Residents can no longer be complacent

By David Stevens: CNJ Editor

Police warned us in September 2003. They presented a petition to city commissioners alleging Clovis is “one of the most dangerous places in the state to live.”

Mostly, we waved them off. They were just a bunch of drama queens, we told ourselves, their credibility in question because of their agenda, which was all about getting more money.

Clovis dangerous? Maybe more dangerous than Portales, which was averaging one homicide a decade. Most eastern New Mexico-area residents were more concerned with getting run over by a milk truck than becoming victims of violent crimes in 2003.

That was before two Portales senior citizens were burned to death in the trunk of their car.

That was before a 10-year-old Clovis boy was shot as he slept in his bed.

That was before a 30-year-old mother of two was found naked in a ditch, strangled to death.

Those deaths all occurred in 2005.

Suddenly the cops’ cynicism doesn’t seem so far out there. Has our community grown into a dangerous place to live?
We noticed, and we were concerned, when the number of homicides in Clovis began to rise five years ago, from one each in 1999 and 2000 to four in 2001 … then five in 2002 … six in 2003 … 10 in 2004.

But we told ourselves the murder victims were partly to blame for their fate, that most of us didn’t have to worry so long as we stayed away from bad company, hard drugs and certain places after dark.

And then Odis and Doris Newman were sitting at home in March when they were robbed and beaten and burned to death southeast of Portales.

A few months later, Bo Chunn, who ranched in the Roosevelt County community of Causey — population 50 — was shot to death through a window in his house. He was 71.

Carlos Perez was sleeping when somebody shot him through his bedroom window in September. He was a fifth-grader at Clovis’ Cameo Elementary.

Laura McNaughton was a waitress at a Clovis restaurant. She brought snacks to her daughters’ school and took classes at Wayland Baptist University and had a lot of friends who described her as perennially cheerful. She left work at 10 p.m. on Dec. 9 and turned up dead the next afternoon. Police say she was killed by a patron from the restaurant.

Joseph Phillips was in Clovis to sell photo packages at the mall when he was shot on Christmas Eve by a man police said he didn’t even know.

The Christmas weekend was among the most violent in recent memory, police said, with a rape, stabbing and another shooting also reported.

So now we’re concerned.

Now we know that drug addicts and dealers aren’t the only victims of violence around here. The pictures on the front page of the newspaper aren’t always strangers anymore.

We’ve had six homicide victims in Curry and Roosevelt counties this year. More frightening is that police accounts of what happened suggest the victims were mostly minding their own business when they were attacked.

We know it could have been us.

So what do we do about it?

We don’t panic. That “most dangerous place” label does not pass statistical muster just yet. We’re still a community known more for its all-night softball tournaments than its prison population.

But 2005 has taught us that we need to lock our doors. We need to pay attention to our surroundings when we go out after dark. We shouldn’t carry large wads of cash in our pockets.

We need to watch out for each other.

Those were good ideas all along. Now, with all that’s happened, we simply don’t have a choice anymore.

David Stevens is editor for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. He can be contacted at 1-800-819-9925. His e-mail address is: david_stevens@link.freedom.com