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.

Graveyard Boys terrorize Canton neighborhood

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

The Graveyard Boys — it sounds like the title of an upcoming Halloween horror film. And for the residents of Adams, Fulton and East Academy Streets, the name evokes the same emotions.

It has been attached to a group of young men (some in their 20s, some younger) who have made a pastime of harassing area residents. Police say most of them are jobless and spend a large portion of their week hanging around the neighborhood creating trouble.

The infamous name comes from a cemetery that has become an identifying landmark for Adams Street residents and a sanctuary for The Graveyard Boys, who residents say hide behind the ancient, aging tombstones during and after they conduct illegal activities.

One member of the group was arrested last Friday, and residents, most of whom are too afraid to have their name mentioned in the paper, say the event that led to the incarceration was predictable.

Lt. Earl Taylor of the Canton Police Department said police received a call at 9:11 p.m. on Sept. 24. “The caller said the subject had been shot in the neck,” he said.

James Dawson, 36, of Maxwell Lane was the victim. Assistant Police Chief Vickie McNeill said Dawson miraculously survived the incident.

“He is blessed,” she said. “He is still alive. He never lost consciousness and was able to talk when the police arrived.”

On Friday, police arrested Calvin White, 20, also known as “Conehead.” Taylor said he was charged with aggravated assault, shooting into a dwelling and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. “He has spent time in Parchman for house burglary,” Taylor said.

No other arrests have been made in connection with the shooting, but Taylor said it's possible that more Graveyard Boys will eventually be taken into custody.

Some area residents are grateful that an arrest has been made in the case, but they still do not feel safe. Members of Canton’s most well-known Neighborhood Watch program addressed the mayor and Board of Aldermen in early September pleading with the city to take action to combat area crime.

"Conehead's" name was mentioned along with the fact that he had been accused of trespassing on an 81-year-old man’s property. Another member of The Graveyard Boys also allegedly trespassed and assaulted the man’s daughter, who resides with him.

Pearl Nichols, chairwoman of the area’s Neighborhood Watch program, voiced concerns about the legal system and the need for more police cooperation.

“If we are going to be the third eye for the police department, we need help,” she said. “We feel like we are standing on the front lines here about to be shot down and who is going to catch us?”

During the meeting, Police Chief Luke Gordon told Nichols that until the court system becomes stricter, Canton residents will continue to experience problems with crime.

“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times,” he said. “There is no deterrant to crime in the city. We can arrest them all day long, and they will post bond, get out and do the same thing. When they come to court and get sentenced to jail — then you will have some type of deterrant.”

Gordon said residents experiencing problems should be persistent with police. “My phone number is in the phone book,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to call even if it’s happening every minute. That’s the only way we will get it stopped.”

Mayor Fred Esco told concerned citizens the city would keep an eye on the situation and promised they would follow up.

A police car patrolled Adam’s Street Monday, driving between a group of residents who stood outside their homes near the road talking with the Canton cemetery in sight.

One area resident, who wished to remain nameless fearing The Graveyard Boys might seek retribution, said he is afraid. They are all trouble-makers, and I can’t understand this system,” he said. “The cops come by and they (The Graveyard Boys) are smoking pot on the porch. If we all get together, we can break those suckers up.”

Another resident, who also wished to remain nameless out of fear, said she was familiar with “Conehead” and his friends.

“I just found out yesterday that they actually got him,” she said. “I knew somebody was going to get that boy. There can’t be nothing but a bad end coming to him. We just don’t want anybody hurt around there.”

She said residents live in constant fear and are pleading with city officials to do something to help them.

“Until we get somebody to protect us, it is almost impossible to talk to the media or anyone,” she said. “If I had someone to protect me, I wouldn’t mind talking. We are going to have to come together as a community and fight it because we can’t fight it by ourselves, and the police are going to have to start picking kids up.”

In the meantime, she willl say a lot of prayers.

“I have my trust in God,” she said. “God is going to take care of all of them. They can’t take over the neighborhood.”

The Canton Neighborhood Association that supports the area meets every first Thursday of the month. If you're interested in being a part of it or starting your own Neighborhood Association in Canton, contact McNeill at the Canton Police Department at 859-2121.

Mayor Esco will host his third quartley town meeting tonight (Thursday) at 6 p.m. in the City Hall courtroom. All Canton citizens are encouraged to attend and discuss the issues that concern them.

The topics will include, but are not limited to, Canton Public Schools. For more information, contact Canton City Hall at 859-4331.


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