this past summer, just down from his parents' home, pointing to a house across the street. "Three or four police cars surrounding that house down there," he says.

And that wasn't the first time he's seen that in the neighborhood.

He mentioned a specific area of the Highland neighborhood that he says, is a problem area, and I drove by there.

I observed several people, all white except for one black youth (again, the faces are blurred because at the time of this article, I am not aware of any charges placed against anybody).. the first time, I got an inquisitive stare from a couple of the boys. They were seemingly oblivious to anything else going on around them, and they certainly were not afraid of a stranger in the neighborhood. The second time I drove past them, the black youth with them had disappeared, and after passing them this time, I got upraised arms from one of the remaining boys, a clearly recognizable, "what's up" gesture in the drug-selling culture.

WOULD a drug sale have occured? I did not give the situation time to find out.

"Riverview ran them (the drug dealers) away," Mr. Salyer says, "and they came over here."

"The city needs to do something."

"Kingsport installed cameras in the Riverview community last year in an effort to curb drug trafficking. As a result, police say, criminal activity has spilled over into other neighborhoods.. our most important tool is the citizens that decide to live in a safe community and are willing to work with us to make it safe," Chief Gale Osborne told the Kingsport Times-News in an article.


But the only problem with that is, according to Mr. Salyer is, a lot of people are afraid of repercussions, telling me this the day before the Times-News article was published. "We still have a lot of old people who've been here all their lives," he says, "and they're worried what might happen if they report it."

"In this neighborhood now, everybody's dogs are always barking," says Mr. Salyer, "and there are lots of unfamiliar faces. If that Weed and Seed program that Riverview got, could help them, maybe it could help us, too."

"This is my home. Something's got to be done to save the neighborhood."


The Highland neighborhood has a distinctive "community home" feeling to it, just as Riverview does. But drugs are so prevalent in today's society, and drug dealers always scout out places they think are vulnerable.. Before the residents know it, their neighborhood is infested with the rats and roaches of a drug culture.

But shine a light on rats and roaches, and they go scattering. The lights came on in Riverview after years of pleading, prodding,and gunshots, and the rats and roaches ran like scared.. well, rats and roaches. It can happen in Highland, too.

I am certainly not an expert on the drug culture, I can only compare it to other areas that I have covered in my years as a news reporter.

The Highland neighborhood situation is bad, but it is not as bad as Riverview was. It will definitely get that way, though.

Quite soon.

Highland's residents must band together NOW.. just like the citizens of Riverview did. But you cannot just run in there with more cops and light-pole cameras, and expect the problem to disappear.

It won't.

First ask yourself as a resident.. how committed am I as a resident and a human being, to rid my beloved neighborhood of the pestilance that invades it?
Once that question is answered, residents will need to band together with one thought: "WE WILL NOT TOLERATE DRUG DEALING IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD," then go from street to street on foot, looking for suspicious activity, not being afraid to stare suspicious people straight in the eye. When you spot something out of the ordinary, no matter what it is, jump on your cellphone and report it to the police. And I'm not talking about "a group" of concerned residents.. I'm talking about EVERY SINGLE resident, being persistant and vigilant. Then, everybody has to look out for each other. Develope a loving, caring spirit about your community and its residents, your neighbors.

Then, and only then, with TOTAL resident involvement, will you drive the rats and roaches, er.. the drug dealers out.

And let this be a warning to other Kingsport neighborhoods.. BEWARE.
Drug dealers will simply run to another vulnerable place where there are no lights shining on them.
Are your lights on?
Are you prepared to fight the long, good fight against drugs and drug dealers?
I certainly hope so.
YOUR community will be next.

---Calvin Sneed