The first Tuesday in August every year “National Night Out Against Crime” has neighbors gathering to stand up against criminal activity. This year Tim Heaphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, kicked the day off in Roanoke at the Hurt Park neighborhood in front of their community garden.
Mark Powell, director and founder of the Roanoke Community Garden Association, started the garden as a way to evoke neighborhood pride.
The Hurt Park neighborhood is a success story. The neighborhood has suffered from poverty and the lack of opportunity over the years but good things are beginning to happen.
“Things are getting better … a diverse array of interests and energy has come together to revitalize this neighborhood,” said Heaphy. The “Goonz” gang has been eradicated from the area. The gang was selling crack cocaine, committing violent robberies and injuring many citizens. They entered the homes of drug dealers and were assaulting women and children.
Botetourt County Sheriff Ronald Sprinkle and Commonwealth Attorney Joel Branscome jump-started the Goonz case.
Home invasions reached a peak of 87 over a 16-month period in 2008 and 2009. In 2010 only 11 people reported invasion robberies had taken place following prosecution of the Goonz gang.
Heaphy attributed the success to police investigators and prosecutors. Roanoke City’s Chief Chris Perkins along with police chiefs and sheriffs from Vinton, Botetourt and Roanoke County flanked him in front of Hurt Park’s community garden. He thanked them all for their cooperation in building a case against violent criminal enterprises.
Heaphy says he seeks to combat crime with a comprehensive approach. He believes in coupling enforcement solutions with crime prevention and prisoner reentry programs. Heaphy calls it a “three-legged stool” strategy.
With the additional resources gained by completion of the Promise Neighborhood grant the community will now also have the ability to knock down stumbling blocks that get in the way of education.
Freedom First Credit Union is developing affordable neighborhood banking in Hurt Park as well. Freedom First received Corporate Citizen of the Year from the NAACP at their recent banquet. They have been instrumental in providing financial education and offering short-term loans that help avoid predatory lenders.
Heaphy chose the Hurt Park Community Garden as a symbol of “weeding out criminal elements and planting the seeds of hope and progress. With nurturing Hurt Park will be a thriving community,” he said.
Heaphy joined Roanoke City police Tuesday evening traveling to several neighborhood “Night Out” events. He planned to celebrate, relax and eat with the community.
“Tonight, neighbors here and across Roanoke will stand united in the fight against crime … Each citizen will be part of the solution to criminal activity in their own backyards,” said Heaphy.