Harrisburg resident fights crime in area

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She's emerged as another outspoken leader in the fight to end crime and decay in Harrisburg, spearheading such tactics as a Fourth of July protest march and a plan to picket outside a landlord's Columbia County residence.

Roger and Lori Davis cemented their decision to stay in their Harrisburg home by installing a pool and plants in their yard.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Roger and Lori Davis cemented their decision to stay in their Harrisburg home by installing a pool and plants in their yard.

But three years ago, Lori Davis came close to abandoning the neighborhood. She got sick of the loitering, the vagrancy, the panhandling and the constant gunshots, and she'd seen one too many drunk men urinating behind the nearby Shell station. Someone broke into her house and stole some antique guns. Her ex-husband begged her to leave for her own safety.

In 2006, she put her historic Crawford Avenue home -- a relocated piece of the old Fifth Ward Grammar School built in the 1880s -- up for sale.

"It just seemed like, overnight, this neighborhood became where nobody cared what they were doing or if they were seen," Mrs. Davis said.

Then some things happened that changed her outlook.

Her divorce was finalized, and in the settlement she took ownership of the house debt-free. She and her ex had bought it as an investment home in 2001 while they were building another one on Shoreline Drive in North Augusta.

More importantly, she got a letter from a man on Tuttle Street named Butch Palmer, who sent out a mass mailing urging residents to band together to fight crime with a goal of gentrification -- a controversial term describing the influx of affluent homeowners into a deteriorating area, often displacing poorer residents.

Mrs. Davis and her then-boyfriend, now-husband Roger realized they weren't alone.

"We were frustrated at that point," Mr. Davis said. "We felt isolated until the letter came."

She started attending meetings of the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association. Dissatisfied with its direction, she joined Mr. Palmer's splinter group, Harrisburg Organization Networking for Gentrification to Keep Our Neighborhood from becoming a Ghetto, or HONGKONG, in 2007. Mr. Palmer garnered media attention with his vitriolic verbal attacks on Mercy Ministries homeless outreach, neighborhood churches and Section 8 tenants.

Though he became a controversial personality himself, Mr. Palmer rallied enough people to his cause for the HONGKONG crowd to take control of the neighborhood association earlier this year, replacing former president Iain Crawford with Denice Traina, naming Mrs. Davis vice president and putting Mr. Palmer and HONGKONG member Phil Williams on the board of directors.

Last month, Mrs. Davis and Mr. Palmer were the principal organizers of a march through Harrisburg protesting absentee landlords and drug-dealing tenants. Calling themselves "concerned citizens of Harrisburg," they targeted three properties, with Mrs. Davis pounding handmade "nuisance property" signs into the dirt in front of each.

It wasn't an easy thing to do, she said. The 20 people who demonstrated that morning all knew there was -- and still is -- a threat of physical harm or litigation.

Of the three owners, one landlord immediately vowed to change his ways. Another, John B. Weigle Jr., agreed to come to the negotiating table last week after the "concerned citizens" voted to protest in front of his Forest Hills home. Now, Mrs. Davis is planning to picket the owners of the third property, Emory and Rachel Rabitsch, who own 1841 Watkins Street and live in Evans.

Mrs. Davis, who has lived both on the North Augusta riverfront and in Waters Edge on the Augusta riverfront, said she envisions Harrisburg remaining a neighborhood where people are free to be who they are, yet free from the fear of crime.

This isn't about running out the poor, she said.

"It's drug dealers," Mrs. Davis said. "Drug dealers aren't poor. All we want are people who get up and go to work. I mean, honestly."

She and her husband, a cabinetmaker and part-time musician as lead singer of the Beatles cover band Ed Turner and Number 9, are happy to show off exactly what they're trying to hold onto.

Around the time she joined HONGKONG, Mrs. Davis solidified her decision to stay by spending $30,000 installing a pool. It's one of only three in Harrisburg, and it's surrounded by holly trees, Leyland cypresses, a tomato and pepper plant garden, a grill, a fire pit, a See Rock City birdhouse and a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.

Though the Davises feel the need to keep a loaded .38 in their kitchen, and they've had a pet-sitter refuse to work in their neighborhood, they say they're not going anywhere.

"I'm hard-headed, dadgummit!" Mrs. Davis said. "They're not gonna' run me out of here. I'm gonna' run them out of here."

"We're fighting a good fight, man," her husband said. "You've got to fight the good fight."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

LORI DAVIS

AGE: 48

OCCUPATION: Office manager for Birth Control Source on Walton Way

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Vice president of the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood association; landlord liaison for the neighborhood association; leading member of the informal "concerned citizens of Harrisburg" group that staged the July 4 protest march against deadbeat landlords and drug peddling.

FAMILY: Husband, Roger; eight cats (four indoor, four outdoor)

QUOTE: "I like law and order, and I like people to obey the law. And when the law is being broken flagrantly in front of everybody -- people peeing in the street in front of everybody -- where one person's freedom begins is where another one's ends."

Comments (15) Add comment
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nems
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nems 07/27/09 - 12:21 am
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there is a cat leash law mrs.

there is a cat leash law mrs. law and order

stovall st
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stovall st 07/27/09 - 04:59 am
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they should be a punk leash

they should be a punk leash law.

disssman
6
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disssman 07/27/09 - 06:59 am
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I find it absolutely amazing

I find it absolutely amazing that all these social organizations, Section 8, welfare etc. dont have a fraud hot line that is known to the publis. Its kinda like they are going to fill up a neighborhood regardless of the concerns of the residents that live there. I guess they feel that no complaints equals a happy populace with their program. I wonder what would be the savings if they had a hot line and paid a bounty for informants?

1trugent
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1trugent 07/27/09 - 07:19 am
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Tcdse, sounds like you are

Tcdse, sounds like you are part of the problem.

omnomnom
3964
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omnomnom 07/27/09 - 07:41 am
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amen 1trugent, the only

amen 1trugent, the only people who have a problem with what Butch & Ms. Davis are doing are either drug dealers, users, relatives of drug dealers, users, or enjoy trampling on their neighbors rights to a peaceful nights rest blaring their music of choice.

Native007
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Native007 07/27/09 - 07:51 am
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Kudos to this effort!

Kudos to this effort! tcde... which house in Harrisburg is yours?

WW1949
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WW1949 07/27/09 - 08:04 am
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tcdse, People in a

tcdse, People in a neighboorhood have a responsibility to those around them and that is to act in a decent way, keep their surroundings clean and live a decent ordely life. The Section 8 people, the drug dealers and bums that have moved into Harrisburg do not act that way and simply do not care how they act or who they offend. Sounds to me like you think the same way as they do and that says alot for your upbringing and moral character which must not be much.

SnowBallCity
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SnowBallCity 07/27/09 - 09:55 am
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People want to feel safe, but

People want to feel safe, but " gentrification -- a controversial term describing the influx of affluent homeowners into a deteriorating area " ... Augusta is not large enough for that to happen. Even in a good economy, there's no business appeal, or it would've already happened.

whyme
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whyme 07/27/09 - 11:18 am
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Just curious-there was an

Just curious-there was an article sometime back where Mr. Palmer said he'd never talked to the folks in charge of a homeless shelter there but had no problem protesting against them. Hopefully these folks have indeed made an effort to meet the neighbors and don't intend to run off the poor in the area who legitimately want to have a nice neighborhood.

gailkaitschuck
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gailkaitschuck 07/27/09 - 02:35 pm
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There are many decent, hard

There are many decent, hard working folks who live in and care about Harrisburg. There are many who believe that this unique neighborhood is worth saving. As the Chronicle continues to print information on the fight to get rid of the drug dealers and thugs, more people will step forward to support this cause.

carlyle
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carlyle 07/27/09 - 02:59 pm
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This has nothing to do with

This has nothing to do with running off the poor. It is about running the drug dealers out. They are destroying our neighborhood, thanks to the landlords who protect them

CorporalGripweed
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CorporalGripweed 07/27/09 - 03:51 pm
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If there were more people

If there were more people like Mrs. Davis in Harrisburg there wouldn't BE a problem WITH Harrisburg.

Harrisburg Homeowner
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Harrisburg Homeowner 07/27/09 - 07:06 pm
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I applaud Mrs. Davis. As a

I applaud Mrs. Davis. As a 20-yr homeowner in Harrisburg and as a member of Harrisburg West-End Neighborhood Association, I know first-hand the changes that have wrought Harrisburg over the years. Our Association represents without regard to race, creed, color, gender, national origin or situation in life all those with the well-being of Harrisburg at heart. We are committed to report any and all suspicious activity in an effort to make our community a safer, more enjoyable place in which to live.

pecksniffian
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pecksniffian 07/27/09 - 09:22 pm
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I applaud the Davis family,

I applaud the Davis family, Butch Palmer, and anyone else sick of what's going on in Harrisburg. JUST TONIGHT, as I was sitting on my front porch about 9:30pm, I saw a kid about 10-years-old walk from behind the house of the neighbor beside me, jump up on the chain link fence and attempt to open a window where a window unit air conditioner was running. He then walked around the house and onto the front porch. When a car drove by he flattened out on the porch to avoid being seen. I called the police. The kids are being indoctrinated to do a lot of the dirty work because their sentences will be lighter. Unfortunately, as a father whose children are afraid of the neighborhood, we're probably going to have to move. -People who put down Mrs. Davis and others either don't live here or are criminals and/or idiots who know no better.

sdfsdf
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sdfsdf 08/08/09 - 10:33 pm
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Johnny Edwards: Is this the

Johnny Edwards: Is this the first article you've ever written? What a mess of an article.

Part of the problem here are these so called "real estate investors." I would hardly call those shacks an "investment." If you don't have a real estate license and/or have done property management for an extended period of time - get the stupid idea out of your head that you can follow some silly "Flip this house" episode on TV and be the next Carlton Sheets of Augusta.

To all those who were thinking of trying "investing" by purchasing some crap house in a high crime rate side of town: take a good look at all this drama. That's what you're in for until you go into foreclosure for not paying your note. Stick to your day jobs.

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