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Fatal shooting spurs new watch group

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Jill Changary, leader of the New Historic Neighborhood Watch Group, speaks at the group's first meeting, Thursday. At least 20 people attended the meeting at Knobbs Creek Recreation Center.

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A new neighborhood watch group has organized in Elizabeth City, largely in response to the shooting death of a man in the community last month.

Jill Changary, a retiree from upstate New York, said she took the lead in forming the New Historic Neighborhood Watch Group following the May 3 fatal shooting of Trevon Blount, 19. Blount was shot to death near Changary’s home on West Colonial Avenue. Another 19-year-old, Raymond Woodley, has been charged with first-degree murder in Blount’s death.

Speaking to about 20 residents at the New Historic Neighborhood Watch Group’s first meeting at Knobbs Creek Recreation Center on Thursday, Changary said she was saddened by Blount’s fatal shooting in her neighborhood.

“But another thing that saddens me is I don’t want to feel that I’m being pushed out of my neighborhood because I love where I live. I like my neighbors,” she said.

Changary said Blount’s shooting has shook up her neighborhood. Since the incident, four of her neighbors have put their houses up for sale, she said.

“So, I was very serious about this,” she said, referring to forming the New Historic Neighborhood Watch Group.

Changary said she felt a crimewatch/​neighborhood watch group would give her community a way to feel safer about where they live. She also sees it as an opportunity for the neighborhood’s residents, many of whom don’t know each other, to get together and find out more about each other.

“We need to know each other and when we know each other, we feel good,” she said. “We don’t feel scared anymore. We don’t feel uncomfortable about who’s living around us because we have very good people living around us.”

To introduce her neighbors to the ins and outs of participating in a community watch group, Changary invited one of the leaders of the city’s most visible community group to speak at Thursday’s meeting.

Jackie Latson, one of the founders of the 4th Ward Quality of Life Organization, which is now called Elizabeth City Together, has long been involved in anti-crime efforts.

Latson told attendees at Thursday’s meeting that they alone are responsible for what their neighborhood looks like. She said it’s up to them whether street lights remain blown or broken out, and whether persons either beg for money or sell illegal drugs on their streets.

Residents can get broken street lights fixed by phoning city department heads with responsibility for street lights, she said. The names of the officials can be found on the city’s website, she added.

As for stopping those soliciting money or selling illegal drugs, Latson urged residents to take proactive measures. Whenever they see someone in the neighborhood they feel uncomfortable with, residents should go home, write down the details of what they’ve observed and then report the information to police, she said.

“Learn to be like a fly on the wall,” Latson said.

She also noted the importance of not leaving valuables in their vehicles, giving thieves a reason to break in.

Latson also urged attendees to get used to working with landlords, noting many are not based in Elizabeth City. Residents shouldn’t be shy, she said, about urging landlords to be more selective in who they rent to. Landlords need to hear that other residents of the neighborhood want tenants to be people who will take care of their property, she said.

Most importantly, Latson said, residents shouldn’t let fear dictate how they live their lives. She recalled how she put aside her own fear to face the man who shot to death her son, Hakim Crawford, in Wilmington, Delaware in 2004. Latson, who was living in Delaware at the time, said she faced the man because she wanted to forgive him in person.

“You do not want to get to that point where you have to see somelike that. You’ve had this one instance and you don’t want anymore,” she said.

Corporal T.J. Etheridge-Mitchell of the Elizabeth City Police Department also spoke during the watch group’s meeting. She said a lot has changed for the better in city neighborhoods in the 16 years she’s been on the police force.

“I can remember the beginning of my career when you couldn’t drive down Elizabeth City roadways because of the drug dealers who were dealing at that time on the streets,” Etheridge-Mitchell said.

She advised residents to think of police as a liaison for them to other city departments and officials. She also urged them to call on police whenever they feel the need.

“What we’re here for is as a resource. And we will be as resourceful as possible,” she said.

One West Colonial Avenue resident, Ken Cissel, said what police can do to make public more information about crime incidents and code violations.

Etheridge-Mitchell responded that city police are in the process of “catching up” with technology. The plan, she said, is to make that kind of data available online.

West Colonial Avenue resident Alice Spivey said one problem she’d liked to see addressed are the alleys off West Colonial Avenue and Cedar and Maple streets. It’s a prime spot for troublemakers to gather, she said.

“That’s where a lot of that stuff goes on,” Spivey said.

Police officer Treven Franks asked Spivey if she ever sees officers patrolling the alleys.

“No,” she and other members of the audience replied.

Franks urged residents to pick up the phone and call police whenever they see suspicious activity in the alleys or anywhere.

“Trust me, a police officer or officers will be en route to that location,” he said.

West Colonial Avenue resident Michael Arbogast said he, too, is concerned about the alleys. He noted he recently took a job which requires him to return home from work in the wee hours of the morning.

“I mean, there’s youth out at 11 o’clock. You ought to see what goes on at two or three o’clock. What I would like is more patrols at that time of night,” he said.

Arbogast said police officers do respond when they’re called.

“But, I’ve never seen a police officer drive down the alleyway,” he said.

Arbogast said every car in his neighborhood has been broken into, and he even found a machete one evening.

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