Anger turns to action

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, August 30, 2016

AULANDER – They want to turn their anger into action. Positive action.

Several Aulander residents came before the Bertie County Board of Commissioners during their monthly meeting here at the Community Building to express their concerns over what they described as illicit activities occurring within the town.

Janice Pillmon Ricks spoke, and attended the proceedings with her brother, Carnell Pillmon, an autism sufferer who was victimized in a vicious assault at the Rice Avenue Recreation Complex on Aug. 2.

Pillmon was reportedly kicked and beaten about his body and face and suffered multiple bruises to his mouth and eyes and contusions to his side and back. He spent two weeks at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville and came to the Commissioner’s meeting with his jaw still wired shut.

“I’m here because I’m concerned,” Ricks stated. “I’m not talking about something I heard, I’m talking about something that I know.”

During Pillmon’s recuperation, someone vandalized and burglarized his home on Rice Avenue.

“It’s speculation to say someone didn’t just go back and to finish the job, but it’s a concern,” she implored. “It’s a concern about the crime that is happening in this town that people are afraid to verbalize.”

Ricks told the Commissioners she wants to be a bellwether for change in safety in the town.

“We have to take the streets back from the criminals,” Ricks added. “What I’m trying to do here is something positive; I want to turn my anger into action. We, the law-abiding citizens of this community, we have to do something.”

While lauding Bertie County Sheriff John Holley and his office, Ricks said the citizens have to take the initiative.

“Bertie County is some 725 square miles,” she noted. “The Sheriff’s Department can’t do it all. There has to be some police protection in Aulander, and it doesn’t need to happen in the daytime – it needs to happen at night when people are sleeping.

People can’t do anything until people report it: but they are afraid.”

Ricks said three groups can bring about change: citizen participation, the cooperation of law enforcement, and changes in the judiciary.

“Let’s do a better job of training the magistrates to charge these people appropriately so that when they come before the D.A. or go before the judge, the judge has something to work with,” Ricks stated.

“I don’t want to be alone in this fight,” she said. “I know the tragedy is personal to me, but it’s happening all over Aulander: the beatings, the break-ins, and the intimidation – when is it going to stop and how can we stop it?”

Jackie Lyons White, president of the non-profit Bertie Alumni Community Association, said she plans to retire to Bertie County and open Dolly’s Restaurant on Main Street in Aulander thanks to help from the Incubator USDA Grant Program.

“I’m going to need some protection,” White said; though she mostly emphasized her business at the remodeled location which will feature Southern cooking and hometown ambience.

“I’m also going to have Dolly’s Chat-and-Chew,” she mused. “Where patrons can come and just chat – and chew.”

Phyllis Sexton spoke of her unease over safety concerns regarding her 91-year-old mother, who lives alone.

“Here you got 20-25 young men on the corner with language you don’t want to hear,” she said. “Maybe we can get grant money to make life a little safer for the kids. We have the ball field, but we need more. We want to get involved.”

Sheriff Holley introduced five new deputies: Parrish Weston, Richard Oliver, Danielle Colon, Lashonda Bond, and Tonya Todd. Afterward, he addressed some of the issues.

“This thing is really a lot bigger than a lot of people can see, especially people who aren’t in law enforcement,” Holley said. “This gang-banging is serious because they’ve gone from ‘wanna-be’ to ‘they are’. To attack this problem here you need full-time officers who need to interact. I can only do so much. We keep our hands full, but when we get a call, we go in and do the best we can.”

Holley warned that without involvement and intervention, it would be an uphill battle, even with the best efforts of part-time officers.

“There has to be some coming together,” he acknowledged. “If not, you’re going to lose. I and my deputies are here to do anything we can do; but just the presence of a full-time officer cuts a lot of crime.

The Commissioners thanked the citizens for their input.

“We need to come together and sit down at one time and work something out,” said Commissioner Ernestine Byrd Bazemore.

“Seeing the crime, I have to do a lot of praying,” said Commissioner Stewart White. “There’s a devil loose, and he’s seeing whomever he can divide.”

Commissioner Tammy Lee suggested a booth at the Oct. 1 Aulander Peanut Festival.

“Get out there and talk to the citizens,” Lee stressed. “Make it an awareness-type booth because there will be a lot of people here.”

Aulander Town Commissioner Ron Poppell and Mayor Pro Tem Bobbie Parker spoke last and revealed what the town is currently doing.

“We’ve got three officers, and two more coming on to replace the two we lost,” Poppell stated. “The courts have to be stricter; our officers are doing their job, they just need some help from the system.”

“We’ve advertised for a Police Chief,” said Parker. “We’re also trying to increase the number of personnel on our part-time roster so we can provide more coverage. We’ve been working with Mr. (Bertie Economic Development Director Steve) Biggs on getting our (former Southern Bank) re-populated; so we’ve got a beautiful building sitting over there that we might be willing to entertain (as a Sheriff’s satellite center), if that’s something the Sheriff and the Commissioners would be willing to speak with us on and discuss strategy.”

Finally, Commissioner Ron Wesson said in addition to citizen commitment, let elected officials know your dissatisfaction.

“Let’s get them off the street and put them where they can’t hurt anybody,” said Wesson. “We have to have that community support where the community says we’ve got to change this. Bring in the (elected) people; because if we don’t let them know that we’re not satisfied, then we’re not going to get anything. They work for us; we don’t need to forget that.”