LEWISTON — High school student Dorothy Bannon, 17, is nervous about walking to school because of recent neighborhood violence.
So are her parents, John and Pamela Bannon. The Bannons have asked the Lewiston School Department to allow their daughter and neighborhood students to ride the bus to school. School policy says she lives too close.
The Bannons live on Bartlett Street, an area that has had more than its share of violence in recent weeks.
On Sept. 7, three men were arrested on charges in connection with invading a nearby Pierce Street apartment. They were after marijuana, police said. The victim said one put a shotgun to his face and threatened to shoot him. Two of the men arrested, Kevin Stichel, 22, and Derrick McDuffy, 21, live on Bartlett Street. The third, Ricardo Hairston, 19, lives on Lisbon Street.
On Sept. 24, 19-year-old Andrew Jackson of Lewiston was found acting strange on Bartlett Street. He was restrained and rushed to Central Maine Medical Center where he died shortly afterward. Hallucinogenic mushrooms appear to have caused his death, police said, as they warned the community about street drugs.
On Sept. 26, a man was stabbed in an argument on Walnut Street, one street over from Bartlett. The man, Randy Doggett, 20, suffered non-life threatening injuries. The men knew each other and got into an argument.
“Our biggest fear is the violence going on in area, not just Bartlett Street, but all the tree streets,” Pamela said. When looking at the www.raidsonline.com, an online report of police activity, “there's a lot of stuff happening during the daytime," Pamela said. "We're trying to get them on the school bus that goes down Bartlett Street.”
School officials are right when they say the recent violence has been targeted toward certain people, John Bannon said. “But bystanders can get caught up in it. I'm not only concerned about my child. There's quite a few children on the street. Younger kids who see something tend to migrate toward it."
The Bannons said they can't afford to move. They have a good landlord and good tenants in their building. They can't give their daughter a ride to school. He used the family car to go to work hours before school starts. She works at home.
Transportation Director Butch Pratt said walking distances are set by the Lewiston School Committee. Students who live less than a mile cannot ride the bus.
There are exceptions, he said, areas where traffic makes it unsafe to walk. For instance, Lewiston Middle School students who would have to cross a busy Russell Street are bused.
There are buses that drive on Bartlett Street several times a day, but they are full, Pratt said. Adding more students could mean more buses, which would increase costs.
Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said while school policy does not allow students who live less than a mile to be bused, “a parent always has an opportunity to file an appeal with me,” he said. “We do view bus stop requests from parents.”
The recent violence did receive wide news coverage, Webster said, “but Lewiston continues to be one of Maine's safest cities.”
Pratt, a former Lewiston police officer, said crime in the area is not new. The neighborhood is poor and houses a lot of people. “Bates, Bartlett and Walnut are always the focus of attention by the police. They probably always will be.”
Police patrol the area regularly. Most people obey the law. But Lewiston is a big city; some are involved in crime, Pratt said. “They are not random acts of violence.”
He offered recommendations for anyone nervous about walking. Don't walk alone. Don't go through backyards and alleyways. Stay on public sidewalks and remain visible.
“And pay attention to what's going on,” Pratt said. “If something doesn't look comfortable, go the other way.”
Improving area up to community, says father
LEWISTON — From his third-floor Bartlett Street apartment, John Bannon said getting neighborhood students bused to school is a short-term answer to area violence.
The longer-term answer, he said, is everyone — tenants, landlords, city officials and police — working together to make the Bartlett-Bates-Walnut-streets area a better place to live.
He has noticed that when a police car is driving by with sirens blaring, neighborhood “people don't turn their heads, they're so used to it. That's a bad sign," he said.
Despite poverty and a bad economy, the area could improve if more took an interest, he said. “The community needs to take pride in their surroundings.” He's confident there are some who agree with him. “We need to try and pull them together. Change needs to come from the community.”
Shanna Rogers of the Neighborhood Housing League lived in the area last year. “There is definitely crime. I did see prostitution. I never felt scared."
Rogers agrees the area could be improved by more action from the city, tenants who are responsible and advocate for themselves, and landlords who more carefully place tenants and do background checks.
Another solution is more owner-occupied buildings, she said. “There's a proven rate with that.”
Persons interested in contacting John Bannon can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 207-344-7921.