Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

Columbia County Florida
Welcome to the hood  (Drugs- Part II) (go to drugs Part I)

The Old Tobacco Barn welcomes one into the hood in Commissioner Ronald Williams' District I. The graffiti has been on this building for years -- tolerated in the hood and announcing to all "need drugs -- welcome." A car from the understaffed Sheriff's patrol division rolls by the welcome sign.

For years drug traffic has run rampant in the hood – destroying lives and futures. Columbia County and Lake City don"t have an exclusive. Drugs are a problem in many communities in America and in the hood in particular, where drugs, drug traffic and prostitution have become an integral part of the economic fabric.

The Observer hit the street. What are the facts and what do the folks that are or have been directly affected by the Columbia County - Lake City hood have to say.

Talk is cheap, but a visible police presence on the street deters crime. Everyone the Observer spoke with agreed.

Earlier this week, Wendell Johnson, Lake City's straight talking City Manager said, "Talking isn't going to do the job... It's going to have to be a visible presence... They're going to have to see some action. Every time they look around the corner they're going to see a police officer or a sheriff officer... A couple of days later they're going to see it again... I hope that will be the approach that you will take..."

Every day life in the hood. White man, black woman -- an envelope and money changes hands.

In the past twelve years there has not been an increase of patrol cars on the street by the Columbia County Sheriff's Department. There are more supervisors and those in the know will tell you that over time the Sheriff's department has become top heavy. The recent addition of a third lieutenant at the jail did nothing to deter crime or keep drug dealers off the street.

Earlier this year the Sheriff's Department was eligible for a COPS grant. This would have put three new patrols on the street. District I Commissioner, Ronald Williams lead the charge to reject the grant and the new sheriff, shrugged. The County Commission rejected the increased patrol officers as "too expensive."

Ten minutes later. A different street, a different woman, a different white man. Instant replay.

During the county budget hearings, the Sheriff gave $75,000 from his budget back to the county because of the so called county budget crisis -- money that could have been spent on overtime, keeping "feet on the beat" in the hood. The County Commission said nothing about that either, except "thank you." The purveyors of drugs said "thank you," too.

The Observer spoke with many folks who lived in hood and some that have moved out.

Cedar Park -- A drug haven

Everybody knows about this drug enclave. Nobody has done anything about it for years.

One mother, talking about the Cedar Park apartments, a well known long time drug emporium told the Observer, "It's ridiculous. My sixteen year old he is over there in the drug neighborhood -- won't go to school – won't do nothing. The lady just sellin him all kinds of dope – marijuana, pills, everything.

The Observer and this mother were close to the Lake City Police headquarters during this conversation.

Observer:  Where is this area?

Mother:  Right over here. Over by Cedar Park.

Observer:  It's bad over there?

Mother:  Yeah.

Observer:  So your sixteen year old boy won't go to school anymore?

Mother:  No. Over there the lady's sellin him drugs and everything.

Observer:  How does he get the money to pay for them?

Mother:  That's what I want to know. I sure ain't givin it to em. It's not only my child over there. It's a lot of teenagers over there... It's bad over there.

Some folks escape from the hood. They may grow up there, move away, and come back to watch over a parent or relative. The relative dies – circumstances change – they move out.

The Observer spoke with one such individual. The answers are in his/her own words.

A conversation with an escapee from the hood

Observer:  Can you tell me anything about the drug traffic in the hood.

In the hood, see the sign, is the Sheriff watching out for the children -- or are these the disposable children?

Escapee:  A clue is when you see two black guys with a white person in the car with them. Nine times out of ten they are taking them to find some drugs. I'm not saying it's impossible for black people and white people to ride around in a car together, but ... Young black guys and they got white people in the car with them, they are usually ...

The escapee spoke about drug dealing on church property.

Escapee:  There are kids sitting on the steps of the church – Trinity Church – that's on the weekend – a pretty common sight.

Down the block, the sign says "no parking on sidewalk."

The Observer:  They are selling drugs while folks are in church?

Escapee:  No -- at night.

The Observer:  Is there prostitution going on over there?

Escapee:  (gave a brief explanation of what he/she thought the prostitutes looked like in the hood – no shoes; shorts; dirty)

Escapee:     There is booming music all times of night. This is not a place for children.

Observer:     Do you think the Sheriff's Department has known about this?

Escapee:     They have to know there is a problem. It's been a problem for years. That was the Sheriff's office with zero tolerance. They are pretty open with it. Everybody knows what they are doing.

Observer:     Can you tell me anything about Cedar Park?

Is the Columbia County hood going to be another forgotten neighborhood, again?

Escapee:       Cedar Park -- I don't go up in there. Everything is so much more dangerous and so much more run down. Now you have the young kinds that are raised by single mothers that live in Cedar Park that grow up and go out on the street and try and make money anyway they can. They are not worried about school or education. They are just trying to make money.

Observer:     Do you think this recent talk will come to anything?

Escapee:       It is a problem that nothing can be done about. When you arrest the ones that are out there, it seems there are more to take their place. The thing is they don't ever arrest the people that supply it. They get the people that are out on the street, but that's not where it is coming from. They are not the source.

Part I – The drug summit.