The chief topic of discussion at Tuesday evening’s Laurens City Council meeting was safety in the city’s poor neighborhoods.
Council passed a building code for existing buildings and proclamation, authored by Mayor Nathan Senn, recognizing September as National Suicide Prevention Week, but most of the discussion began with District 4 Councilor Sara Latimore’s presentation regarding the condition of the city’s predominantly African American neighborhoods. Alicia Sullivan and Marian Miller joined in, as well as Calvin Whitmire of the Bridging the Gap organization.
They spoke of prostitutes and drug dealers on the corners of Sullivan Street and Washington Heights, of rundown houses and unmowed lawns. They spoke of elderly people being terrorized by brazen criminals in their midst. They accepted responsibility for looking out for themselves but conceded that they needed help.
Whitmire offered space in his organization’s building for a police substation. Councilor Alicia Sullivan spoke of a meeting to be held this Saturday at Springfield Baptist Church, beginning at 9, and expressed a need for all the community groups to get together.
“It’s not one community,” she said, “but it’s affecting all of us.”
“Trash, yeah,” Whitmire added. “Grass-cutting, yeah, but we’ve got prostitution, drug dealing, this is actually happening.”
Mayor Senn responded energetically to their plaintive expressions.
“Cleaning up Laurens is something I care deeply about,” he said. “Illegal dumping … If we can prosecute, we are going to do it. We have the law and it will be enforced. How can we expect people to invest in this town if we don’t care enough to clean it up.
“Crime, from something as simple as littering to drugs … it is a priority of this city to clean up.”
Whitmire said his group’s building was “right in the middle of all that.” He also compared Bridging the Gap’s mission to a washing machine, which “has to have an agitator to get the clothes clean.”
Also present at the meeting was Ralphine Pughsley Beaton, whose father ran Pughsley’s Pharmacy for many years on North Harper Street. Returned to her hometown, she is holding Back Street Market, also on Saturday, at the site of the pharmacy, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Proceeds from the tables, reserved for $10 a space, will go to Bahamas relief. The flyer bills it as “an old friends gathering” and “a meeting of new friends.”
The raw, sometimes emotional, discussion of hard times in the African American community overshadowed several other significant issues. The implementation of a separate building code for existing structures had been tabled the previous month, but after City Attorney Tom Thompson, who had been absent in August, answered questions, mostly posed by Councilor Sullivan, it passed into law by a unanimous, 6-0 vote.
“I firmly believe this is a step in the right direction,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to get revenue back in this city.”
What was set aside was the city’s seat on the Capital Project Sales Tax commission, due by Sept. 7. Senn said he wanted to get the input of the councilors before making the appointment.