Last week, a judge issued an injunction against a North Charlotte gang called The Hidden Valley Kings.
The order means that about 20 suspected gang members are not allowed to associate with each other in public, possess a gun or be near anyone carrying drugs or firearms.
It was the first time such an injunction was used under a 2012 law that allows gangs to be declared a public nuisance.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Chief Rodney Monroe announced at a church in the Hidden Valley neighborhood that he would seek the injunction. WFAE’s Tasnim Shamma visited that church to see how the police action is being received. She found tension between the desire for protection and suspicion of the protectors.
The Hidden Valley neighborhood looks like a lot of residential neighborhoods in Charlotte. It sprung up in the 1950s, just a few miles north of Uptown. By the 1970s, it was one of the city’s first integrated neighborhoods. Today, it's mostly all black and Latino, wedged between I-85, North Tryon and Sugar Creek Road.
Gary Dawkins is president of the Hidden Valley Community Association. He's lived here for 25 years.
"It's a nice community, it's a good community, it's a great community, despite what you see in the news and TV and so forth," Gary Dawkins, says. "There are good folks in Hidden Valley."
He’s determined to show a different side of his neighborhood than what’s portrayed whenever the Hidden Valley Kings are in the news. First stop, is the community garden at the Greenville Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church.
There are sweet potatoes, grapes, okra, collard greens, mums and tomatoes planted next to the open field where kids from Hidden Valley's growing Latino community play soccer late into the night.
Inside the church, where the Police Chief Rodney Monroe held his press conference to announce that the city was seeking an injunction, Reverend Sheldon Shipman leads a Bible Study.
The discussion turns toward Moral Monday protests, the National Security Administration's surveillance program and what was at the time a pending injunction against the Hidden Valley Kings gang.
Shooting Death of Jaquez Walker
In June, an undercover officer and informant met 17-year-old Jaquez Walker at the Hidden Valley Elementary school parking lot to buy marijuana from him. Instead, Walker shot the informant, and the officer shot and killed Walker – who police say was a member of the Hidden Valley Kings.
"They admitted there are other gangs in the Charlotte area," Reverend Shipman says, "but the greatest activity of guns being sold… "
A woman who looks to be in her 50s quickly jumps in.
"I know, but it seems like someone should have been there asking them questions and asking them why when that young man got shot, why an undercover [cop] was in the school system?"she asks.
Stanley Horton speaks up.
"They lured [Walker] to a field, like they was in another country or they in a state of war with our kids and we don't even know it," Horton says.
Stanley Horton’s son is 19-year-old Magi Horton. Police named him as a member of the Kings in their injunction petition. This upsets Stanley Horton. Besides he doesn’t believe it's true.
"He's thirsty for a job and money but they're bringing him a muddy glass of water," Horton says. "So which one would he take? That's the choice they leave. He doesn't know what a civil injunction is."
Fears of Gentrification
There is a lot of suspicion about the CMPD’s motives. No one here likes the Kings, some even doubt they're as big as police say. But there are some who fear the injunction is the city’s first step to take over their neighborhood. They fear city is out to make their neighborhood look bad to make it easier for developers to sweep in, and price them out.
"Just like they did in my community and other communities, it's about land," one woman says. "Land is prime. And it's gold. And if they can run you out … and then all of the sudden it's clean. If you notice who's buying all the time, you see people beginning to come in and they have no fear of coming in, that's the beginning of something."
"Gentrification all over again," Reverend Shipman says. "That's what you're talking about. Gentrification. That could be a bigger picture."
Some raised concerns about the blue-line extension along North Tryon.
These types of fears are not unusual in low-income neighborhoods where significant change looms, says UCLA urban planning professor Michael Lens. He studies housing, poverty and crime, and says residents in high-crime areas have a complicated relationship with police: They’re needed, but not always trusted.
Add to the mix a light rail line and ...
"This is may be the last straw or yet another sign to them that people want to change our neighborhood and we don’t want it to change it in the way that they want the changes," Lens says.
Another reason for the distrust is not everyone believes the Hidden Valley Kings still exist. They refer to a big bust from 2007, when the FBI arrested about 20 members on drug trafficking and gun charges.
But now police say the gang is on the rebound with the help of a record label called ICEE Money ("I see money"). Police believe it’s a front for the Hidden Valley Kings.
In one ICEE Money music video, there are guns and hand signs that police say are gang signals.
Gary Dawkins, the neighborhood association president, welcomes the injunction. But he says it’s only a short-term solution to curbing gang violence. Long-term, he says his community needs economic development.
And he sees the looming blue-line extension as such an opportunity.