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Murder rate doubles but shootings of all kinds on the rise

by Jordan Green

When the FBI released its preliminary annual Uniform Crime Report on June 12, it showed a dramatic twist of fate for Greensboro: the number of murders in the Gate City more than doubled from 2004 to 2005. Across the state, the homicide trajectory showed modest increases in Charlotte, Raleigh and Durham, a level plane in Fayetteville and easing in Winston-Salem.

Yet Greensboro’s statistics could be seen as deceptive. While 30 homicides were recorded in 2005 and 14 in 2004, a total of 36 people were murdered here in 2003. On average, homicides have hovered in the mid-twenties over the past year. Those erratic numbers have masked a more troubling reality: a creeping increase in overall violent crime.

‘“We’re noticing an increase in violent crime: gunshot wounds and stab wounds, assaults,’” said Cheryl Workman, trauma program manager at Mose Cone Hospital. ‘“It’s a gradual increase. Once they’re discharged from the hospital we have some that go to jail and some that go home.’”

The victims tend to be young adults between the ages of 15 and 40, consistent with reports from other cities across the country, she said.

Over the past seven years the number of violent incidents recorded by the Greensboro Police Department has increased 7 percent, beginning with a rise in 2004 after a dip between 2001 and 2003. Over the same period, violent crime has been reduced by a quarter in Winston-Salem and Durham, remained steady in Raleigh and lurched upwards in Fayetteville beginning in 2002.

For the first six months of 2006 Greensboro police have tallied nine homicides, not counting two infant deaths that have not been categorized pending the completion of investigations, Chief Tim Bellamy said. Assuming the trend continues through the end of the year, the murder rate will still fall below the average for the past seven years.

While an exact count of shootings and other assaults for the first half of 2006 is not available, police have noted a rash of violent incidents in the first two weeks of June that seems to have coincided with the end of the school year and the onset of oppressive heat.

The most recent casualty is Datrick Jerome Snipes, who was shot to death in the early morning hours of June 14 at a Waffle House restaurant on High Point Road. Three others, Kevin Lakeith Dunham, Jerry Covington and Ricardo Bowman Jr. were treated for gunshot wounds at Moses Cone Hospital. Police described two vehicles that left the scene, a medium blue box style vehicle with chrome wheels and a dark colored van, as being relevant to their investigation.

While the dramatic details of Snipes’ death might create a strong impression with the public, Bellamy suggested that non-fatal assaults ‘— whose victims were attacked in public places, ambushes, or on at least one occasion inside a home from an outside assailant ‘—’ were a more troubling trend.

‘“We’ve had a lot of daggone shootings lately,’” Bellamy said. ‘“Most of the shootings have to do with gangs or drugs. We have a lot of shootings in the back, legs and knees. Most of them are [about] paying drug bills, or we find out someone is occupying someone else’s territory.’”

Homicides tend to stem more from domestic violence within families, Bellamy added.

The weekend before Snipes was killed, police responded to a shooting at the Players Club, also on High Point Road. A bouncer at the club was shot through the leg at 3:30 in the morning as he waited for the parking lot to clear. The victim said he believed the shot came from a pickup truck leaving the parking lot.

In another incident, three young men ‘— 25-year old Brandon Tyler, 20-year-old Kyle Rogers and an unidentified 16-year-old boy ‘— were walking in the area of the intersection of Arlington and Whittington streets when they were approached by a Ford Explorer operating with no headlights. According to the victims, four people got out of the Explorer and charged at them. One of them pistol-whipped Tyler and took his wallet and keys. Another threw Rogers to the ground and received an abrasion on his face. The 16-year-old boy ran from the scene as one of the suspects with a shotgun fired after him.

The police apprehended one of the suspects, recovered the pistol and shotgun, and towed the vehicle.

The most eventful weekend of the month might have been the first.

Police assisted with traffic control on High Point Road in the early morning hours of June 4 as the end of a private graduation party attended by 300 to 400 people let out at Alexander Devereaux’s . What the police described as a ‘“large-scale fight’” spilled onto nearby Grimsley Street. Police reported that five gunshots were fired from behind the club, one of which grazed the shin of a female patron.

Earlier in the evening, at 11:14 p.m., a 37-year-old Glenwood resident was shot in the left side of her face while sitting in the front living room of her house. Police reported that the assailant shot through the front window of her window six times. The woman was reported to be in serious but stable condition, and police had not located a suspect by the next morning. An hour earlier, a 33-year-old man residing on Broad Avenue reported that he was shot in the wrist with a .22 caliber revolver in an incident police deemed an aggravated assault.

More recently, at around midday on June 23, police reported that 10 to 15 rounds were fired at a tow truck driver removing vehicles from the parking lot at Friendly Hills Apartments off College Road. Special units officers negotiated the peaceful surrender of 24-year-old Julio Correa at a nearby apartment on Hunt Club Road. Correa was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and going armed to the terror of the public.

As traumatic and disruptive as the violence might be to its victims, when viewed relative to its total population, Greensboro falls somewhere slightly below the average of the nation’s 25 largest cities for violent crime and murder. The FBI’s 2005 uniform crime statistics calculated against the US Census Bureau’s 2005 population estimates give Greensboro 13 murders for every 100,000 residents and 837 violent crime incidents for every 100,000 residents. Charlotte’s murder rate is slightly lower, but overall violent crime is slightly higher in the Queen City. When compared to other large cities, Greensboro was safer than Indianapolis and Milwaukee, Wis., but slightly more dangerous than Los Angeles and New York.

Among cities of similar size ‘— those whose 2005 population estimates fall between 200,000 and 250,000 people ‘—’ Greensboro’s violent crime rate and murder rates make it somewhat more dangerous than average. Greensboro, with 837 violent crime incidents per 100,000 residents falls between the extremes of Orlando, Fla. (home of Disney World), with 1,742 incidents; and the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, Calif., with 175 incidents.

Among southeastern cities of similar size, only Birmingham, Ala. and St. Petersburg, Fla. are more dangerous than Greensboro. Montgomery, Ala., the state’s capital, and Hialeah, Fla., a suburb of Miami, are safer. So are the Virginia Tidewater cities of Norfolk and Chesapeake. And contrary to perceptions of Durham as being a hotbed for crime, the Bull City experienced only 721 violent crime incidents per 100,000 residents in 2005, although its murder rate exceeded that of Greensboro.

Poverty and education level don’t seem to quite account for the rise of violence in Greensboro. Among similar sized cities with comparable violent crime rates, Greensboro has the lowest percentage of individuals living in poverty in its cohort:’ 12.3 percent; it compares favorably for its share of residents with four-year college degrees. The safer cities of Durham, Norfolk, Va. and Montgomery, Ala. respectively struggle with individual poverty levels of 15 percent, 19 percent and 18 percent. More than a third of Greensboro residents hold four-year or more advanced college degrees. Only Durham, with 42 percent, has a more educated population.

Neither can it be said that Greensboro is a city in decline. Between 2001 and 2005, the Gate City’s population has grown a modest 2 percent. Police, academics and social workers have seemed puzzled by both Greensboro’s doubled murder rate and ascendant violent crime trend.

‘“The recession hit prior to that, and things have actually gotten a little better,’” said John Shore, director of the Guilford County Department of Social Services. ‘“I don’t know why that is. I don’t know if it’s a demographic fluctuation or what.’”

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

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