Housing Project Is So Tough That Letter Carriers Have Police Escorts
ATLANTA (AP) _ Crime is so ferocious at the Bankhead Courts housing project that mail carriers are protected by police escort, the telephone company cut service calls to one day a week and a city official warns of anarchy.
Residents ignore an anonymous police hot line to report drug activity and say they are too afraid to attend meetings of the tenants association.
″People who live out here don’t get together and try to work out something,″ said Hattie Scales, president of the Bankhead Courts Tenants Association. ″We can’t do much at all, but they can come to us and let us know.″
She said Friday that ″a very few″ of the 1,703 residents who live in the project’s wood-and-brick townhouses are active in the tenants group. A meeting Tuesday had to be called off for lack of participation.
″It was at night and nobody would come out,″ Mrs. Scales said. ″I can’t blame them for not coming out at night, but we haven’t had a meeting because they don’t come out.″
Postal officials suspended service to the project for one day after shots were fired near a letter carrier Dec. 10. City officials criticized the move, and service to the 500-unit complex resumed Wednesday under police escort.
Southern Bell, saying it feared for the safety of its employees, scaled back service in Bankhead Courts, as well as to three other complexes in the city. Telephone installation and repair work is limited to Monday mornings, except for emergencies, and workers will enter the projects only in groups.
″We’ve had folks flash guns and pull knives on our installers, and threaten to use explosives on our vans,″ said Southern Bell spokesman Doug Kendig.
Gene Parker, another Southern Bell spokesman, said the safeguards are temporary, and company officials were meeting with police and city officials in an effort to strike a compromise.
Mayor Andrew Young condemned the decision as ″another attempt to make poor people pay for the cutbacks in services.″
Atlanta Housing Authority spokeswoman Cynthia Hoke said in a statement that the authority was ″outraged″ by the phone service cutback, effective about two weeks ago.
″We will not stand idly by and allow others to alienate our communities,″ Ms. Hoke said. ″AHA leadership will employ all means necessary, including legal actions, to ensure the delivery of utility and governmental services to citizens who happen to live in public housing.″
City Council President Marvin Arrington, who warned residents to take more responsibility, said Southern Bell’s action was ″exactly the point I was making″ about conditions at the project.
″Can you imagine if services are terminated, what would happen?″ Arrington asked. ″It would become an enclave unto itself, and I don’t want to see that happen.
″If there is anarchy, if there is no control and no respect for police officers, the foundation of that community gives way,″ he said. ″We need to go in ... and say, ’Hold on. We’re trying to help you live a better quality of life.‴
The service restrictions were the latest setbacks at Bankhead Courts, which sits in a wooded area of northwest Atlanta next to an industrial park. Police say the project has been prone to violent incidents and drug-related crimes for most of its 19 years.
On Nov. 3, a 24-year-old woman who journeyed into the complex with friends was killed when a drug dealer, fearing undercover police officers, opened fire on her car as it approached with its headlights off.
Two days later, four police officers were injured during several scuffles that erupted during a drug sweep. Twelve residents of the complex were arrested on drug charges.
A Nov. 10 raid by 37 officers led to 27 arrests - nine on drug charges and 18 for traffic violations and other charges.
″We have to change this system around,″ Mrs. Scales said. ″That’s about the only way. If we don’t get something decent going, we can’t expect nothing but the bottom.″
In an incident at a Chicago housing project Monday, paramedics responding to an emergency call from the mother of an asthmatic child refused to enter the building after they said they were pelted with rocks and eggs.
The mother of the 9-year-old filed a $60 million lawsuit against the city Wednesday. The boy’s mother and neighbors insist there was no danger to the paramedics, that nothing had been thrown.