In north Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, the streets have fairy tale names.
There’s Snow White Lane. And Cinderella Road. And Candy Stick Lane.
But for decades, life in this sprawling neighborhood was more like a nightmare for the thousands of blue-collar workers and retirees whose modest brick ranch homes dot the streets.
One of Charlotte’s most notorious gangs, the Hidden Valley Kings, terrorized the neighborhood for years. Its members were linked to crimes ranging from robbery to assault and murder.
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But on Saturday morning, residents plan to come out for a big community parade and festival. Why? They are celebrating the Kings’ demise, and the end of the organized violence and intimidation that once made Hidden Valley’s name virtually synonymous with gang activity.
It’s been a long time coming, this celebration. The Kings took root in the late 1980s. Police put a big dent in the gang’s operations with a 2007 sting that sent 20 members to prison. As the neighborhood started rebounding, the gang did, too.
Then, a 2013 civil injunction banned gang members from associating or holding drugs or firearms. It hit members with criminal misdemeanor charges simply for being seen in public together.
Violent crime in the neighborhood plunged by 21 percent over the next year. Things aren’t perfect in Hidden Valley, but residents say it’s a far more peaceful place.
This is an appropriate moment to recall the neighborhood’s battle with the Kings. Charlotte suffered through a violent Labor Day weekend that saw 12 people shot and five people killed – including a 7-year-old boy at a birthday party.
Those killings pushed our year-over-year murder tally upward after years of decline. Chief Kerr Putney described the violence as retaliatory shootings between gangs. He increased police patrols in every division.
We should all remember the key lessons Hidden Valley taught us:
▪ We need resourceful, creative law enforcement. The civil injunction idea originated in California and had never been tried in North Carolina before the Kings got a dose of it. Now Charlotte-Mecklenburg police attorneys are exploring whether similar concepts can be used on other hotspots around the city.
▪ Neighbors must pull together and help. Police can’t do it alone. The Hidden Valley Community Association organized into committees, secured a grants coordinator, and reached out to police and local businesses, said its president, Ella Williams. They told nearby motels that the prostitutes frequenting those establishments had to go.
▪ Fighting violent crime and gangs is a marathon, not a sprint. It took more than 20 years and multiple gang-fighting initiatives to neutralize the Kings. Williams said residents understand that the best insurance against any gang resurgence is for them to stay vigilant and keep improving the neighborhood.
“You have to stand together,” she told the editorial board Friday. “You have to say, ‘We will not tolerate these things happening in our community.’”
With what seems to be a troubling uptick in gang violence lately, that’s a commitment all of Charlotte should take to heart.