Sidewalks, gathering place, trust could help

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

SIKESTON, Mo. --It was dusk on a hot summer day in Sikeston's Clayton Addition, and the only thing on the boys' minds was basketball.

They bared their underdeveloped chests and chose teams for a pickup game, their mouths already full of the trash-talking mandatory in street ball.

The game got under way, the raggedy goal at the end of an Agnes Street driveway tinging after each missed or banked shot.

"Look out, man."

The simple phrase was enough to scatter the players without question as yet another fast-moving vehicle careened off nearby Branum Street and through a neighborhood that has no way to keep basketball players and anyone else who is mobile but not motorized out of harm's way.

"It's dangerous," said 16-year-old Dameshia Johnson. "I don't know, maybe speed bumps or something would help."

Residents said there are few sidewalks in the small neighborhood, and pedestrians often walk down the middle of streets.

'Nowhere else to walk'

Whenever traffic approaches they move -- sometimes slowly, sometimes on the run -- into gutters or yards because there are few stop signs or speed limit signs.

"Police stop you for walking in the road but look around -- ain't nowhere else to walk," said Sharon McGhee, 14. "Don't nobody want to walk in the gutters."

Julie Draper, 29, said she rarely allows her children to ride their bikes outside of their yard, which is protected by a six-foot, chain-link fence.

When they do venture out of the grass and into the streets, Draper said, her rules are firm.

"I tell them to stay out of the middle of the road, stay with whoever they ride with, and if there's sidewalks, ride on 'em," she said. "They drive like maniacs around here."

But travel isn't the only thing at issue here. Children often play in the streets, and many people are concerned about them being hit by motorists.

Although residents said there haven't been any accidents in recent memory, near-misses are a daily occurrence that could be corrected with more sidewalks.

In addition, they said they would like to see city parks or recreation centers replace several abandoned houses in the neighborhood.

YMCA too far away

"What we need around here is some kind of Big Brothers-Big Sisters program or something like that," said business owner Ronnie Robinson, 34, who opened a game room on Branum Street this year. He said existing organizations in the city, including the YMCA, are too far away to be of any help.

McGhee said she doesn't use the YMCA or other activities in town. "That's not for us," she said, adding that black people wouldn't be welcome at those activities.

Her friend, Latoya Jackson, 15, agreed. "It's like they think if they build something nice down here, we goin' to tear it up."

City Councilman Michael Harris said he and other leaders are looking into the possibility of getting funds for a community center in walking distance from the neighborhood.

Fear of the police

Others discuss items that don't cost anything but time and effort.

Kevin Glaser, coordinator for the SEMO Drug Task Force, said law-abiding people in Sikeston have to learn to overcome years of fearing police.

"Police don't have a high level of cooperation from people in those neighborhoods, and I can't help but think that it's because of fear," he said. "To be most effective, the community's trust in the police has to outweigh their fear of the drug dealers."

Shirley Porter, the DARE officer in Sikeston, said just cleaning up lots would help. Landowners should press charges against loiterers, and the city should crack down on improper parking and derelict vehicles.

Porter, who played softball years ago, remembers the ballfields in Sunset in use.

"We need to get kids and younger adults involved," she said.

She suggested just showing them the officers are "human just like everyone else" will help and perhaps kids in the neighborhood won't be as hesitant in turning to the police in a crisis -- or, better yet, before one happens.

Staff writer Andrea L. Buchanan contributed to this report.

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