Group wants streets back

Teen's shooting on Raleigh's Haywood Street prompts a gathering of residents to think of solutions and demand action.

Staff WriterMay 31, 2009 

— More than 75 people marched, sang and prayed down Haywood Street on Saturday, pleading for peace on the Southeast Raleigh block where a teenager died of gunshot wounds.

Just before midnight Monday, Raleigh officers found Rodriguez D. Shay Burrell, 18, gunned down outside his father's house at 500 Haywood St. -- just three blocks from a police command unit. On Saturday, residents wore his image on a T-shirt that said "R.I.P."

Detectives passed out copies of Burrell's picture, offering a reward for information about his killer. Community leaders invited neighbors to write down obstacles to progress on slips of paper and place them in a large yellow "Jericho Box."

That box will be marched the length of Haywood Street every day at noon until Friday, said activist Daniel Coleman, and it will then be symbolically destroyed.

"We can overcome the hopelessness that is obvious when one person takes another person's life," Coleman told the crowd gathered on the corner of Cabarrus Street. "We will reach out to everyone in this community that wants to be reached out to. And, in the alternative, we will escort out of the community everyone who wants to be too selfish."

Saturday's march drew politicians, pastors, neighbors, ex-gang members and an 8-year-old girl to a vacant lot across from a boarded-up house. Amber Darden, 8, scribbled out her solution on a paper scrap along with her 10-year-old brother, Johnny.

"I put 'No Guns,'" she said.

Activist Octavia Rainey said she and City Councilman James West are hoping to start a gun buyback program in Raleigh. Abeni El-Amin, chair of the city's Human Relations Commission, laid out several proposals, including the city confiscating abandoned properties and using them for community gardens, arts and graffiti projects and themed playgrounds.

Though three council members were present -- West, Russ Stephenson and Mary-Ann Baldwin -- Rainey noted that this is an election year, and she scolded the city for failing to stress gun violence as a priority.

"I have strong concerns about coming out here when it's an election year," Rainey said. "For those who want to put money in that downtown area, put them out. We need respect from the mayor. He needs to know that gun violence is a priority, not that downtown."

West praised police mobile units and increased foot patrols in Southeast Raleigh, but added, "I'm not saying it's enough."

Two days after Burrell's death, a cab driver was robbed and shot in Southeast Raleigh.

Police Chief Harry Dolan stressed the need for parks programs and boys' and girls' clubs, though council members all noted Raleigh's thin coffers.

But the Rev. David Forbes insisted that the police alone cannot take back Southeast Raleigh streets.

"We have to take our streets back," he said. "Our children were not born violent. They become violent because we as parents took our eyes off the prize."

As he finished, the crowd moved up Haywood Street, the first of many blocks to retake.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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