Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Keeping the Drug Dealers Out: Part of the Riverview Renaissance" - A Special Report

OLDER MEMORIES OF THE RIVERVIEW NEIGHBORHOOD INCLUDE FAMILY, TOGETHERNESS, HARMONY AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT. NEWER MEMORIES HAVE BEEN ANYTHING BUT THAT.


SADLY.. OUR COMMUNITY BECAME THE CRIME CAPITAL OF KINGSPORT THROUGH THE 80'S, 90'S AND INTO THE 21ST CENTURY.


BUT WITH THE RENOVATION OF THE V.O. DOBBINS COMMUNITY CENTER INTO THE V.O. DOBBINS, SR. OFFICE, SPORTS AND EDUCATIONAL COMPLEX, AND THE UPCOMING HOPE VI HOMES, THERE IS A POSITIVE RENAISSANCE IN THE COMMUNITY.


WE SAT DOWN WITH KINGSPORT POLICE CHIEF GALE OSBORNE AND REVEREND KENNETH CALVERT, SHILOH BAPTIST PASTOR AND PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE SOUTH CENTRAL KINGSPORT COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION, TO TALK ABOUT WHERE RIVERVIEW HAS BEEN, AND WHERE IT IS GOING:




The headlines screamed it all the time. One community in Kingsport has dirty laundry. The news media blared it relentlessly.  They didn't have to make us look bad.  We WERE bad.  Mention this one community, and you'd get raised eyebrows and funny looks.

From every corner of Kingsport, the fingers to drugs, crime and bad behavior all pointed to Riverview. And admittedly, for good reason.

For several years, Riverview held the historic distinction of being the one neighborhood in Kingsport with the most crime.





"We tried a number of crime intervention efforts in Kingsport as a whole, and a lot of them in Riverview," says Kingsport Police Chief Gale Osborne. 

We sat down and talked with Chief Osborne recently about Riverview's past as a wholesome, family neighborhood, that quickly evolved in the 80's and 90's, as the neighborhood with the highest crime rate in town. Most of the crime centered around illegal drugs and all of the social stigmas associated with that.



"We tried undercover, high profile, a lot of police officers," says Chief Osborne. "We walked the beat in Riverview, we rode bicycles, we did community groups.. we put a great deal of emphasis on community intervention, community policing. It was difficult for us, because we couldn't be there all the time to see the problems."

"You pass by, and a mama's scare to death to let her child out to play," he remembers. "She's afraid she's gonna get hurt or hooked up with a drug dealer."





UNDERCOVER PICTURE OF AN ACTUAL DRUG TRANSACTION IN RIVERVIEW

It's no secret in any city, that crime follows drug activity. Any law enforcement officer will tell you they go hand-in-hand, and in Riverview, that combination was the number one problem.

"Calvin, we saw the drug dealers coming in from New York and different parts of the country," says Chief Osborne. "A lot of people thought they were just local, but they weren't. The drug trade is so organized that the big fish eat the little fish, and next thing you know, the big fish are controlling the pond. As soon as you put one group in jail, another group comes right in after 'em, especially with adults trying to get juveniles to do their dirty work for 'em, because they know that a juvenile sentence won't put 'em in jail for long."

"They're killing our youth, either putting 'em in jail, or hooking 'em on the drugs.. just keeping 'em in trouble all the time."

SEE VIDEO:  POLICE RIDE-ALONG IN RIVERVIEW (PRESS PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT - FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)

video

Chief Osborne says, on many occasions, he would see things in Riverview that you would only expect to see in much larger cities.

"I would drive through through the neighborhood with (Shiloh Baptist Church) Reverend Kenneth Calvert," he remembers. "He said he wanted to ride through because he'd heard the drug trafficking was so bad. In the evenings, the drug sellers and dealers would be blocking the road. Even in the morning in the daylight, they would change methods. It was just like driving through McDonald's and getting a biscuit. The drug traffic was literally that bad, and we were seeing the signs that it was getting worse."



"I think on that particular trip, we counted 23 individuals who were wearing either solid red shirts, or solid white, trying to gang up and say 'I'm part of this gang' or 'I'm part of that gang.'

"I'm gonna run this place."

"During that one particular ride-along," says Pastor Calvert, "as you drove from the 229 down Lincoln Street to Dunbar Street, it was nothing to have drug sellers step out in front of your car and ask you if you wanted any drugs. Even sitting right there beside the chief of the Kingsport Police Department, they would offer you drugs. Did they know it was Police Chief Osborne? They knew it was Chief Osborne, I assure you they knew who he was, they knew who his officers were. These drug dealers were brazen enough to do it right in front of the police chief."

"They just didn't care."

And it went further than that.


"We saw enough of their system to know how they were operating on Lincoln," says Reverend Calvert. "They would keep one guy on the corner there at Lincoln and Wheatley there at the old swimming pool, and whenever he saw an officer turn from Wilcox onto Lincoln heading into Riverview, he'd call out. At that point, you'd see young boys wearing white tee-shirts that came right down to their knees, just walk off. The minute the police left the area, they'd return. That was the cycle. They were all dressed up in white tee-shirts, so who do you pick up? Who do you ask questions? They had a system about it."

It was amazing how the drug culture from much larger cities had settled in, on little quiet Riverview.

"The police told us a lot of those drug dealers were coming in all the time, using street tactics that worked in Detroit, because a lot of them were out of Detroit, some out of Chicago. This was a fertile ground, a rich and fertile ground. A lot of the sellers were not of Kingsport, but a lot of the buyers were Kingsport residents, born and bred of the industrial side of the city. Their money fed the drug traffic and the ddrug culture. Meantime, the sellers recruited many of the people who lived here to sell the drugs, and the cycle was complete."




Chief Osborne says he was afraid for the residents of Riverview.

"It sent shivers up my spine," he says. "I can't stand for anybody to intimidate another individual, and that's all it was, was intimidation. If you let 'em, drug dealers and sellers will push everybody out of a community. I just hate for people to live in fear. I also hate that we tried all those different clean-up methods over the years and we just barely made a dent in the illegal traffic."

"These longtime citizens of Riverview, born in this community, were schooled here, raised families here, some of them still going to and from work every day, were literally afraid to leave their homes after dark," Reverend Calvert says. "We had shootings that were occuring any time after 2:30 in the morning, sometimes around 3 A.M. That's when the violence really erupted, between 3 and 5 in the mornings. While that was going on, prostitution had spread away from Lincoln Street, and gambling was going on, at just about every corner."

In 1994, the death of four-year-old Jalissa Ferguson shocked the community and the city.  "Two dudes, just shooting at each other," says 19-year old Anthony Horton, who was living with his family in the old Emmitt Collins grocery store building on Lincoln Street.  Turns out, the shooting involved two drug dealers in the Douglass ballfield in front of the Riverview Apartments, jockeying for turf control.  That was all Horton remembers about the shooting, because whenever guns came out, he says "it was R.D.F.C."

"Run, and duck for cover."


Meanwhile, efforts to reclaim the Riverview community were often rebuffed by the drug dealers in control.

"I remember the very first trash and litter pickup we had," Reverend Calvert says. "We picked up about 27 tons of trash in Riverview and the Maple-Dale-Oak-East Sevier area. THE VERY NEXT WEEK.. the drug dealers had re-littered every street corner all over again. I don't know where they got so much trash from.. it was like they went through every garbage can they could find, and literally from Main Street through the tunnel, up and down Lincoln Street and through the alleys of the apartments, they spilled the trash back out everywhere. That's how mean they were. We had to have the city come back out that week and pick it all up again."


"They (the drug dealers) were making a statement," he says. "They drew a line in the sand and were daring us to cross it. We knew it was them that re-littered, because some of the trash they threw back out was so far up into the bushes and trees that nobody could have put it there that didn't mean for it to be there. They were trying to imtimidate us."

"But we had a secret weapon they were about to find out about."



Chief Osborne says, that secret weapon started off slowly, gained momentum, and eventually became the central message to fighting crime in Riverview.

"For the most part, it was neighbors finally saying 'enough is enough,'" the chief says. "That's what did it. When the people said 'we have to do something to stop the problem,' Riverview went in an entirely different direction."

Some residents had heard about a program called "Weed and Seed," a process of federal money from the U.S. Department of Justice, for weeding out drug dealers and crime, and seeding communities with positive influences.

"Linda Kincaid and Linda Calvert were invited to come to Albuquerque, New Mexico to hear a 3-day resentation on Weed & Seed," says Reverend Calvert. "We all thought it was about planting grass seed and sowing things in the garden, but when they got back, they were all fired up about how Weed & Seed could help Kingsport. To do that, a grant would have to be written and Linda Calvert was the author of that grant. Bristol (Tennessee) already had a Weed & Seed and went through the process, and they said it'd prbably be 2 or 3 years before we'd get a grant approved. It got approved for Kingsport the first time we applied, we got it the very first year. Everybody was shocked that Kingsport got it so quickly."

Chief Osborne and Reverend Calvert then took a trip to Los Angeles, to see how the program was put together in larger cities.


"We were out in California back in 2003," remembers Chief Osborne, "and I saw how they introduced cameras into a high crime rate neighborhood, consisting of the same demographics as Riverview, the way the public housing was set up," the chief recalls. "They introduced those cameras and it made a world of difference. Of course (the police) took a little flack about them, but the philosophy was, 'if you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have to worry about cameras watching you.'"




Chief Osborne says once he brought the idea back, "we did a great deal of education and discussion about the cameras when we got them in 2005. We pitched the team concept in fighting crime between the neighborhood and police, the fire department, the city government and any association that would work with us. Involved in that as well, was Tennessee Eastman (now Eastman Chemical). They were a major player as well."

The Eastman connection would become important several years later.

SEE VIDEO:  SHOOTING AT THE 229 CLUB - RIVERVIEW (PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT - FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)

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Most folks in Riverview say, there were many incidents over the next 4 years that prompted them and the city to take action about the crime in Riverview.

One of them, at 4:30 one morning.

"We'd had a shooting at 229 (the 229 Club) on Lincoln Street," says Reverend Calvert. "54 shell casings were found in the street... at 4:30 in the morning. One young man had been shot, and the police department did not know one thing about the shooting until Indian Path Hospital called them about it later that morning. Think about it.. 54 shots. Luckily, nobody was killed, but nobody ever called 9-1-1. Not one call to 9-1-1. Not one call from Riverview. When the news of that got out, it made the citizens say 'listen... if we don't help ourselves, the police won't help us.  To have 54 bullet casings in the street, somebody was there.. somebody had to see and hear something."

JALISSA FERGUSON PARK - EASTMAN HEADQUARTERS IN BACKGROUND

But then, later that morning.. right around the time police were learning about the overnight shooting, one incident that probably changed everything.

The morning, the bullets went into the Eastman Headquarters building.

"We were in a meeting on the second floor of V.O. Dobbins that overlooked the ballfield and the playground," South Central's Linda Calvert remembers, "ironically, discussing the systemic causes of poverty and how Kingsport might address them. All of a sudden, right out of nowhere, we hear "pi-poom, pi-poom, pi-poom" in succession. We all looked at each other, and I said,'that sounded like gunshots.'  At that time, we hit the floor. After a few seconds, we all tried to locate where the shots had been coming from. Several people called 9-1-1, but 9-1-1 had already gotten calls about it. We went over to the window that looks out, and I looked down on the playground, and I saw several small children lying on the ground, and their teacher was covering them with her body."

"Later, the teacher told us, the students were yelling 'are we going to die!.. are we going to die?"

"That image," she says, "has stayed with me, knowing the lives of those children were at stake, and that they could have been injured or killed."

To this date, nobody knows who fired the shots in the ballfield near the Riverview Swimming Pool, or why they were fired, although given community history, everybody knew it was over drugs and the rapidly growing drug turf war in the neighborhood. Apparently, the shooting had an immediate impression.


INSIDE THE SECOND FLOOR HALLWAY OF THE V.O. DOBBINS CENTER
"The director of the Upper East Tennessee (Human Development Agency) was in the meeting that morning, several of their board members, representatives of several federal agencies, the Sullivan County mayor was there," says Mrs. Calvert, "and just out of nowhere, to hear gunshots. It was frightening.. it concerned us greatly. Needless to say, everybody was on edge the rest of our meeting, and all discussions focused on the violence."

They, and the rest of Riverview all found out later.. that they were not the only victims.



Bullets from the same guns had pierced the Eastman building next door.. a fully occupied building this work day. No one was hurt, but still.. the stigma of a neighborhood out of control, was too much to bear.

"There were several efforts already underway to curb the crime problem in Riverview, but that one incident turned out to be one of the biggest motivating factors that turned people's heads, both in the community and in government," says Mrs. Calvert. "No doubt about it, because everybody began talking about it."

"I believe it sort of allowed the city and all the other agencies, to say 'we need to make these partnerships with police and government work," says Reverend Calvert. "That shooting occurred at 11 o'clock in the morning, in broad daylight."


KINGSPORT JUSTICE CENTER DOWNTOWN

"We had actually been meeting a long, long time before that shooting happened," says Chief Osborne. "There had been several meetings back when Chief Kesling was still chief. There were meetings after the Jalissa Ferguson incident where she was shot and killed back in 1994... we tried every feasible avenue at the time, and nothing seem to work to the degree that we needed them to work."

"But that was indeed one of several turning points."




"We started putting walking beat officers in Riverview who really took a personal interest in the neighborhood," he says. "Jim Clark was a good example of that...when folks saw that he was putting his life on the line along with other offices in the neighborhood, they developed a love for him. He's a good corporate neighbor. If something ever got around that Jim was gonna get transferred somewhere else in the city, I'd get call after call to keep Jim Clark in the Riverview community. That's how much love they had for him. But we had been having many, many meetings preparing for what we could do, and the situation just gradually got worse and worse on the shootings. It wasn't just any one incident.. something had to be done and everybody said we've got to work together to reclaim the community."


And then... those cameras.

Oh those cameras.

"We did a three-prong process with the cameras," the chief remembers. "The city kicked in an amount for the cameras, the Weed and Seed program kicked in a certain amount, and then we got a grant," he says. "We spread the word around that the cameras were there and operating, and I just couldn't believe the response. These cameras are just great. With those, we can get facial recognition on lawbreakers. Those were the two things I demanded of the camera system; that first, we catch the crime in progress, and that we get a facial identification through the camera at a distance, so we could get them in court to prosecute."

"We flipped the switch on those things, and it was awesome."

SEE VIDEO:  SURVEILLANCE CAMERA MOVEMENTS OVERLOOKING THE HOPE VI HOMES CONSTRUCTION IN RIVERVIEW - (PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT -  FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)

video

The camera system was installed on power poles surrounding the Riverview Apartments in January, 2006. They have been operational ever since, even during and since the Riverview Apartments were torn down. They are working even now. Chief Osborne says, the camera system works day and night to put the finger on lawbreakers.

SEE VIDEO:  BEATING AT THE 229 CLUB - RIVERVIEW (PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT- FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)

video

The ability of surveillance cameras, and the sound provided by some of them, is surprising.. sometimes, striking.  Since the Rodney King incident caught on tape in California in March, 1991, the phrase, "the video don't lie" has come to mean to Kingsport drug dealers:  "look to the sky and smile.. you're on candid camera."

No where has that been more evident, as Kingsport police focused on the trouble spot known as the 229 Club.

"I remember two particular instances at night, where we'd pick up a shooting and a major domestic fight (at the 229 Club), where a man was just literally beating a woman with his fists," remembers Chief Osborne.  "When the word got out that we had both of those incidents on fight, caught through the cameras, it made big statements: yes, we were watching, yes, we got good video, yes, we can go to court with that, and yes, the warning has gone out that.. 'we're watching you.'"

SEE VIDEO:  SURVEILLANCE CAMERA ZOOM OUT (PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT - FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)


video

How close can the cameras zoom in?

"I think the most amazing thing about those cameras, is really.. how close they can zoom in," says Reverend Calvert.  "I watched video of where they zoomed in on an actual cigarette butt on the ground.  The picture was so close, that you could almost read the name of the cigarette, the brand of the cigarette written on it.  If a drug transaction was going down, the camera could zoom in and capture the movements of the people, even their little subtle movements, the body language."

"That's not something that you can hide easily, and the camera catches it all."

SEE VIDEO: COP FOLLOWING CAR - RIVERVIEW (PRESS THE PLAY BUTTON ON LEFT - FULL SCREEN BUTTON ON RIGHT)

video

Now, it's time to look to the future.

"We still have some cameras in place in Riverview," the chief says, "and now that V.O. Dobbins is renovated and the HOPE VI homes are completed, if we need to change the location of some of our cameras or add to them, that's going to help keep the crime rate down. Right now, we have a strong presence in the neighborhood with community policing and officers in their beat zones."

"It's just a whole new world (in Riverview)," he says. "You go through now, and Mama and Daddy could be out playing with the kids, and not having to worry about anything. You're from Kingsport, Calvin, you know how it has been at one time, and you know what it is now. There's just no comparison."

"The family atmosphere is slowly returning," notes Reverend Calvert. "Where we are right now, just shows what citizens can do when they work together. It took a lot. Mayor Jeanette Blazier spearheaded it, our current mayor Dennis Phillips picked up the mantle and is carrying it along, and I do believe any future administration would do the same thing because it has enriched the community."

"It's a win-win for everybody."



Part of the police presence was an office that used to be on Booker Street in the old Riverview Apartments.

"Our new office in the V.O. Dobbins Complex will be manned 24 hours a day on a regular basis," the chief says. "The officers will be in and out, doing regular reports, doing walk-throughs of the neighborhood, checking on things and being part of various activities in the community, basketball, football, both indoor and outdoor things."


POLICE IN RIVERVIEW



"We are determined to keep the crime out, that overran Riverview," he says, "without question. We were so successful with the program that we started, that it got national attention. We actually went to Baltimore to meet with a whole group of law enforcement from across the country, who were trying to find some sort of relief in their own communities. They looked at our program and now some of them are trying what we did. It's not just a program.. it's a lifestyle and I don't think any part of the community will accept anything less than the very best that we can provide, and as a police chief, I don't what to provide anything less than the best."

CAMERA IN THE LEE PROJECTS


Right now, the Lee Apartments has two of the cameras that Riverview once had, but the cameras still there are still active. "Right now, we're working on a grant close to 800-thousand dollars that involves more patrols, undercover drug officers and overtime for repeat offender programs. When we flip the switch on the cameras, we don't get every drug dealer because they don't congregate like they used to. We'll pick 'em off one at a time before they move to Highland or Cloud or Lynn Garden. They're easier to get now, because they're isolated by themselves now, instead of being with 500 other drug dealers and users."




Now that the V.O. Dobbins Complex is welcoming people to Riverview who have never been there before, the HOPE VI homes will have many of the apartments' former residents coming back, and Riverview residents have reclaimed their neighborhood, now the focus is on keeping the bad element out. Surely, those same drug dealers have been hiding in the bushes, waiting on all the hulabaloo to die down so they can move back in and resume their illegal activities.

Both Reverend Calvert and Chief Osborne have views on that.

"First, I'd pray that they would reconsider their illegal actions," says Reverend Calvert. "I don't want them to have to go to jail.. and they will. We have far too many citizens of color in jail. Their actions will put them there. Second.. coming back into Riverview with that again will not work this time, because community policing is firmly in place and folks are not afraid to call the police and speak out. The cameras are still here, they are still working. They're stronger and working better than ever and for their own safety, the drug dealers and users need to go someplace else."


Chief Osborne was more blunt.

"They may try to deal their drugs," he says with a resounding voice. "They may try, and we're gonna put 'em in jail. "If (the drug dealers and users) are looking for a fight, we're gonna give 'em one, and we're in for the long haul. Whatever it takes. If I can't do it with 5 officers, I'll do it with 10. If I can't do it with 10, I'll do it with 116. If I can't do it that way, I'll call in officers from other communities. We are determined to address any problem concerning drug dealers."

"Our track record shows that we're extremely aggressive on drug dealers, and they'd better stay out of Riverview. They'd better stay out of Kingsport, because we're gonna put 'em in jail."

"Period. Simple as that."



Chief Osborne says, the only way to effectively fight the drug problem in Riverview and all of Kingsport's neighborhoods and communities, is residential involvement. People who notice something suspicious, a strange vehicle not seen before, people hanging around, looking at the ground, looking around, walking from one point to another and back.. should pick up the phone and dial 9-1-1 immediately.

He gives all the credit for cleaning up Riverview to the residents.

"It's a team effort," he says. "As a police force, we could not do it without the people being our eyes and ears, just working together. It's corporate, it's community leaders, it's residential, it's church groups, it's the city. But above all, it's grass roots."

"Stay in touch with each other," he says. "I know about the family spirit in Riverview, I have seen it, being part of the community in a positive manner. If something doesn't look right and it makes you stop and think, report it. Pick up the phone and don't hesitate to give us a call. Stop that officer and ask how things are going."

"Please continue to be the eyes and ears to help us."



"It's awesome to go through Riverview now and see the kids playing, riding their bikes.. neighbors sitting out on their porches again.. people living in peace," he says.

"We aim to make sure it stays that way."