With a chain saw and spray paint in hand, community activist Woody Merry on Monday morning sent a message to drug dealers and gang members that they are not welcome in Harrisburg neighborhood.
Merry, who held a community breakfast Oct. 25 to renew cleanup efforts and crime prevention in Harrisburg, removed a Bradford pear tree Monday that he said was the starting point for drug transactions.
“They’ve got a great system but we just threw a big old kink in it,” Merry said.
Drug dealers would stand beneath the tree on the edge of the parking lot of the Corner Store, a convenience store on Eve Street, and accept money from buyers, Merry said. The transactions were completed behind a trailer that’s blocked from street view where plastic bags litter the ground, he said.
“Nobody’s challenging these guys on the streets,” he said.
Merry said he learned about the “drug tree” and several meeting spots for gangs from concerned residents. Using black spray paint, Merry painted over gang signs on abandoned buildings and sidewalks with the words “GOT COPS,” an acronym for “Get out of town; citizens on patrol surveillance.”
Lori Davis, a past president of the Harrisburg West End Neighborhood Association, said the tree, about a half-mile from her house, needed to come down. Lamar-Milledge Elementary School opened in August across the street from the tree, and the surrounding area wasn’t cleaned up, she said.
“I rarely frequent this street day or night,” Davis said. “It’s like a gantlet coming through drug dealing and what not.”
In 2009, Davis and other activists staged a July 4 march through Harrisburg to protest nuisance properties and landlords they say tolerated illegal activity by tenants. Davis contended Monday that little progress has occurred since then because of a lack of support from the Augusta Commission and the Downtown Development Authority.
Merry’s group, CSRA Help, has installed security cameras around Harrisburg using money from a community breakfast. On Saturday, a free self-defense class will be offered at Harrisburg Family Life Center on Fenwick Street, he said.