Macon, GA: Beware the Boogey Man
“People from all over the country come for this particular class and I took the opportunity to give a P.R. speech for Macon,” Crowley says. “It was cool, everyone was nodding their head, but when I was done, someone in the class from Warner Robins made the comment, ‘But don’t go downtown or you’ll get shot.’ Much eye-rolling, Crowley adds, ensued.
“No matter how much MFs hate me, I gotta keep my eyes on the prize!! Ain’t nothing stopping me!!”
– Arika “Lottie Dottie” Jarrell, March 26, 2014
Arika Jarrell never saw them coming. Long after the witching hour had passed on May 29, 2014, shots rang out from behind Jarrell’s Fairburn Avenue home, and the aspiring young rapper went out much as the lyrics of her songs suggested she had lived – in a hail of gunfire.
Though her body wouldn’t be discovered until the next day, the 23-year-old better known as “Lottie Dottie” and a companion, Ralph Heard, were found shot to death in Jarrell’s bright teal, bullet-riddled Chevy Malibu. The motive in the 3 a.m. ambush was likely robbery. Lottie Dottie was known to carry a significant amount of cash, investigators would later say in news reports, and by the time the smoke cleared four men would sit in a jail cell facing murder charges and three would lay dead in the county morgue. Lottie Dottie had apparently managed to shoot, and ultimately kill, one of the attackers who came for her in the darkness on that spring night, just six days’ shy of her 24th birthday.
We Turned a Corner in 2014
Though Rolling Stone fairly rhapsodized about the “treacherous streets of Macon, Georgia” a year later in a 2015 write-up, the reality of street gangs asserting ruthless control over portions of the city appears, at least on the surface, to be more myth than fact. Hip-hop musician and one-time Macon resident Young Jeezy returned to his home turf that year to film a video for the single “Where I’m From”, shooting much of the footage just a few city blocks away from where Lottie Dottie had been gunned down the year before.
Jeezy’s high-end production depicts Macon as a city full of “gangs, guns, drugs” and Crips. “Bitch I been bangin’,” says an authentic-looking “extra” in the video’s opening scenes. By stark contrast, Lottie Dottie’s self-made Youtube music videos seem forlornly low-level – and oddly, more realistically gritty because of it. But they are variations on a similar theme. Shot a scant two years before her murder, “I Get That Money” seems a foreboding requiescat in pace for the “female John Gotti,” who sings of keeping her hustle up and her game-face on in a never-ending “paper chase.”
What remains hazy is how much of the musical message is ripped from real life and which parts are pure artistic license. Those who live on Lottie Dottie’s side of the tracks in Macon might be inclined to echo Jeezy’s lyrical assertion that you “might have to kill just to live where I’m from.” Others in neighborhoods where the houses are nicer, the cars are newer and the faces more caucasian, might be inclined to dismiss such claims as glorifying violence for the sake of selling a record. Guardians of those streets tend to err on the side of caution.
A 2015 National Gang Report published by the FBI breaks down gangs into three categories: Street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs). Though each has their unique criminal branding and mode of operations, the report says, they each rely on violence and varying criminal enterprises to sustain their power base. Ill-gotten gains stem from drug trafficking, prostitution, larceny, and offences of a similar ilk, setting the stage for secondary related crimes – like homicide.
Lottie Dottie’s murder is significant, local lawmen say, in that it was one of the last of its kind in Macon’s ongoing crimelogue. Sheriff David Davis says though the triple homicide bears the suggestion of gang activity, “we turned a corner on gang-related homicides in 2014.”
In that year, investigators began seeing more domestic-related homicides, the sheriff says, most often stemming from some sort of personal dispute. “There are no absolutes,” the sheriff admits, but by and large, the street gang activity in Macon-Bibb appears to be less organized and more an “association mainly of geographics.
“You’ll see somebody today that may be a Houston Avenue Crip, but then he moves to Gray Highway and becomes a Gray Highway Blood.” Tennis shoes dangling from power lines, warning “tags” spray-painted on buildings and other turf-defining markers aren’t a common sight in Macon, he says – which is not to downplay the threat of such potentially combustible criminal activity or to deny its existence. But criminal statistics don’t suggest a sinister underbelly of any sort in Macon, really.
Rather, the only criminal bogeyman to come creeping out from under the bed at night in Macon seems to be a tiresome, uphill battle against poverty and diminished resources.
Looking side by side at violent versus non-violent crimes tallied in Macon-Bibb from 2014 to 2016, the see-saw falls heavily on the side of property crimes, larceny and other offences that many criminologists define as “economic behavior.” At a glance, U.S. Department of Labor reports support the notion. As of March of this year, the unemployment rate in Macon remains at 5.2%, a grudge-point that hovers above the national average of 4.5% for the same time period.
The Why Is Tricky
Which isn’t to say that Macon’s star isn’t regaining its luster. Employment rates here have continued to climb since 2016 – a few hiccuppy months along the way notwithstanding. The crime-toll tells its own story.
In the corner-turning 2014 – a year after city and county governmental divisions consolidated – crime decreased overall in 58% of reported categories. That trend has continued into 2015 and 2016.
“In the homicide category, Bibb County Sheriff’s deputies and investigators worked eight less homicides in 2016 than the previous year, with four of those homicides deemed justifiable. Of the 20 homicides investigated in 2016, ninety percent or 18 of those cases have already been solved. Of the 48 homicides over the past two years, 46 or 96% have been solved,” reads a statement issued in February of this year by the Macon-Bibb Sheriff’s Department. “In additional major crime categories, including rape, robbery, aggravated assault, arson, burglary, larceny and auto theft, Bibb County experienced a seven percent drop in reported crime in 2016.”
The decrease comes as undeniable and welcome news to those dedicated to revitalizing Macon from the center out. NewTown Macon President Josh Rogers says how frequently he asked about “the crime downtown” in presentations to local civic clubs is a touchstone barometer for the reality of crime rates as well as the perception of it. In recent memory, he says, he’s only been asked that question once – at an event in Warner Robins.
Darin Crowley, a Macon resident works at Warner Robins Air Force Base, received a similar response after making an impromptu, pro-Macon speech at a recent work-related seminar.
“People from all over the country come for this particular class and I took the opportunity to give a P.R. speech for Macon,” Crowley says. “It was cool everyone was nodding their head, but then when I was done, someone in the class from Warner Robins made the comment, ‘Don’t go downtown or you’ll get shot.’ “
Much eye-rolling, Crowley adds, ensued. Crowley – who was raised “all over” in a military family – relocated his family to Macon last year after living in Warner Robins for 10 years or so. Though he extols the upside of living in Houston County, including the diversity of shopping and recreational options, his family has found Macon to be a perfect fit.
“Comments like that are sort of typical – those kinds of misconceptions about Macon,” he says, adding, “The ‘why’ is tricky.”
And perhaps unfairly warped. Recent crime statistics released to local media show a 20% increase in violent crimes in Houston County overall from 2015 to 2016, with the majority being reported inside the confines of Warner Robins. Likewise, the same reporting period shows an increase in aggravated assaults, rapes, and robberies. Homicides doubled – from 3 in 2015 to 6 in 2016. Albeit, that remains almost one-third fewer than the 20 homicides on the books in Macon-Bibb for 2016.
Nonetheless, the website Neighborscout.com gives both Macon and Warner Robins less than stellar ratings with regard to crime rates. In its overall crime index – with 100 being the “safest,” – Warner Robins rates a 3 (i.e., safer than 3% of U.S. cities), while Macon’s mirror crime index is 8. The website, which gathers and analyzes community data from all over the country, includes among its clients the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Each Crime section per community report also calculates the mathematical chances of becoming a victim of violent crime, comparing the number of crimes reported through local, state and federal agencies per 1000 people. According to Neighborgoodscout.com, anyone in the state of Georgia has a 1 in 264 chance of falling prey to violent crime. Those who live in Warner Robins are given a 1 in 179 margin of risk of falling prey to violent crime. In Macon, that gap dangerously narrows to 1 in 113.
It’s a gap Sheriff Davis says his department will continue to focus on, but adds the importance of focusing on the positives. Rather than attempting to “unring the bell” of misperceptions, Davis and his department are committed to doing what they best: “To detect and find out who did it,” increasing outreach and crime prevention programs, and focusing in particular on property crimes.
“Macon has always seems like it’s had a grudge against itself,” says Sheriff Davis, who was born and raised here. “People from here will say, ‘this ain’t the Macon I knew.’ They want to accentuate the negative to advance their own agendas and crime is an easy thing to latch onto…it feeds on that perception.”
It’s a sentiment Crowley echoes, adding his family is thriving here, and that they embrace the diversity of living in a community that is “inner-woven with neighborhoods where you see different kinds of people. We’re so glad we moved here.”