Two fathers, whose sons were killed on Beatties Ford Rd, reflect on new program to make the neighborhood safer

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:11 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Crime in the City of Charlotte has been a concern for years. But soon a new city and county partnership will hopefully start to decrease violence.

It’s called the Alternatives to Violence program and is set to launch this summer. But not everyone, even those who have been affected by violent crime, are sure the program can work.

Last year the city identified four hot spots of crime. Those areas were I-85 and Sugar Creek Road, Nations Ford and Arrowood Roads, Sharon Amity Road and Central Avenue and Beatties Ford and LaSalle Street.

Although those spots covered just 2 square miles of CMPD’s jurisdiction, they accounted for almost 10% of violent crime.

The program will launch first in the Beatties Ford and LaSalle Street neighborhood. The city has put in million to rejuvenate the community but memories of it’s past are still covering the street. Almost a year ago, that community was struck by heartbreak after a shooting at a Juneteenth block party.

Four people died and many more were injured.

MORE: $22K REWARD: Father begs for people to come forward as police release surveillance video in deadly June Beatties Ford Road shooting

The Beatties Ford Road community in West Charlotte has a deep history in the city. And although you can see its history around every corner, the former prospering pocket of the community is now diminishing. The intersection of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street is now littered with pictures and mementos of murder victims.

City leaders have approved millions to change the neighborhood and the narrative. When you drive down Beatties Ford Road now, you can see new construction on every corner with developers eyeing any open space. The community is just a few miles from Uptown and Johnson C. Smith University, making it a ideal place for new development.

For many, it is the sign of progress and hopefully a better future. City leaders have said multiples times in the past before they can bring more opportunities to the people who live on Beatties Ford Road, they need to make the area safe. But not everyone here is sold on city leader’s idealistic vision for a community on edge.

“I don’t think it’s going to stop because case in point you’re shooting up here it’s four o’clock, it’s 4:30,” said Kenny Stevenon.

Stevenson is talking about the gunshots he heard moments before he sat down for the interview. He’s no stranger to hearing them. He’s lived in West Charlotte most of his life. But he never though his life would be forever changed the way it was because of gun violence.

“I have my good days and bad days. You have days where you know, just proud that he was my son,” Stevenson said. “I was proud to have a son as nice and as kind and special as it was.”

Stevenson’s son Dairyon was killed last year at a Juneteenth party on Beatties Ford Road. Hundreds of people were there celebrating until several cars started speeding down the road where people were gathered. Police say it appears several people started shooting, calling it hail of gunfire. Four people were killed and many others injured. CMPD has not made any arrests.

“It’s just it’s been a year it’s been a whole year and you know,” said Stevenson. “You can never prepare for death. The way you think you should be able to.”

Not uncommon in West Charlotte, the pain of losing a son is shared.

“You miss your son?”

“Everyday,” said Charles Billings.

Billings’ son Jamaa was also killed that night.

Charles chooses not to go to his son’s grave site but sometimes he’ll drive to Beatties Ford Road and clean up the memorial sites that still stand for his son and the three other victims who lost their lives that June night.

“I knew there was a lot of crime in that area. To me, if the city knows there’s a lot of crime in the area. My motto is you have to clean up before you can build up. It should have been cleaned up,” Billings said.

The city is trying now trying to do both. Multiple, multi-million-dollar improvement projects are already underway and city leaders have approved a plan to ‘interrupt’ the violence to try and make it safer environment for everyone who lives there.

“Most incident of violence are retaliatory,” said Gary Ivory.

Gary Ivory is the president of Youth Advocate Programs Incorporated, also known as YAP, inc.. They have been charged with implementing and overseeing the new city program ‘ATV’ or ‘Alternatives to Violence’ initiative.

“As you know our staff does not have any weapons, or guns. Any of that. We’re simply people who are doing deescalating, peace buildings, solving conflicts,” Ivory said.

They’re hiring “violence interrupters,” people with strong ties to the Beatties Ford area who know how to walk the walk and talk the talk there.

Their job? Embed in the community and work to identify high risk people who are the most likely to commit a violent crime and interrupt the violence – before it happens.

If we hire the right person with street cred, they have relationships. They know how to communicate. They know how to get a trust relationship with key people in the neighborhood. They’re respected. They’re not seen as snitches or intelligence gatherers. If they have those skill sets, most people are going to be responsive,” he said.

Fathers like Charles Billings and Kenny Stephenson who lost their sons to gun violence here want something to be done. But will believe this new program will work when they see it in action.

“Crime is still going on. You talking about six people going to put a stop to that, come up with a better idea,” said Billings.

Stevenson said though he’s glad they are at least trying something. He says his son would be glad they’re trying to fix the area where he was killed.

“Let’s me, it reassures me that they haven’t forgotten. "

The Alternatives to Violence program is actively recruiting people from the Beatties Ford neighborhood.

You can find out more information at YAPINC.ORG.

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