Pubdate: Fri, 09 Jul 2004
Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Copyright: 2004 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Author: Glenn Smith, and Steve Reeves


Shootings, Drugs Raise Fear In Neighborhood Around East Side Intersection

Tanesha Tomlin often lies awake in her apartment at Nassau and Line streets,
wondering when the shooting will start again and whose life the bullets will

Early Thursday, a 35-year-old man was wounded by gunfire on the corner
outside her home. Two others were gunned down in the same place
earlier this year. Just two blocks down Nassau, another young man was
shot to death last month.

"It scares me a lot," said Tomlin, 27, who moved into the area from
Atlanta three months ago. "You're just always wondering when somebody
is going to do something crazy. ... I have an 8-year-old daughter, and
I won't let her come outside here."

Line and Nassau streets intersect in a struggling patch of
Charleston's East Side neighborhood, where neatly kept single-family
homes sit alongside boarded, vacant buildings and sagging apartment
houses. Young men prowl the litter-strewn corner, casting a wary eye
at strangers who pass.

There are no stores, parks or landmarks to draw people to this corner,
yet they gather here at all hours of the day and night. Police and
residents say the lure is drugs, and it's fueling the violence.

No one is sure why, but the corner over the years has become an
open-air drug markets of sorts, drawing dealers and their customers
from all over. At times, they have settled disputes with bloodshed.

"It's obviously a hot corner, but why that corner, I don't know," said
Charleston police Lt. Richard Moser.

The word "thug" is scrawled in white paint on a pink stucco building
near the intersection. Across the street, floral bouquets are tacked
to the pockmarked utility pole, makeshift memorials to the two people
slain on the corner this year.

Since January, there have been six homicides in the city of
Charleston. Half have occurred in a two-block stretch of Nassau.

Barbara Milligan, a 43-year-old mother, was fatally shot in the head
at Line and Nassau in February. Carlos Nehemiah Watson, 21, was found
shot to death on the same corner two months later. Last month, Michael
Rudolph Marshall, 30, was fatally shot at nearby Nassau and Amherst

Early Thursday, William Price was hospitalized after being shot at
Line and Nassau.

Police have made an arrest only in Milligan's killing and have not
said what role, if any, drugs played in any of the slayings.

All of the victims and most, if not all, of the shooters have been
black, mirroring a trend of black-on-black violence seen throughout
the city. Since January, five black people have been fatally shot in
Charleston, and 19 more have been wounded by gunfire.

City Councilman James Lewis said police need to pay more attention to
the area around Line and Nassau and use special undercover teams to
shut down drug dealers.

"We've got to do something because this is a bad reflection on the
city," he said. "We've had four shootings in the same geographical
area in the past four or five months. ... The city needs to be paying
attention to this."

Tanesha Tomlin said the drug dealers scatter when police ride through,
but they always return.

"They don't care," she said. "They do whatever they feel

If residents are frustrated with what they see as police inaction, the
police are equally frustrated with residents who fail to report crimes.

"A lot of people see crimes but they're afraid or, for whatever
reason, they don't call the police," said Lt. David Bridges, who
supervises patrols in the area. "We don't get a lot of calls to that
area, at least not as many as you would think."

But Charleston police have responded to the corner of Line and Nassau,
and the immediate surrounding area, nearly 150 times since Jan. 1 to
investigate incidents ranging from gunshots and drug activity to
vandalism and assaults.

"We have made many drug arrests on that corner," Bridges

Even so, he said the dealers are getting more slippery, using bicycle
couriers to deliver drugs or sending customers elsewhere to pick up
their purchases.

"Drug sellers are sophisticated today," Bridges said. "It's not always
as simple as jumping out of the car and finding the narcotics."

Police have increased bicycle and foot patrols in the area and have
worked to disperse crowds from the corner, but nothing has solved the

"We've taken a proactive approach, but we can't put a man there 24
hours a day," Bridges said. "All we can do is try to keep pressure on
the area."

Latonya Memminger, president of the Eastside Community Development
Corp., a neighborhood association, said things won't change until
residents take a stand.

"I think things will just get worse if we don't show that area some
attention," Memminger said. "I don't think the police can be
everywhere at once. It has to be a collaborative effort between the
people who live there and the police."

Nassau Street resident Bill Davis has lived near the corner since
1978. He doesn't mince words describing the experience.

"It's pure hell," he said. "It's downright outrageous."

Davis, who has a wife and two children, said he fears for his family
because "you just never know which way the bullets are going to go."
Rather than leave, he has decided to take a stand.

"Whenever I see them selling drugs, I yell at them," he said. "I let
them know they can't do that here, and I immediately call the police.
The police are constantly coming here, but nothing ever changes."

Like Memminger, Davis, who belongs to the neighborhood association and
is a block captain, said the solution is not more police but more
community involvement.

But Davis acknowledges that's not likely to happen any time soon. He
said the community association's monthly meetings are poorly attended,
and many residents live in fear of the drug dealers.

"The interest of the people is just not there," he said. "They're just
too afraid of what might happen to them."
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