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Neighbors desperate to see end of feuding

Residents fear what started as a Clearwater neighborhood rivalry may lead to a tragedy, and the police are not doing enough to end it.

By JACOB H. FRIES
Published March 6, 2005


CLEARWATER - Before the bricks and bottles, before sides were chosen and someone was stabbed, before teenage rivalry escalated into an all-out feud, there was only a song.

Penned by a couple of brothers and full of teenage bravado, the rap emerged in the fall of 2002 and spread among young people. Laden with obscenities, it insults some rival boys by name and questions the paternity of one girl's child.

"All you cowards duck and hide. Bunny boys, we going ride . . . ." the rap goes.

"See you ain't never had a winning team . . . . I'm getting mean, getting stuck on this green, b----, you still a dope-fiend. Tell your homeboys this: how your a-- turn snitch, or how your baby's momma off the chain."

The rap drew battle lines and touched off countless fistfights and gunshots. As its origin was lost in the fray, the grudge swept up others, including young girls and some parents.

The feud has become increasingly violent, police say, bearing down on a hardscrabble north Clearwater neighborhood. Saying they need protection, several teens have begun to carry guns. Some sell drugs. And at least one mother says she gave her daughters blades to carry.

Before long, many fear, someone will be killed.

"It keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger," said Capt. Tony Holloway, commander of the Police Department's patrol division. "Both sides are being arrested, but that's not going to solve this issue . . . . All we can do is react after something happens."

Holloway said he plans to put representatives of both factions together in room this week and have them discuss a truce. The factions need to understand that police can only do so much and that both sides have equal responsibility for allowing the grudge to fester, the captain said.

"There are a lot of folks in the community that would like to see the fight stop," said Jonathan Wade, a social worker and president of the North Greenwood Association. Wade said the feud has impacted the lives of many bystanders in the community. "Nobody wins when people are resorting to violence."

Wade said he has spoken with Holloway and thinks the police are doing what they can.

"But it's not a police problem," Wade said. "Arresting people keeps adding fuel to the fire. This is more of a community issue."

* * *

The feud, as police describe it, pits some members of the Bonney family on Garden Avenue and its allies against a group of other families and their children. They aren't gangs, police say; their groups don't have names.

"Most of them don't even know what they're fighting about anymore," Holloway said.

Each faction maintains the other is soley responsible for the escalating violence. Mothers of children on both sides cried during interviews with a reporter. In such an environment, absolute truth is impossible to nail down.

What is clear is the drain on police resources. In the last two years, officers have responded to at least 50 incidents that they think grew out of the grudge.

Among them:

In September 2003, there was a series of fights at Clearwater High School.

The next month, one teenager tried to run down three rivals with his car.

In January 2004, in apparent retaliation for the previous day's fight, one man was cut in the throat and a second was beaten with a baseball bat. Both survived.

On July 8, 2004, a man was stabbed twice in abdomen during a dispute on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

On Feb. 24, 2005, police arrested three men, charging one with drug trafficking. They found 10 handguns in an apartment off Kings Highway.

Chantala Taylor, 35, said her family got pulled into the feud in June 2004, when a large street brawl broke out on King Avenue.

Her son, Joseph Simmons, 19, was walking down the street when - for no reason, he told a reporter - another boy punched him. No one was charged for assaulting her son, so Taylor said she began a petition; she blames some in the Bonney family.

Attached to the petition was a letter that ended with a plea: "Please help us with this predicament of despair before lives are taken and families are forced to grieve for their loved ones."

Still unsatisfied, Taylor went to the City Council on Feb. 17 to complain that police were not doing enough.

And last Wednesday night, Taylor and another parent, Delphine Abrams, held a meeting. Originally scheduled in a room at the North Greenwood Recreation and Aquatic Complex, they moved it to Abrams' home, after City Manager Bill Horne called it off.

More than 40 people crowded into Abrams' dining room and kitchen, sitting in rows of folding chairs. Darryl Rouson, NAACP president in St. Petersburg, stood at the front, saying he was there for "fact-finding."

"The community is crying out for help and nobody seems to understand," Abrams told the group. Her son, Sherrod Gordon, has been shot at.

"If the police don't do something about it, some lives are going to be lost," Abrams said, tears streaking her cheeks.

At one point, Margaret Arnold, 26, a telemarketer, stood up, walked to the front of the room and told her story: About two months ago, outside of a nightclub, a group of girls attacked her and a friend. One of them threw bleach in her face. They were targeted for no reason, she said.

"I still can't open my eyes without seeing blots," Arnold said.

* * *

On the other side sits Wanda Bonney, 42, a mother of five, a caregiver to many more. She cried in her living room Friday evening as two of her sons, Draydell, 19, and Draydaro, 18, recounted several times they had been shot at or attacked.

The brothers said tensions existed even before the rap song was written. Their older brother, Drayton, got in a dispute with another man over a girl in 2000.

Now, they say, they can't walk to the corner store or down King Avenue without being confronted.

"I can't go around here to have a good time," Draydell said. "My mama keeps us inside the house."

Wanda Bonney interjected: "You better watch my words. Somebody is going to take one of my boys' life."

Draydaro added: "I live in Clearwater, but I don't feel like I'm a member of this community."

They said they were being targeted, perhaps because they don't want to deal drugs. The only time they ever hurt someone, they said, was in self-defense.

"My Daddy said, "If we can't live here together, we'll die here together,' " Draydaro said.

* * *

Everyone involved and those watching the feud play out in the community said they agree on one point: It has to stop. Whatever truly started it - a rap song or a struggle over a girl - the grudge has grown out of control.

Wade said: "It's always my hope as a resident of North Greenwood that individuals could sit down and talk rationally about issues, rather than resort to violence."

Holloway said he hopes this week's meeting will help. Over the years, police have held three community meetings and each time the dispute subsided - for a while.

"It's going to take parent and community involvement," Holloway said. "That's the only thing that will solve it."

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at 727 445-4156 or at jfries@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 6, 2005, 00:13:18]


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