Maybe you heard about it Thursday.
Steve Phillips, 30, was found dead that morning from a gunshot wound in the woods off Winston Road. Yes, that’s south of Macon Road.
Phillips’ death marks the 30th homicide this year that police are investigating as a murder. That means 2017 currently is tied with 2008 for the most murders in Columbus in a single year during the 21st century. But we’ve got six weeks left.
Still, on Thursday I heard my friends and neighbors saying the same thing I’ve been hearing all year: “I feel safe.” Or: “Nobody’s finding bodies in the woods near my house.”
I live near the Harris County line, work in Uptown and send my two youngest sons to school in Midtown. Sure, violent crime happens in these areas, but not, it seems, with the frequency and consistency that it does south of Macon Road.
Once, during a forum of Ledger readers, a woman told me we should only cover murders in areas that people cared about, such as Green Island.
“Why do you even cover murders in south Columbus?” she asked.
I said the first thing that came to my mind. “Because we value all human life,” I said.
A few people clapped and the woman didn’t say another word.
She was onto something, of course. Our most-read stories in the past two years, by far, have been about the home invasion and triple homicide in a comfortable neighborhood in Upatoi in January of 2016.
In the days that followed, lots of people north of Macon Road were talking about buying two things: firearms and home security systems.
Upatoi is a long way from Winston Road, where on Thursday Lt. Greg Touchberry, said, “It’s very common here to hear shots to the point where a lot of people don’t even call it in.”
He was about a half mile from Dorothy Height Elementary School, which had the lowest scores in the Muscogee School District on the 2017 College and Career Performance Index, which measures education performance and progress.
In fact, the four lowest scoring elementary schools in the district – Dorothy Height, Martin Luther King Jr., Brewer and South Columbus – are all within 2½ miles of where Phillip’s body was found.
The first three of those schools currently are on the state’s Turnaround Eligible Schools list, which this year replaced its list of chronically failing schools.
This is not a slight against the administrators, teachers and students at those schools. It’s an acknowledgment that the students there face challenges many others do not: extreme poverty, unstable family life, neighborhoods threatened by gangs, drugs and violence, and a general lack of hope.
Teaching these children and equipping them with life skills is a battle. Only one of the 14 schools south of Macon Road beat the Muscogee County CCRPI average of 71 percent (Dimon Elementary at 71.7 percent), and only one other school beat the Bibb County average of 64.9 (Forrest Road at 70.5 percent).
But some schools are seeing growth. Forrest Road improved by a whopping 20.3 percent over last year, and Davis Elementary, which came off the failing list this year, improved by nearly 11 percent. MLK Elementary, while still on the list, boosted its CCRPI scores by more than 8 percent this year.
Those of us who live north of Macon Road might feel safe, but if a significant portion of our community is beset by crime, poverty and despair, then all of us suffer.
It’s in everybody’s best interest for all of us, especially all of our children, to get an opportunity to succeed.