Commentary: A call against arms: Saving our youth

Staff Writer Quinton Harper

By Quinton Harper
UNC Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE


Northeast Central Durham leaders speak out following shooting on Driver Street

It takes a village to raise a child, but bullets tear down our youth and destroy our communities.

This year alone, Durham police have reported several high-profile incidents involving “senseless” gun violence against youth in Durham.

On May 10, 13-year-old Shakanah China was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting while standing outside Atka Court talking to friends, police report.

The following week, Caron Allen, 18, of Wadesboro Street, and Jeremy Turner, 19, of Gerard Street, were shot and killed in a gun fight outside the Lynn Haven Apartments complex on Wadesboro Street near U.S. 70 in Durham.

On August 15, police reported that a 17-year-old girl had been shot in a parking lot behind Main Street Apartments. Police later arrested a 16-year-old and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, among other charges.

Violent crime in Durham is up 2 percent, according to a 2011 second quarter police report by Durham Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr.

Durham District 1 Police Captain Paul Daye said he hasn’t seen an increase in violence among youth in the community.



However, this fall’s drive-by shooting of two toddlers — 1-year-old Au-Nehstii Hagans and 3-year-old Anayriion Hagans – who were struck and injured by bullets while playing inside their home at 204-A N. Driver St., has galvanized community members and Durham city leaders. Police report that three of the four men charged with the crime are in police custody.

Durham police said the incident was the result of gang violence in Durham and retaliation between gangs. Dominique Hagans, the mother of the two children, declined to speak to the VOICE. But other Driver Street residents are less reticent.

“There’s high-crime in the area, period,” said North Driver Street resident Miriam “Meme” Liles.

Liles, who is CEO of Vyce Verza Fashion and Entertainment and “Yet Will I Praise Him” Gospel Productions, said she babysits the Hagans kids, and that their children often play together.

“It’s a shame that it took a 1-year-old and 3-year-old [to be shot] for the community to step up and do something,” Liles said.

Durham resident Anthony Moore, who is a retired educator and mental health service provider, has lived on North Driver Street for almost 20 years.

He said rental properties on North Driver Street are a revolving door for crime and gang violence, and added that just a few months ago someone was injured in the same vicinity of the North Driver Street shooting.

“People are afraid to be outside and to walk the streets,” said Moore.  He stressed that he thinks the neighborhood is not so bad, but instead, the community has been negatively impacted by the influx of gangs and property owners who have rented out houses to tenants without taking the time to select the right people.

“They didn’t just start shooting in East Durham,” Liles added. “We want to see leaders before incidents like the North Driver Street shooting happened. We want to see the resources, whatever the city of Durham has to offer.”

“If you know this is a high-crime area, [the city] should already be out here protecting the neighborhood,” Liles said.

Director of Neighborhood Improvement Services Constance Stancil said that the incident on North Driver St. is unfortunate — whether on North Driver Street or any other street.

Stancil said that the recent shooting reflects poorly on Durham, and that the City of Durham is putting a lot of resources into revitalizing the community, including efforts by community engagement staff in her department.

“It (the shooting) not only pulls Driver Street down, but all of Northeast Central Durham. It reflects poorly on the city. And that’s unfair. Durham is a great place to live and work and play,” Stancil said.

Neighborhood Improvement Services is a liaison between the community and city government officials. The department does code enforcement, community engagement, and is home to the city’s rapid response impact team.

Melva Henry, the community engagement manager for Neighborhood Improvement Services, cited the Bull City Open Street festival (held on Driver Street last summer) as an example of a positive event in the neighborhood. Henry said nearly 200 community members came out to the festival in a demonstration of neighborhood unity.

Henry says she encouraged by Driver Street residents wanting to take back their streets. “I see a new push,” she said,  “and a new move to keep this (the shooting) from happening again.”



Joyce Waller, founder and CEO of the Star Foundation, said that danger exists in every community not just on North Driver Street.

The Star Foundation is a non-profit mentoring program for at-risk youth in Durham. The program provides life-skills training, after-school enrichment and summer camps for children in Durham and surrounding areas.

“Violence stems from young people not having anywhere positive to go and not having positive role models to be around,” Waller said.

Anthony Moore, who speaks from experience, agreed. He said that he wouldn’t be where he is today had it not been for a community-based facility available to youths in his neighborhood.

“If there was a place, a community-based facility for the young people in the neighborhood, it would give them some place to go,” said Moore, who said he grew up in a rough neighborhood in Florida. “On Driver Street there is nothing for teens to go to and come together. That was the thing that helped me. We took care of our own street.”

But then, there’s the new Holton Center. Hasn’t that changed the face of Driver Street?

North Driver Street resident Miriam “Meme” Liles said she hopes to see more community-based facilities that are free or provided at reduced cost for working class families struggling to make ends meet.

She added that facilities like the Holton Center could play a major role in the development of the lives of children on Driver Street, but she questions if the services provided by the center are affordable and accessible to all.

In response, Cynthia Booth, the public affairs specialist for Durham Parks and Recreation, which is housed in the second floor of the Holton Center, said that her department has a host of resources and programs available to the community, and that many of its programs are offered with a fee waiver or sliding fee scale based on income.

“We are here to help serve the community in any way possible,” said Booth.



Captain Daye calls on youths to be engaged and responsible citizens in the community. He also encouraged youth to make wise decisions and not be a victim to peer pressure.

“Peer pressure is a big cause of folks making bad choices; making good choices is key,” said Daye. “The choices you make don’t just affect you; they affect lots of other folks.”

Liles said the community as a whole needs to come together. She encourages kids to be watchful of the company they keep, to stay in school and to stay focused on their vision and their goals.

“Stay active and surround yourself with positive people,” said Liles. “Nine times out of 10 you’ll have positive results. And remember, you are the company you keep. Let nobody deter you off the path you’re supposed to be on.”

Waller said that it falls on adults to protect youth and children, but that she would tell young people not to be discouraged.

“The world can be a dangerous place, but you have choices, everybody has choices,” Waller said. “And your choice should be to better yourself and surround yourself with a positive environment.

“We can’t choose where we live, but we can choose our friends,” said Waller. “If you keep yourself surrounded by people who are positive it will normally put you in a positive situation and keep you out of danger.”

“It takes a village to raise a child,” said Waller. “Children live what they learn.”

Though the incident on North Driver Street is a setback, Stancil said that she refuses to let the shooting discourage her and her staff Neighborhood Improvement Services.

“We will not let a few people turn us around or stop us,” Stancil said. “Things will significantly change for the better, if we keep our eyes on the prize of making Northeast Central Durham a sustainable community. This is just one more bump in the road.”