The deliberate burning of God’s Power Church of Christ in June opened old wounds for Sam Johnson, who pastors a nearby church.
Johnson first started pushing for more street lights and other measures to fight crime in the Unionville neighborhood in the early ‘90s, when Tommy Olmstead was mayor.
“Where there is no lighting, it says that crime can exist,” said Johnson, who leads the Corner Stone Missionary Baptist Church off Mercer University Drive. “In Bibb County, certain areas just sit and nothing happens.”
Just a few days before the church arson, Sheriff David Davis led a safety walk right past God’s Power Church at the corner of Cedar and Moseley avenues.
John Glover leads Jordan Chapel Missionary Baptist Church farther down on Moseley Avenue at the corner of Pansy Avenue.
“If you’re a person who deliberately burns a church of God, that’s a dangerous person,” he said. “We’re living in a day where people don’t care about themselves and they don’t care about God. That’s dangerous when a person destroys the household of faith.” Johnson believes the abundance of blighted houses, overgrown lots and illegal dumping feeds criminal activity -- particularly in the area known as “the field” directly across from the front of the burned church.
There about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, 30-year-old Jeremy Sears was shot three times.
“You see a large gathering of people socializing with beer and alcohol, or whatever,” Johnson said. “It’s unbecoming to be right in the mouth of the church.”
Graffiti in a vacant house refers to the death of Damion Bernard “Little Petey” Clayton, who was the intended target when 16-year-old Alyssa Jackson was fatally shot near the church in November 2013.
Clayton was gunned down months later, several blocks away on a baseball field off Anthony Road.
In the weeks after this summer’s church fire, a woman was shot in the leg about 6 a.m. July 23 as she walked on Lilly Avenue. Last Tuesday evening, a man dodged bullets as he tried to stop someone from stealing his car near Moseley and Woodard avenues.
“If we know there is a sore spot, how long do we let it stay,” Johnson asked during a recent drive through Unionville.
But he realizes there is no easy solution.
Finding the correct measure of response can be challenging, Davis said.
A drug detail helped clean out some of the troublemakers in the spring.
“You have got to be very judicious with that so it doesn’t look like you’re targeting a group of people,” the sheriff said.
After the walk, he ordered a work detail from the jail to cut some overgrown lots, but Davis has to use caution.
“Technically, we’re not supposed to do anything on private property, and some of these vacant lots are private property,” he said. “The way I look at it, if it becomes a nuisance for pests and people to hide drugs, then I’ll step out on that limb.”
Along Pansy Avenue, one lot continually piles up with trash and household items under a tree canopy down the street from Glover’s church.
“They have been out cleaning it up, but they’re constantly bringing it back,” Glover said. “You just can’t keep this neighborhood clean. There’s no pride in it, I guess. I don’t know what it is.”
Glover wishes his congregation had the money for a surveillance camera to identify those who keep dumping illegally.
“We have to find a way of building collaboration among the smaller congregations,” he said.
Davis hopes his safety walks will encourage communities to get together and foster relationships on their own in the weeks after the deputies stroll the streets with neighbors.
Part of Unionville was included last fall in Macon-Bibb County’s 5x5 Neighborhood Improvement Program that addresses maintenance and blight issues across five blocks for five weeks in each of the nine districts.
District 5, which includes Unionville, comes up on the county rotation again in early October, said Chris Floore, a spokesman for Macon-Bibb County.
County department heads will be soliciting ideas from Commissioner Bert Bivins to decide which blocks to tackle this year.
Floore said if neighbors have safety concerns about lighting and other issues, they should not wait until it is time for another 5x5 focus, but raise those concerns now.
Johnson circulated a petition for lighting near his church, but he got fewer than a dozen signatures.
“The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the oil, so there’s not a lot of people here to squeak,” he said.
He decries the overgrown county rights of way along many of the neighboring streets.
“You’re going to fine the property owner if they don’t cut their grass, but what about you cutting your right of way?” he asked.
Floore said there are too many rights of way for the county to keep them trimmed year-round.
“It’s summertime. How often do you cut your lawn? We’ve got hundreds of miles of right of way to cut,” he said.
Johnson would like to see policy changes on the local government level to free up more resources to make improvements.
He appreciates the sheriff’s efforts and thinks more inmate work crews could make a difference.
“Now I realize taxes can’t pay everything, but the people in these communities pay taxes, too.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.