Residents said the violence in the surrounding neighborhoods has taken over.
Now residents want to take it back.
“I’m fearful for my grandchildren to come to my house,” said resident Deborah Ford. “I’m fearful for my community. We shouldn’t live in fear.”
Approximately 100 people gathered Jan. 12 at Zion Hill First Baptist Church in Rockmart’s west side to find ways to stop violence.
The group met as a part of a new community watch effort. While the initial Community Watch Program began in August, officials said the participation at the latest meeting had dramatically increased.
Residents said their concerns were stirred by the Jan. 8 killing of Desmond “Bud” Ray Kinnemore, 19, of Rockmart.
Kinnemore’s body was found in a ditch at the intersection of Morgan Valley Road and Second Street. Police are investigating the case as a homicide and it’s believed that his death was the result of a shooting.
Ministers Speak Out
A minister acquainted with Kinnemore spoke about the young man and his mother, who was in attendance at the meeting. The minister said she spoke to Kinnemore about getting off the street and turning his life around.
Part of the community’s effort should be to teach young men the right way to care for their family, she told the crowd.
Pastor Eric Fredrick of Rivers of Living Water Church in Rockmart read off a list violent acts that have taken place in Polk County, with many of those incidents occurring in Rockmart. That list included the July 2010 murder of James Yarbrough, 77, in his Morgan Valley Road home, Rockmart; the June 2012 murder of Elizabeth Hutcheson, 27, while delivering a pizza on Thompson Street, Cedartown; the December 2012 shooting which wounded Terrace Stocks, 32, on Seaboard Street, Rockmart; the New Year’s Day 2011 murder of Rodney Arzez Mitchell Jr.,
16, on Gordon Street, Rockmart; and the September 2008 murder of Ronny Ferguson, 49, and shootings of two others in the Ferguson home on Long Avenue, Rockmart.
“We know our community has grown. This isn’t Mayberry anymore,” Fredrick said.
Fredrick said gangs have moved into the west side area, and he wants the community to force them out.
“We have to let them know no one is going to take our territory. We need to stand up and say you are not going to sell drugs in our community,” he said.
Police Amp up Efforts
RPD officer Mark Westbrook, who regular patrols the west side area, agreed that crime is a problem in Rockmart and the county.
Westbrook mentioned a recent incident involving an individual’s arrest after they were found with an assault weapon in the housing authority community.
The housing authority is located just across the street from where the Community Watch meeting took place.
Westbrook also said a lot of the crime stems from those outside the county traveling here. He said officers recently arrested a Haralson County man in the neighborhood on drug charges.
“It’s a sad day when people can’t live in their houses, their kids can’t play in the street without being afraid of getting shot,” Westbrook said.
An AK-47 was reported in a nearby playground just two weeks ago, according to Polk County Police Department Cpl. Ken Scott, who was also attending the meeting.
A number of other law enforcement officials from the Rockmart Police Department (RPD), the Polk County Police Department (PCPD), and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) also spoke at the meeting.
Rockmart Police Chief Keith Sorrells said the Kinnemore death had the potential to turn into an even greater tragedy.
He said a bullet traveled to a vacant home on Second Street and landed in a children’s bedroom. Police believe the bullet was fired during the incident where Kinnemore was killed.
“We want people to feel safe in their community. We don’t want people sitting in their home scared,” Sorrells said.
In an effort to curb crime in the Rockmart area, Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd plans on amping up patrol visibility. He told those at the meeting he is already putting four of his six available patrol cars in Rockmart and will continue with that policy until it yields results.
“It hurts me to my bone, in my heart, to see what’s going on over here,” Dodd said.
All of the law enforcement officials urged people to call in anything suspicious.
“You saw how long we were out there,” said Scott, referring to the investigation of the crime scene after Kinnemore’s body was found.
“You saw how long we had the road blocked. All that evidence is great, but the real piece of evidence is you.”
Scott also urged residents to make their homes a harder target by turning on porch lights, buying a flood light and locking doors and windows.
Pastors and ministers from throughout Polk County also attended the meeting. Pastors encouraged families to take charge of their homes and children.
This is not a time to protect children from consequences of their behavior, according to one pastor.
“Sometimes we are biased at who we want to turn in. Sometimes it’s our own child,” said. Dennis Goodman, pastor of Pine Hill Baptist Church in Aragon.
“You can only harbor them so long before, pretty soon, they’ll turn on you.”
Another resident stood and asked about the low number of men at the meeting and said men need to take leadership roles in the community and their children’s lives.
Pastors also said the root of violence is a spiritual problem that must be corrected.
“If we want to see our community change, our people change, first we have to change,” said Ronnie Davis, associate pastor at Crosspoint Community Church in Aragon.
The two-hour meeting generated some additional solutions to reduce crime and violence in the neighborhood.
Dodd said he would visit abandoned homes, which tend to be centers of criminal activity, and start the legal process leading to those homes being torn down.
He also said he would increase the amount of patrols on Dever Street, an area in Rockmart that has a high level of crime.
The group liked the idea of organizing a march through Rockmart’s west side to show criminals they are not welcomed.
Residents also wanted to buy the former Elm Street School, which the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority (NWGHA) is also seeking to purchase. NWGHA is currently negotiating for the sale.
West side residents said they want the school to be used for a community center with organized activities for children and families
and want to once again see more family-friendly activities at the American Legion on Springdale Road.
Residents and pastors said they want to re-build the community from within using their own money and without financial assistance from government.
That way the community can decide how to run the center, its activities, and make sure it stands for a lifetime, residents said.
“We can’t expect the police to change our community,” said Rockmart resident Tabitha McClarity. “We have to change it.”