(Not So) Common Sense
Considering fleeing your community for safer territory? Think again.
By Carole Townsend
As a newspaper reporter, I enjoy the enviable opportunity to spend a lot of time in Gwinnett County communities, documenting the positive things that happen all day, every day, in our county. Last evening, I had the opportunity to listen to a GCPD crime prevention officer, and it got me to thinking.
I was born and raised in DeKalb County; Doraville, to be exact. I don’t talk about that much, but for the purpose of this column, I’ll make an exception. The only really good thing to come out of Doraville, besides me of course, was the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Oh, and my husband, but we didn’t learn that until many years later. Life is funny.
I have an odd memory from my childhood. When my siblings and I reached driving age (yes, there were gas-fueled automobiles back then), our parents had one non-negotiable rule. We were never, under any circumstances, to drive across the DeKalb County line into Gwinnett. If we did and they found out about it, that was it. No car. Period. Why? Because Gwinnett County, in my parents’ opinion, was uncharted territory, the black hole in which Barbara Jane Mackle had been buried alive by her kidnappers. The wild, wild west, where people wore cowboy boots and lived in trailers and said “Y’all” and “dang” and such. It was the redneck haven where the Klan marched on a regular basis, as familiar an activity as the county fair or the 4th of July. It was where that Larry Flynt guy got shot right out in the open, on his way to court one fine spring morning.
As kids, we were terrified of Gwinnett County. Of course, we had never been there, except for once when my mother drove us there to buy fresh green beans and corn from a Gwinnett farmer. You’d have thought she was buying crack cocaine, she was so secretive and furtive with the transaction. She wore big black sunglasses and whispered the entire time, even when she was talking to us. We were horrified that someone would see us (she didn’t give us any sunglasses), or that word would get out somehow that we had bought Gwinnett County vegetables.
Of course, that was thirty-some-odd years ago. OK forty-some-odd. In 1987, my husband and I moved to Gwinnett County. Buford, no less. Our first house was not far at all from where the Mall of Georgia sprawls now, but back then it was just a twinkle in a developer’s eye. I remember my dad’s wise words of encouragement to us when we bought that house for a whopping $69,000. “You’ll never get your money’s worth out of it. I hope you don’t get killed before you ever have a family.” That was verbatim, by the way. Thanks, Dad.
I also remember my joy, my exuberance, when we told my dad what we sold that house for when we moved to Lawrenceville about 12 years later. Thank you, Mall of Georgia developers. Thank you very much. I mean that sincerely.
Back then, Gwinnett County was the place to be, the place to move, buy a home and raise a family. They were building schools at the rate of two an hour (still are, by all accounts). Everything was new and shiny and pretty. Our sports teams were the envy of the state (still are, by some accounts). Our parks and program were impressive and unsurpassed. Still are. But something else is happening, something that happens whenever an area experiences growth. Some bad apples have rolled in with the bushels of good ones.
And what do we do, as fine, upstanding, law-abiding homeowners? We slap a FOR SALE sign in our front yard and head for parts north. I had a conversation with some solemnly sincere soccer moms last night, who were expressing their concern over this very thing. Some of their neighbors, their kids’ school friends, are pulling up stakes and heading north, for safer territory. I won’t go into the mindset behind that thinking; it’s an old one, and I understand it. I do. Suffice it to say, while I completely understand the desire to have a safe home, shame on us. When, in this country, did it become acceptable to just turn our communities over to the criminals? To say to the bad guys, “Here, you can have it. We’ll leave.”
I just have two words for those of us who think that way (and yes, until last night, I was guilty of the same thoughts). Dekalb County. Sorry, DeKalb. A lot of the county is redeveloping and reinvigorating, but why did it have to get run into the ground in the first place?
You see, when I was a kid, DeKalb County was the Gwinnett County of its day. Everyone wanted to live there. Great schools. Great communities. I have no idea about the sports teams; I was a book nerd. But you get the idea. Word got out and the county got popular. Lots of people moved in and with them, the bad as well as the good. “Oh no!” we all thought. “Head north!” And look at things now. Makes you think – what if we had stayed? What if we had stood up to the punks and the criminals and the greedy power grabbers? What if we had partnered with cops instead of blaming them? We may just have ended up with longstanding communities with generations of homeowners, families who stayed instead of fleeing north. I might be wrong, but I don’t think so.
We’re going to run out of “north,” sooner rather than later. What then? Tennessee? Are you really willing to trade in your beloved red and black for that horrid orange?
In all seriousness, my point is, we do have a say in what’s happening around us. I learned last night, as I listened to a Gwinnett County Crime Prevention Officer, that we can stand up to criminals who are too lazy to work and would rather take what we’ve worked for instead. We have a police department that is practically begging us to do that. They have officers who will come to our homes, our communities, to tell us how to do it, to help us.
I love my home. I have to admit that I am not too thrilled with what’s happening around our neighborhood, though. I had the talk with my husband about a week or so ago. “Let’s sell. Let’s go about 30 miles north, where we can get away. We’ll take the hit. What we lose on this house, we’ll make back on the next.” Why take a hit? Because we bought in ’99, at the peak of the Gwinnett housing market craze, and now, well, the market’s a lot more realistic. I was talking about selling the home we love, the home in which we raised our family. Why? Because some bad apples have rolled into the area, that’s why. To me, that’s a very sad thought. Why do we have to go? Why can’t we make it difficult for them to stay? I like that idea better.
I’m simply suggesting, think twice before giving up the home and community that you love. I’m not saying that my idea is right for everyone, but I hope it’s for enough of us that we take back our communities and our peace of mind, if they have been threatened. I know too much about the good things in Gwinnett to pack up and leave in such a hurry. I know too much to just give up rather than take a stand.
Go to www.gwinnettcounty.com, and find out just how many tools we have to protect our homes and businesses. You just might be pleasantly surprised.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.