“People ask me where I live and I tell them Friendship Court, and they say, ‘I can’t believe you live there.’ It makes me feel bad,” says Justina, a woman who has lived in the low-income housing complex on the 400 block of Garrett Street for more than 15 years.
Charles Martin, executive director of Urban Vision, a nonprofit that provides programs in Friendship Court, says residents are fed up with violence that happens outside the complex. “This is a nice community.”
I meet with Justina and four other Friendship Court residents at the office of Urban Vision, a nonprofit that runs programs at Friendship Court, and a community center. On this beautiful summer day, kids giggle and play in an adjacent room; teens socialize and type in a computer lab. Like some of her neighbors, Justina doesn’t provide her last name. Residents are feeling burned lately by TV news cameras that have swept Friendship Court for footage, following a series of beatings on the edges of the complex.
In the wee hours of June 2, a couple made their way south on Garrett Street to get to their car, when they were beaten by a group of young men.
Friendship Court resident Sherrika says the beating happened outside her window.
“It was drunken white people,” she says. Sherrika saw a man hit the woman in the face with a rock. “One of the guys was telling him to come on, stop beating her.” Then the men “ran back towards the Downtown Mall.”
Other assaults have occurred recently, according to city Police Chief Timothy J. Longo. In late May, a “male subject was assaulted by three black males” near Crescent Hall on S. First Street. And, one day later, a male victim was assaulted by three males with clubs on Garrett Street.
Friendship Court residents say outsiders are responsible.
Melvin, a 19-year-old resident, says his neighborhood is at the crossroads for trouble: “They come from the Armory [the Downtown Recreation Center at 800 E. Market St.] to Garrett Square because the police station isn’t right there.”
“Most of the residents here feel certain that what’s happening on Second Street and Garrett Street is not folks from Friendship Court, but just other people who are hanging out waiting for willing prey,” says Charles Martin, executive director of Urban Vision.
Martin provides stats that show crime within Friendship Court is on the decline. The number of total incidents, calls and arrests decreased to 590 in 2006 from 1,550 in 2003. The number of assaults fell to 99 from 226 during that same period, and drug incidents declined to 22 from 58.
Brenda, who’s lived in Friendship Court for more than two decades, says, “A lot of things have changed. Drugs are clearing out so a lot of [dealers] have moved on.”
But as nightlife has boomed Downtown, Friendship Court residents are still getting unwelcome visitors. Bargoers park illegally on the streets, and sometimes inside the complex. Brenda says, “They just get so pissy drunk after dark.”
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