Pittsburgh community shows 'tremendous' crime drop since videotaped beating

1:18 AM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- It's been one year since Brandon White was violently beaten outside of a southwest Atlanta grocery store.

The incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera; three men were seen kicking, hitting, even throwing a discarded tire on White, who tried repeatedly to escape.

It all happened outside of a small corner store on McDaniel Street in the Pittsburgh community. In the weeks to follow, that store would be revealed as a hub for crime, seen by many in the neighborhood as a gathering place for miscreants.

The incident shined a national spotlight on a community known for some of the worst crime in Atlanta. But 12 months later, residents have used that event to make some major changes.

According to the Atlanta Police Department, crime in the Pittsburgh community has decreased by 26 percent in the last year. That's compared to five percent citywide and 14 percent in zone three.

"To reduce crime by that much, 150 less victims, is tremendous," said APD Deputy Chief Renee Propes.

After the beating, she said, there was a surge of effort from both law enforcement and the community. Federal agencies teamed up with APD to target some of the area's worst criminals.

"[These are] people that have just been problems to that community," Deputy Chief Propes said.

"Repeated crimes that they've committed in that community, repeated victims are no longer being victimized because these people are off the streets and sitting in federal prison."

Once those arrests started coming, the community got to work. It started with little steps: trash pick-up days to make the streets a little cleaner. A few more people showing up to community meetings. Soon, more people were calling 911, addressing crimes that had previously gone unreported.

For LaShawn Hoffman, it was a breakthrough in a battle that he'd been fighting for some time: forging a sense of community ownership. As CEO of the Pittsburgh Community Improvement Association, he said the key was teaching people why those community events were so important.

"I think there was a sense of apathy," he said. "I think the residents just really felt that the city and Atlanta Police Department didn't care about crime in our neighborhood."

"The biggest difference in our decrease in crime has been a more engaged community," he said.

It took people like Helen Jenkins, who has lived in the Pittsburgh community for more than 20 years. She said she never considered living anywhere else, even when the beating happened within two blocks of her home.

"[That incident] was a turning point for people, saying 'I don't want my community to be branded,'" she said.

Neighbors agree it's still not a bed of roses; there is still plenty of work to be done. They say that grocery store, for instance, is still a sore spot in the community.

But for Helen, something as simple as cleaner streets makes a world of difference.

"I believe in this community," she said. "I think everything's turning around. It can only get better."

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