Networking Crime

Networking Crime

Victims create a MySpace page to draw attention to Birmingham crime.

September 06, 2007

After being mugged near Five Points South (at the corner of 12th Avenue South and 18th Street) on April 27, Southside residents Lydia Simpson and Greg Martin decided to create an internet forum where other crime victims could share their stories. The resulting site, “Victims of Birmingham Crime” (www.myspace.com/birminghamvictims) began with a recounting of their experience. Soon other stories were posted, detailing terrifying holdups at gunpoint and an often indifferent attitude by Birmingham police officers.

“Response [to the site] was kind of off and on [at first],” says Simpson, who also had her automobile broken into last December during the day (as have two other employees at the Five Points location of Bailey Brothers Music, where both Simpson and Martin work). “But It’s developed a real community feeling to it, where people come together to talk about possible solutions and make other people aware of what’s going on.”

In the case of Simpson’s experience, she and Martin had left Bailey’s Pub late at night and returned to their car when two men pretending to panhandle approached the couple. Simpson was already sitting inside when one of the strangers jumped into the car before Martin could get in. One assailant shoved Simpson against the door, grabbed her by the throat, and yelled, “Give me your purse, bitch, give me your f***ing purse, bitch.” He also burned Simpson’s arm with a cigarette. Outside, the other attacker was punching Martin after knocking him to the ground. After the men fled with Simpson’s purse, a policewoman who had been flagged down by the couple chased the muggers. That’s when a second group of men hanging out in a nearby parking lot began approaching Simpson and Martin, yelling at them. The couple immediately headed toward Bailey’s Pub but the second group of thugs caught up with them and gave Martin another beating. He and Simpson eventually broke free and ran back to the club.

Simpson was not happy with the comment made by the officer who arrived to fill out a report. According to Simpson, “The response by one of the officers was, ‘I guess that’ll teach you to stay out of Southside.’” However, she is quick to defend Birmingham police officers in general. “In the first interview that we did with CBS [local affiliate CBS 42] . . . the angle had been that the police are discouraging people from reporting crimes, and that’s why the statistics are skewed. So when CBS asked [the police] for a comment, they basically just denied it outright. The sergeant in charge at the Southside precinct can’t possibly know exactly what all of his officers are saying at all times. I don’t think it’s necessarily a departmental policy; they’re just overworked and underpaid. When it comes down to doing the paperwork for something that they see every day, they’re just burned out.”

Another account on the site is from a couple who were returning to their car around midnight on a Friday night. The vehicle was parked a block away from Bell Bottoms nightclub in Five Points South. Two men ran toward them and surrounded the car. The female was already seated behind the wheel. Her companion was not yet inside when one assailant thrust what was believed to be a 9mm pistol into the man’s stomach, demanding money as he began counting backwards from “three.” By the time the attacker reached “one,” the male victim had his cash out. The panicked woman screamed for the assailant not to shoot, at which point he aimed his gun at her and demanded her money and phone. The other mugger then grabbed her purse, but an oncoming automobile interrupted the robbery before the car keys could be handed over.

The couple walked to the nearby Ruby Tuesday restaurant and found two police officers who wrote a report but “seemed not to care,” suggesting that the robbers had probably disappeared into a club.

At the MySpace site, Simpson, Martin, and others are often defiant about not yielding control of their community to thugs. Yet they offer safety tips such as wearing practical shoes “that will not hinder you from being able to escape an attack,” apparently indicating that visitors to Southside should be combat-ready. “I see women walking around Southside in stilettos,” Martin noted, shaking his head. “And it’s a good way to get hurt.” The 37-year-old Martin has watched Southside evolve into an area far more dangerous than the one he remembers from his youth. “I used to hang around the fountain when I was young.” he said. “But I wouldn’t let my child hang around there today. &

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