On Sunday night, Sikeston Public Safety officers responded to a fight near the corner of Ruth and Branum streets. When they arrived, they were met with an attack of rocks and bottles by a crowd estimated at 80. The scene was repeated Monday afternoon near the same location. In all, 14 were arrested. Welcome to summertime.
In a scene all too familiar, unruly crowds in the westend of Sikeston once again pose a danger to our Public Safety Department. It''s important to note that not all westend residents participate in these mini-riots. Indeed, most residents in that neighborhood, we suspect, would prefer that those troublemakers leave. But the sad truth is that some residents here hold no respect for law enforcement, no respect for property and absolutely no respect for the rights of others.
The area near Ruth and Branum streets is so dangerous that the Housing Authority long ago took the step of designating it as a "high crime" area and removed subsidized housing from the 800 blocks of Ruth and William. We believe for starters, it''s time to expand the area of "high crime" to include many other sections of our community.
But let me also quickly point out that residents living in subsidized housing are not always to blame for such unruly behavior. It''s far too easy to call for an elimination of Section 8 housing, thinking mistakenly that a move of that nature would eliminate the criminal element that creates these incidents. That simply is not the case.
How many times do I have to say it before those in power begin to understand? Our community - quite unwittingly - has created an atmosphere that encourages an in-migration of an undesirable element. Back to the issue of public housing, virtually every other community in this region that has public housing has closed their waiting lists and referred applicants to Sikeston because we remain with a ready inventory of subsidized housing.
Yet I repeat - the issue with the undesirable element in Sikeston is not solely a result of subsidized housing. We have factions within the westend community who battle constantly. They promote a culture of violence and open contempt for the law. They view every action by law enforcement in the context of race. And in many ways, they are winning.
As a community, we need to alter our focus from a concern over a damned one-way downtown street to the cancer growing elsewhere. We have paid lip-
service to the problems of violence and disrespect for the law. And now we will pay the price.
If Sikeston is ever to attract new industry and business, we first need to address some house-cleaning. The Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority was a substantial first step toward removing eyesores. We need to redouble those efforts to remove lawbreakers and make sure they no longer stay in our community.
We need to assure that our city courts recognize the seriousness of this problem. A policy that allows criminals to pay paltry amounts on their fines is no deterrent to criminal behavior. Landlords who consistently rent their properties to law-breakers and thugs, need to be held accountable in some manner as well.
And above all else, we need to offer our continued strong support to our Public Safety Department. Without their courage and commitment, we face chaos.