Six years ago, the city of Charlotte used cement slabs to block streets in the Howie Acres neighborhood off Sugar Creek Road, hoping to bring down crime in a community described as a drive-through for drug deals.
Police announced success a few months later, after a series of arrests. Neighbors reported fewer problems, and the barricades were removed.
But a double homicide on Tuesday that left a man and a woman dead has some city leaders wondering if the crime problems of Howie Acres are back.
On Tuesday morning, police found Matthew Daniel Brown’s body in the middle of Atmore Street. Mykeijaa Shanquial Turner’s body was found inside a car that was parked in the driveway of a vacant home. Both had been shot to death.
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The killing has shaken neighbors who said they’d seen real progress since Charlotte-Mecklenburg police convinced them to install the barriers six years ago.
“I’m just concerned about the headway that’s been made,” said one woman, who didn’t want her name used because she’s worried about retaliation from people involved in the crime. “I just don’t want to see it go back to that. It was awful. Just awful. There were just elderly people that had (drive-by shootings) happening in front of them. A lot of people were very afraid.”
Howie Acres, a small neighborhood of about six streets, connects two busy thoroughfares – Sugar Creek Road and The Plaza.
Drug dealers had capitalized on that location and turned the community into a drive-through for drugs. It was easy for nervous buyers to turn into the streets of Howie Acres from The Plaza, do a quick tradeoff with dealers, then melt into traffic on busy Sugar Creek Road.
Police told skeptical neighbors that the street-blocking slabs of concrete would cut off easy escape routes, making drug buyers hesitant and giving officers a chance to catch dealers in the act. Neighbors objected, saying blocked streets would be an inconvenience and make them feel caged in. But ultimately the community consented.
Less than a month after the city installed the barricades, police announced a grand jury had indicted six men accused of selling drugs in the area. Things had been relatively sedate until Tuesday.
“My understanding from the neighbors and various people is that it has been quiet,” said the woman. “This is the first incident I’ve heard about in years.”
Now the question for Howie Acres residents and city leaders is whether Tuesday’s outbreak of violence is a sign of a bigger problem.
“When I saw that on the news, I was like ‘Oh no, Howie Acres,’ ” said Charlotte City Council member Patsy Kinsey. “I’m always worried about things that happen in the neighborhood and I know Howie Acres is very fragile. It’s always been very fragile.”
One arrest made
Joshua Lamar Brownlee, 24, of Charlotte is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the deaths of Matthew Daniel Brown and Mykeijaa Shanquial Turner.
There may be additional suspects involved in the case, police said.
Brownlee previously served four months in jail on a felony breaking and entering charge in 2012, records show, and also faces trial on a 2014 misdemeanor charge of assault on a female.