Fairmont Terrace killings raise age-old questions
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 7:08 AM
Get the latest news on the Fairmont Terrace homicides: Read coverage of the apartment complex killings and on other homicides in the area nearby.
The tragic Jan. 7 killings of four women in a government-subsidized housing complex again have raised the questions of why do such things happen and how can they be prevented. As with the gun debate, there are no easy or sure answers.
Following the deaths of the four women, the Tulsa World looked into the causes and problems surrounding the area of 61st Street and Peoria Avenue. Enterprise Editor Ziva Branstetter and reporters Cary Aspinwall, Curtis Killman and Jerry Wofford along with news researcher Hilary Pittman did what newspapers do well, in-depth reporting of an issue important to the life of a community.
What they found is what is repeated around the state and the nation. They found poor, struggling families - the majority of whom are hard-working and law-abiding - clustered in high-density, low-rent areas. One of those is the 61st and Peoria area and the Fairmont Terrace apartment complex.
The result is the same from New York, to St. Louis to Los Angeles: Where there is poverty, trouble often follows. Poverty breeds despair and desperation. Low incomes, fractured families and low prospects for good jobs lead to gangs and gang violence. Gangs bring drugs, prostitution and guns.
What must not be left out of the 61st and Peoria story is, as the Tulsa World team pointed out, there is more to the area than Fairmont Terrace where the killings took place. And there is more to those living in the complex than the recent tragedy tries to define them.
As noted in the World stories, the area and that complex were once peaceful. I remember living in a condo along 56th Street between Peoria and Riverside Drive in the early 1980s. It was, and still is, a good place to live. The neighborhood is full of small but well-kept houses. I recall going to the old Mondos restaurant around the corner on 61st.
Neighborhoods change and 61st and Peoria began to change after the oil bust of the 1980s. The apartment complexes began to accept "Section 8" housing vouchers. Maybe worst of all was the takeover of much of the property by out-of-state owners who care little about the property or the people there and more about the bottom line.
What must not be forgotten in this saga is that most of the people living in those "Section 8" apartments and the people living in single-family residences in the area are not criminals. They are not troublemakers. They are simply people working hard to make a living and raise their families. The difference is that those living the apartment complex have little choice. It is what they can afford.
That presents the dilemma of what can be done. One thing is certain, the people living in those complexes deserve the same right to housing and protection as do the rest of us.
I have heard and read the comments from those who want to "clean it out." How sad. Yes, the people living there could try to help more. Most of us, however, can't imagine what it would be like to live under such stress.
The area of 61st and Peoria is prime land. It has easy access to Interstate 44 and Riverside Drive and is within walking distance of River Parks and the Arkansas River. Johnson Park once was the home of baseball diamonds and basketball courts. Imagine what could be built there if Fairmont Terrace were bulldozed.
Of course, that would leave a lot of good people without places to live. Is the answer to spread the housing supplement around? Could many of those people find houses to rent? Or, as many fear, would that only spread the problem around?
The only certain answer is that there is no certain answer.
Unless, we consider education. Study after study proves that the more education children have the less likely they are to wind up in trouble. Young women with a high school degree and especially a college degree are far less likely to become pregnant and single mothers.
Young men with a high school degree are more likely to find employment and a job that pays well enough to shun gang membership or selling drugs. Young men who remain in high school are more likely to work and stay out of gangs.
The facts are there but, still, there is a faction in this state and country that continues its assault on public education. And, quite frankly, that faction is often among the first to cast the stone toward the poor when trouble happens.
The poor and the needy deserve our help. Included in that help is a way to end the cycle of poverty. And that is through education.
There is, of course, no miracle cure. As the Bible makes clear:
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
- Deuteronomy 15:1
The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me
- Mark 14:7
We need to continue the conversation about how to improve the city and the steps that need to be taken to do so.
And we can only hope that the tragedy of Fairmont Terrace will never repeat itself.
Original Print Headline: Trouble follows
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
Johnson Park is located between Fairmont Terrace and Riverside Drive. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World file