Life in an Oklahoma City violent crime hot spot

Northwest Oklahoma City community members discuss what it's like to live and work in an area that police deem one of the city's most dangerous.
by LeighAnne Manwarren Modified: December 9, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: December 9, 2013

“Every one of them picked up that microphone and said ‘We don't want you here. We don't want any more apartments. We don't like what has happened. We don't like those neighbors,'” Allen said.

The company withdrew its petition for construction soon after.

Allen acknowledges that negotiating a truce between apartment and neighborhood residents is still “very much a work in progress.”

The added police presence and crime prevention efforts can only help, Allen believes.

As business owners become more involved, neighborhood associations continue their work and crime declines, Allen said “We really do believe we can continue to knit the fabric of the community back together here.”

Young victims

A little more than two miles west of Allen's office sits Greenvale Elementary School. The red brick building at 901 N Greenvale Road is surrounded by at least six apartment complexes, including the burned-out Lantana Apartments.

Greenvale students are used to seeing people with guns and hearing gunshots, Principal Diane Klein said.

“It's normal; that's normal,” she said.

“When a child says, ‘I heard gunshots,' it's kind of like ‘the dog ate the homework,' and you think, ‘Oh, there's no way,' but it's true. Then you think, ‘Wouldn't it be nice for these kids to have a little quiet corner of their apartment to just read, to just breathe?' A lot of them don't have that,” Klein said.

It's a similar story, about a mile away at Council Grove Elementary School, 7721 W Melrose Lane, where like at Greenvale, most of the students come from apartment complexes south of NW 10. It's not unusual for children to talk to their teachers about the violence they have seen at home, Principal Joann Holman said.

“Some of our students have told me that they have to sleep on the floor in their apartment because there are stray bullets that come through the wall,” Holman said.

“I know I have had a mother tell me that she had to get them out of that apartment complex because that wasn't any way you should raise your child, where they have to sleep on the floor to be safe from gunfire.”

Both Western Heights School District elementary schools suffer from many of the struggles plaguing the area: high crime, poverty, low parental involvement and homelessness.

At Council Grove, 92 percent of the school's 480 students receive free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty. Of the 287 students at Greenvale, 98 percent qualify for the meal subsidy.

Because of the difficulties the children face in their home lives, Holman and Klein said they try to ensure their students know school is a safe place for them.

“We greet the kids at the door,” Klein said. “We make sure they have a free breakfast. We try to make sure that they know that at our schools they are safe, no matter what is going on outside.”

Both principals hope the new anti-crime initiative in the neighborhood will help their children develop healthier relationships with police.

“I would like (police) to come into the schools and spend some time at lunch or recess with the kids so the kids will learn that they are not the enemy,” Holman said.

A rocky road

About two miles northeast of Greenvale Elementary, off MacArthur Boulevard on a gravel road named Lytle Drive, sits the secluded subdivision of Lytle Grove and the longtime home of Sandy Harris.

Today, tall oak trees lining the road to Harris's home almost muffle the sounds of the city, but for the occasional gunshot or police helicopter buzzing overhead.

Harris, 69, remembers as a boy riding his bike down MacArthur Boulevard to NW 10, where there was a barber shop, a gas station, a doughnut store and other cornerstones of community life. After graduating college, he was unable to get an apartment in the area because he didn't have a job and lacked credit.

“They were so exclusive that they wouldn't even talk to me,” he said.

Today, that same bike ride would take him past a strip club and rundown storefronts. The apartments now are dilapidated or vacant, many with broken or boarded up windows.

So far, the violence erupting in the surrounding neighborhoods has not traveled down Harris' gravel road, but he and the others who live in the dozen or so homes in Lytle Grove don't have to go too far to find it. Just a few blocks north, near MacArthur Boulevard and NW 16, a man was robbed and fatally shot at midday in April.

Both Harris, and Phillip Teel, another Lytle Grove resident, said they hope all community members back the police initiative.

“They can only do so much on their own, but if we all support them and get behind them and do what they ask us to do, then it will be successful,” Teel, 52, said.

For now, the increased police presence makes Teel and Harris feel hopeful for the neighborhood.

“We bought the peace and the quiet and the tranquility, and we have seen that erode a little bit,” Teel said. “We don't want to see it go away, and we are going to fight to keep it.”

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by LeighAnne Manwarren
Breaking News Reporter
LeighAnne Manwarren is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and weather for The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com. An Oklahoma City native, Manwarren is a University of Oklahoma journalism alum and has interned for The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette,...
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