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Henderson makes fighting crime her priority

by Jordan Green

Toni Henderson paced the floor of her home on East Lee Street barefoot and dressed in a white pinstripe suit, speaking animatedly into the portable phone to a reporter from the daily newspaper about her candidacy for the District 2 seat on Greensboro City Council.

The front room of the 57-year-old private duty nurse’s modestly sized house functions as a combined kitchen, dining and living room. The spare elegance of the room, with its entertainment center, pink roses arranged on a modern-style coffee table and an open box of campaign shirts setting on a treadmill exercise machine, gives it both the feel of a place of refuge and a war room for an ongoing mission against the addiction, prostitution and drug-related violence Henderson sees as besieging her neighborhood.

Three years ago she launched a one-woman campaign to rid her neighborhood of crack dealing. She posted signs reading, ‘“Crack selling will not be tolerated in this community. This activity will be reported to the police.’” She stood on the street corners with dealers to discourage their business. She badgered landlords to evict tenants or squatters selling drugs.

For her troubles, Henderson’s house ‘— then on nearby Martin Street ‘— was bombed by someone who set explosives under the back porch. The police never learned who perpetrated the crime, she said.

‘“You know how you want something so bad you will die for it?’” Henderson asked in a recent interview. ‘“It was like I was in a war. My life didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to die, but I felt like if I did die to me it was a good reason.

‘“That just made me more determined,’” she said of the bombing. ‘“These people were trying to take over our neighborhood and put us in fear.’”

Henderson lives in the southern toe of District 2, which covers the northeast quadrant of the city. Two opponents Ed Whitfield, a resident of the historic Aycock neighborhood on the northern edge of downtown, and Goldie Wells, who lives in the tidy Kings Forest neighborhood, have tended to emphasize economic development over crime control. Like her, they’ve established community activist reputations, Whitfield through his association with the Beloved Community Center and Wells as chair of Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro.

A fourth candidate, Lewis Byers, owns a barbershop on Phillips Avenue and has expressed a mix of concerns about policing and economic development.

Henderson’s efforts to drive out drug dealers has led her to examine issues of policing, the placement of non-profit social services and, to a lesser extent, employment. She said while leading a fight to stop a drug treatment center, DREAMS Treatment Services, from opening on Lee Street her neighbors encouraged her to run for city council to take the struggle to a more politically connected arena. Although she has bought hundreds of campaign yard signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts, in many ways she acknowledged that her city council campaign is just a new development in her continuing fight against the drug dealers.

Henderson contends that her neighborhood specifically and District 2 generally have borne the brunt of an inordinate concentration of non-profit social services organizations ‘— some privately run, some operated by churches, almost all receiving some kind of state funding. In a walking tour of her neighborhood, she rattled off a list of them: a proposed drug treatment center, a proposed homeless shelter and halfway houses for newly released convicts. The result, she said, is a concentration of addiction, prostitution and violence that drives out working families.

Henderson said she has been pleased with the Greensboro Police Department, but its ability to respond to neighborhood crime is limited. She said landlords have cooperated to an extent by evicting tenants who use and deal drugs, but all too often the old problems return with new tenants.

She estimated that at one time as many as 50 percent of the houses in her neighborhood housed drug dealing and using but lately, she said, ‘“it got so it was just a few.’” Her campaign signs adorn the yards of houses along East Lee Street. Some of them are well-kept homes with flowers in their front yards where Henderson’s supporters live; others are boarded up houses bearing ‘no trespassing’ signs that appear to be recent or current crack dens.

Henderson introduced a woman passing on the sidewalk as an active member of the campaign against the drug dealers. The woman nodded and hurried on without speaking, evidence Henderson said of the fear of retribution that pervades the area.

She said she would like the more prosperous parts of the city to take on a greater share of the non-profit organizations that offer rehabilitative services and in turn attract people with addictions and criminal pasts.

‘“You have non-profits helping the needy,’” Henderson said. ‘“It looks like to me the poorest district is dealing with all the poor things. If you put everything that is non-profit in one area, how is it going to grow? They’re destroying what beauty is here. It gets to where the houses are so unlivable they have to be leveled to the ground. Who wants to come here and get a business going? I wouldn’t want to either.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com

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