On Labor Day morning, I found myself on Ewart Avenue knocking on doors of the modest homes.
For those of you unfamiliar with that part of midtown Columbus, Ewart is just off Buena Vista Road, not far from the backside of the Aflac campus.
There is a nice little city park with playground equipment and areas to have a picnic, if one wished. It is the kind of public amenity that is a positive in most neighborhoods.
The reason I was walking along Ewart Avenue and Forsyth Street, which dead ends into the park, is 19-year-old Takelia Johnson had been killed the night before in a drive-by shooting.
There seems to be a lot of that going on in Columbus these days.
That stretch of Ewart Avenue is not unlike a lot of other parts of our city. There is a Piggly Wiggly a block or two over off Brown Avenue. People live in the homes and raise families there.
And young women like Takelia Johnson die there. That’s the problem.
No one answered their doors the morning I walked the neighborhood. There was a porch that was still wet from being washed off from the violence less than 12 hours earlier. Muscogee County Chief Deputy Coroner Freeman Worley, who had been on Ewart Avenue the night before, told me Johnson had been shot in the street in front of the park. She was carried to a nearby porch, where she died from the gunshot wounds.
The blood was gone from that concrete flooring, but the water hose used to cleanse the area was still on the side of porch.
There was a man sitting on a nearby porch. He was more than willing to talk to me about trucks, and the like. See, my 2000 GMC truck was a year older than the one he had. The color schemes were similar. We talked about transmission issues. It was the type of conversation you would expect two guys to have.
Then, I tried to change the conversation and talk about the shooting the night before.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to end. And it was clear to me that others in the neighborhood wanted to know who I was and why I was snooping around. One guy sort of followed me until I got into my truck and drove back toward Buena Vista Road.
They didn’t want any part of an outsider meddling into their business — or so it seemed. On this morning, their business was a killing.
If you think about, that is a large part of the problem in Columbus right now. People are killing each other for little to no reason. Many of the homicides are gang-related. Those doing the shooting and those who witness them are not talking.
And those who are dying certainly are not talking.
There is a culture in place that rewards snitching and a lack of loyalty with bullets. It has to stop. And no one is sure how to do it. The city’s black funeral home directors and ministers held a procession on Monday calling for an end to the violence.
That’s a powerful step.
All of us know there is a real problem. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson expressed her concerns in a statement this week.
“There have been 26 murders in Columbus this year,” her statement read. “We are all simultaneously heartsick and frustrated with the level of killing, particularly in this third quarter.”
If this is just the third quarter, all of us should be concerned about how this deadly game ends.
But until you can get that guy on the porch to talk about something other than his truck, you are not going to fix this mess. The good people are not talking because they fear the bad folks with the guns.
All you had to do was listen to that man shut down our conversation a couple of weeks to understand how real this struggle.
And the good guys are losing.