LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Duplex symbol of blight: Some surprised suspected drug house remains

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

The dilapidated blue duplex at 1305 W. Ridgeway Street in Jackson has become an iconic symbol of government intrusion, community blight and city crime.

Some find it hard to believe the damaged structure at Ridgeway and Sears Streets is still standing.

Aug. 26 will mark the fourth anniversary of the night then-Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, accompanied by two police body guards and a group of young men, used sledgehammers to raid and partially demolish the suspected drug house.

The Rev. Reginald Buckley, executive pastor of Jackson's Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, and Jackson City Council President Frank Bluntson, a fellow church member, say they want to clean up the area located a few blocks from the church. They met Friday in front of the duplex to discuss their plans.

Bluntson said he will ask the city attorney at Tuesday night's council meeting if the structure can be demolished. He has repeatedly asked city officials for updates on the property, most recently at a council meeting earlier this month.

"That house needs to go," Bluntson said. "There are two or three on that corner that need to go. It's a shame that you have to go to church and see that on that corner."

Deputy City Attorney James Anderson said the city is working on making sure all parties involved with the house receive the proper notices to "make sure it's done right."

Earlier this year, Community Improvement Director Claude Smith told the council the duplex was on a current list of properties to be demolished. City Attorney Pieter Teeuwissen said: "The city is working to resolve the litigation and also working to proceed with demolition of the structure."

Jennifer Sutton, who owns the duplex, has a lawsuit pending against the city over the damage Melton and his crew caused.

The blue duplex sits between two other unoccupied dwellings with broken and boarded up windows. It's interior is exposed. The front is gone, and liquor bottles are scattered inside.

A damaged loveseat faces one wall. Sheetrock is punctured, and a broken toilet sits outside the house on the sidewalk atop a pile of carpet scraps.

A nearby abandoned gas station has become another eyesore. The covers of the gas pumps have been ripped off, and bottles, broken glass, an old tire and other trash are scattered on the ground.

"I guarantee that 'these houses wouldn't be on the other side of 55 Highway (1-55) next to a church and standing there this long," Bluntson said.

Buckley grew up in Jackson's Georgetown community, moved away, but returned three years ago. Through a church initiative called Cascade, he is leading efforts to clean up and improve the community that surrounds Cade Chapel.

He said he wants to help spark the construction of more single-family housing, and purchase and renovate surrounding properties.

"We want this whole area to reflect growth," he said. "We want people to take pride in the community. I don't think that we're asking for anything out of the ordinary.

"Children shouldn't have to pass this on the way to school. This (duplex) is part of a chapter that has been written, and because of the history that goes along with it, it's time for it to be gone. Why it's still here after that length of time is beyond me."

Buckley said the church recently purchased a six-unit apartment complex directly across the street from the church, gutted it, renovated it and turned it into the J.R. Harrington Teen Center. Beginning Monday, Fusion, a summer science program for boys in grades 3-5 that focuses on environmental science, will be held there.

"They will be studying the oil spill in the Gulf and coming up with ideas about what is happening and how they can clean it up," Buckley said. "Scientists will come in and talk to them about their professions."

The church also has partnered with Habitat for Humanity on several home-building projects in the past three years.

But some community residents say the church's efforts are not enough. Cade Chapel is next door to a dilapidated apartment complex Buckley said he hopes will be torn down to make room for more affordable housing or demolished to expand the church parking lot.

Part of the complex recently burned, but many residents were found congregating outside Friday afternoon.

Gail Porter, a community member who once lived in the apartment complex, visited friends there Friday. She questioned the church leaders' intentions about improving the area.

"They should be helping with low-income housing. The type of people that they perceive we are they are trying to get us out of the community," she said. "To them, this is the straight up ghetto."

Renaldo Butler, another neighborhood resident, said he thinks that since the city is responsible for destroying the duplex, it should be responsible for fixing it.

"It will be just a vacant lot in our community, which no one else will care about," he said. "It will just be a loss. We don't need a vacant lot. They need to redo it. The church is just trying to take control of the neighborhood. Ain't no control. Control don't even exist."

Buckley is hopeful community members will help clean up the area. "Kids are creative, but when there is so much junk, it clouds their thoughts," he said. "It begins to play on your emotions about what you believe about yourself and what others believe about you.

"We want our kids to have a landscape that calls them to dream and see beyond what is here. We have to clean it up and let them dream unencumbered."


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