Belvedere community a test neighborhood for city's gang plans - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Belvedere community a test neighborhood for city's gang plans

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

The City of Columbia is pulling out all the stops in an effort to curb gang violence, including creating gang abatement zones where gang members could be arrested for just stepping inside.

One neighborhood under consideration for this tactic is the Belvedere community.

Another option is to clear out abandoned homes in the neighborhood. One home on Truman Street was demolished just recently.

"It was an eyesore for the neighborhood coming in and out," said Diane Wiley, president of the Belvedere Community Organization.

The house was one of 200 property maintenance cases in the Belvedere community -- that's about a third of the neighborhood. It's part of the overall puzzle in dealing with Columbia gang activity, including bond reform.

"It's like a revolving door," said Wiley. "They do the time, they're out in two and three days. Some of those rap sheets I've seen, it's uncalled for."

That's why Wiley called city hall the minute she found trash, debris, and gang graffiti near the intersection of Hammond and Eubanks, just across the tracks from the Colony Apartments.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin soon got involved.

"If you keep pushing and pushing back against the forces trying to take over your neighborhoods, they'll finally get the message that we're not going anywhere, and yes, you can put your graffiti on the buildings and the ground and we'll take it right up," said Benjamin.

The city responded twice. They're also working with Richland One to take down the old Virginia Pack Elementary School after neighbors witnessed gunfire exchanged on the school's roof.

"There have been some gang meeting that have taken place here," said city Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman. "We've got kids who've broken into the building to hold whatever gang-related meetings, so again we don't want to provide any sort of property that's going to harbor criminal activity particularly when we have the resources to turn it into something positive."

Neighbors are hopeful they'll get new lighting and a gym as demolition moves to the school.

In fact, there was a meeting held earlier this afternoon to talk about some of the positive things they'd like to see go up in this neighborhood to replace eyesores.

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