Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Residents in the Roanoke neighborhood say some of the teens are "foul-mouthed" and intimidating to shoppers.
REBECCA BARNETT | The Roanoke Times
Kathy Chittum (left), executive director of the Grandin Theatre, and John Bryant, marketing coordinator at the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op, sit on one of the benches along Grandin Road that is sometimes occupied by teenagers.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
At dusk on Tuesday night, there were five boys, young men, hanging out around the benches of Grandin Village. Most had floppy hair that approached their shoulders, and several leaned on upturned skateboards.
By the time the sun had fully set, about a dozen youth had gathered under the full-bodied crape myrtles that create a canopy over the benches outside the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op.
The kids and young adults who frequent the benches — Tuesday’s group ranged from 12 years old to a man over the age of 21 — have created anxiety in the tightly knit village that has spurred police action and plans to create a neighborhood watch group.
Neighborhood leaders say groups on the benches, which can reach 30 to 40 people, spew vulgarities, skateboard on the sidewalks and intimidate shoppers and neighbors headed to the co-op, the Roanoke Ballet Theatre or other nearby businesses.
“For the most part, they’re good kids hanging out on public land,” said John Bryant, a spokesman for the co-op. “But some are very foul-mouthed. It’s inappropriate the way some of them talk to passersby. I’ve heard some of the most foul-mouthed stuff said to little girls in ballet outfits.”
Some worry that the groups are more than mischievous, concerns voiced by a group belonging to the Greater Raleigh Court Civic League and the Grandin Village Business Association in a Tuesday meeting with Chris Perkins, Roanoke’s chief of police.
Efforts to alleviate the issue have intensified in the last month, and so far they have focused on making changes to the environment, such as shutting off the co-op’s Wi-Fi signal at 9 p.m. to discourage late-night gatherings.
Locals have had their eyes on the benches since school let out for the summer, and the youth feel they are facing unnecessary scrutiny.
Tyler Wolf, a 17-year-old resident of the neighborhood, and Ryan Clark, an 18-year-old local, said a few kids have caused disruptions, but they said not all teens who use the benches as a place to hang out should be judged for it. Wolf said they like Grandin Village because it is one of the city’s rare safe and interesting places to meet friends.
“If there was a really good skate park around here, people would probably chill there,” Wolf said.
Clark said he has felt pressure from residents to leave, and he has seen the typical group around the benches shrink in recent weeks because of the negative atmosphere.
“They just want us gone,” he said. “I understand that.”
“In the same breath,” Wolf chimed in, “there’s no place better for us to hang out.”
In his meeting with business people and residents, Perkins said the neighborhood’s strengths have created the concern.
“They come to this area because they feel safe,” he said. “It’s not the atmosphere that we have in other areas of our valley.”
About 10 people met with Perkins and asked what else could be done, pointing to two neighborhood incidents involving minors getting mixed up in older groups. Police say they are aware of both incidents and have followed up with those involved.
While acknowledging the disruptive tendencies of the groups, Perkins explained the limitations of police action.
“None of you in this room wants the police to be able to tell you not to sit on a public bench,” Perkins said. “We are walking a very tight line with what we can do with the kids hanging out in this area.”
As several attendees pressed him about how he was monitoring perceived drug activity, Perkins assured them that investigators were focused on the groups on the benches. But he downplayed the idea that a dangerous drug scene is gripping the neighborhood.
Even with increased police attention, Perkins said 21 police encounters in the 1300 block of Grandin Road this year have yielded only one drug-related offense, a shoplifter who was caught with marijuana in his possession.
Perkins said he would allocate bicycles so officers could patrol the village several nights a week, with alternating schedules each week.
Civic league President Jake Gilmer and resident Heidi Schmidt said they would take steps to organize a neighborhood watch, a measure Perkins encouraged. Schmidt, whose two sons used to play chess on the tables in front of the co-op before this summer’s concerns halted that routine, said the increased vigilance has already diminished the disruptive presence.
“It’s dried up and gone away. They know we’re watching,” she said. “Clearly all we need is a neighborhood watch. We already have the engagement and the willingness.”
The group would fit as an extension of community practices encouraged by Roanoke police Officer Travis Akins, a crime prevention specialist who has worked with residents and business owners.
Kathy Chittum, executive director of the Grandin Theatre, took Akins’ advice and spent time on the benches. On a warm mid-July evening, she grabbed a magazine and walked across the street to wait for her husband. Several teens who were leaning on the back of a bench promptly moved when she asked if she could sit there.
“If you have a presence of older people mixed in, I think they would feel more inclined to behave,” she said.
She said neighbors should look to correct the behaviors, not drive out the youth.
“It’s their neighborhood as much as anyone else’s,” Chittum said. “They just need to learn to play nice and get along with everyone else.”
Weather JournalEarly mix, then ice storm Sunday