Monday, July 14, 2008

Antioch confronts bad image

By RACHEL STULTS • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • July 14, 2008 If it's bad, it must have happened in Antioch. Leaders living in the southeast Davidson County community say that's what a lot of people think but it's not fair. "We're here to say Antioch gets a lot of bad press," said Sim Hassler, senior pastor at Antioch First Baptist Church. "We have many problems in Antioch. But there's also a lot of good stuff going on in Antioch and nobody ever hears about it." With its ever-changing demographic complexion, Antioch has long been saddled with the stigma of being a crime-ridden community where gangs and violence drive out businesses. The community has dealt with its share of struggles and crime, leaders say. But the problems aren't beyond repair, and several activists are taking steps to transform Antioch's image. It's the reason Rodney Beard, pastor at Living Word Community Church, moved his congregation from south Davidson County to Hickory Hollow Parkway three months ago. Church leaders wanted to reach out to the Antioch community. Several weeks ago, leaders at Living Word decided to hold a car and bike show at Hickory Hollow Mall to draw the men and women who are known to speed up and down the community's roads, the ones people say come from "the hood" or "Lower Antioch." They hoped to open a dialogue between the groups, introduce them to collectors and show them that crime doesn't have to be their hobby, Beard said. The event was a success, leaders said, drawing about 80 people, and nearly 30 were in the church's target audience. But the feedback from others wasn't what Beard anticipated. People told him to expect disaster. Bullets were going to fly, they said, drug dealers would emerge, and immigration services would need to be called to make arrests. "That's appalling when a positive situation is taking place in Antioch that people would see it in a negative light," Beard said. "When we do positive activities that families could be involved in, we can begin to pull the communities together around something other than the negative connotations we see in the papers. People in Antioch just haven't spoken up to say, 'Wait a minute, don't stigmatize me that way.' " Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said South Nashville and Antioch are as high a priority as anywhere else, and he's stepped up enforcement in areas known to breed crime. There have been improvements, Serpas said, but good things were already happening. "I've lived in other cities, and seen parts of a city get reputations that are completely undeserved," Serpas said. "I think that Antioch has probably gotten a little of that." Many crimes are down While the 37013 ZIP code saw spikes in violent and property crimes last year, police say they've seen reductions already this year. Antioch showed 16 rapes this time last year, compared with 12 this year; 96 robberies dropped to 83; and 177 aggravated assaults dwindled to 135. But homicides have increased, with three murders so far this year and none recorded through July last year, according to Metro police. Jim Hodge, a Metro councilman, says Antioch often takes the heat for nearby crime. "Anything from Nolensville Road over to Hermitage is suddenly Antioch," said Hodge, who lives in Tusculum and represents a portion of Antioch."If it bleeds it leads, and if it's anywhere near Antioch they're going to call it Antioch. I don't think it's a conscious decision, but people get to thinking in verbal shorthand." It's a stigma Melanie Ewing, 25, faces when she tells her friends she lives in Antioch.Usually, they cringe.She doesn't quite understand their reaction — it's not that bad, she said. She even had an opportunity to move to Hermitage but didn't take it. "I don't feel unsafe living here," Ewing said. "I just feel like it has a bad reputation. If you keep hearing about Antioch all the time, you think it's the worst place to be." Some residents worry Darryle Rucker, 66, tells a different story. He moved to Antioch 10 years ago for the nice neighborhood and the then-manicured lawns.Today, Rucker hears gunshots at night. Cars speed up and down his street. He plans to ask for more police presence; he and his wife are thinking about installing security windows and doors.Eventually, Rucker said, they may move to another part of town. It's only going to get worse, he said."It's headed towards another direction," Rucker said. Those competing emotions are what fuels Antioch Churches Together. It's a group of 15 pastors who meet weekly to cry and pray over Antioch. They worry the community's problems are intensifying, but at the same time, they see residents who are dedicated to making it a better place to live, work and play. "I think the day will come when the reports will be as good about Antioch as they have been bad," Sim Hassler said. "… I think people are going to be surprised."

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