Long Reach residents pointed fingers and butted heads on topics such as parental skills and the rights of teen-agers last night during a discussion of crime issues mediated by Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay.
Many of the topics raised by the 50 to 60 people in attendance focused on teens loitering near the village center.
But the octagonal lunch tables in the Long Reach High School cafeteria, where the two-hour discussion was held, were devoid of teen-agers until just before 9 p.m., when about a dozen streamed in - not to address the group, but to talk with two youth advocates who were there.
At least a half-dozen residents called for a curfew, but others, including Livesay, said it would not be fair to hard-working teen-agers who may be coming home late from a job.
Residents also disagreed on whether neighbors should try to reprimand area youths.
A 27-year Long Reach resident who said she fractured her wrist while trying to get away from a group of young people said she wasn't going to let teen-agers intimidate her anymore.
"I walk with my cane now," Annie L. Davis said during the meeting, her face contorting in anger. "And I tell the hoodlums, `I'm going to take you down like David took Goliath.'"
Others said parents should be the only people to punish neighborhood youths.
"If we can't even get along in this room tonight, there's a real problem," Livesay said.
In his opening comments, Livesay said the community and police needed to get their "head out of the sand" about crime problems that he said have re-emerged in Long Reach in the past four months.
"We've seen a significant increase in crime in Long Reach," he said. "And - let's be honest - there seems to be a lot of tension between the Hispanic and African-American communities."
County Councilman C. Vernon Gray echoed some of the chief's comments by saying that the community "must address problems forthright and without excuses."
Gray stayed for the first half-hour, until he had to leave for another meeting, and four of the five members of the Long Reach village board of directors were also absent because of a conflicting meeting.
Police have been working to reduce crime in Long Reach this summer by placing more foot and bicycle patrol officers and undercover officers in and near the village center, Livesay said.
"It has had an impact," the chief said of the extra assignments. "But the problem is I can't afford to keep doing this."
One event from this summer may have triggered renewed concern about crime in Long Reach: A man was stabbed after 15 to 20 people pursued him and his friends from Long Reach Village Center to a residence on Airy Brink Lane, police said.
Police arrested Kenyon Jafari Alphonso, 20, of the 5700 block of Yellowrose Court in Long Reach on Aug. 22 and charged him with the stabbing. He has been held without bail in the Howard County Detention Center.
One of the most outspoken participants in the discussion was a man who works for a regional youth-advocacy program called Motivational Action Heroes.
"Don't bash my kids - do something about them," said the brightly clad Anthony Murrill, otherwise known as "Metro Man." "It's a jungle out there, and kids are swinging through it every day."
He called for more community programs and for residents to try to understand the teens in the area.
Pfc. Lisa D. Myers, the Police Department's community liaison for the Long Reach HotSpot program, said police have several youth programs that have been funded through grant money.
"But it's not cool for these kids on the corner to be doing activities associated with the police," she said. "That's why we need help from the community."
Police officers and the youth advocates exchanged numbers before the meeting ended.
Last month, Gray said the HotSpot program, which started in Long Reach in 1997, has been successful, but that young people know when officers will be at the police satellite office at the village center.
"Officers can't be in the hot spots all the time, and criminals know that," Gray said. "I've always believed that citizens who live in the community are the first line of defense to illegal activities."
Gray said that belief led him to call for last night's meeting.
One of the racially charged incidents to which Livesay alluded during last night's meeting might have been the shooting Feb. 29, 2000, outside 25-year-old Oscar Antonio Lopez-Sanchez's Long Reach apartment complex. The El Salvadoran immigrant was left paralyzed from the chest down. A family member attended last night's meeting.
Hispanic community members read three letters during the meeting that described what they perceive as an overwhelming amount of crime that immigrants face.
Police have organized another meeting for Thursday - also at Long Reach High, at 7 p.m. - to more closely address those concerns.