Arriving at Banner Street, one finds it closed — and beyond the barricade a fire truck and police cars are visible as uniformed officers and other public safety personnel have converged on the scene.
However, no fire or other emergency situation is occurring, but an old-fashioned block party. Instead of a frantic situation, the police and others are in laid-back mode, conversing among themselves and with neighbors in the area who are occupying lawn chairs while enjoying a casual get-together on a steamy summer evening.
That is further reinforced by the presence of tents filled with tables of food outside Fellowship Baptist Church and the sight of a smoking grill poised to receive hamburgers and hot dogs.
Pretty soon, the underlying reasons for Tuesday night’s first-ever gathering on Banner Street becomes clear, one that involves all the folks gathered and the celebratory mood that prevails.
Residents of the Banner Street area are out in force on the heels of a Neighborhood Watch group recently being formed there — reflecting a concept that relies on people looking out for each other and joining with law enforcement and others to make communities safer.
“This is National Night Out,” Danny Adams said in reference to an event observed around the country earlier this month which was continued in Mount Airy Tuesday night in an unofficial way, and with a twist.
“This is like a National Night Out for Neighborhood Watch.”
Crimes spark action
Adams, a resident of the neighborhood who is retired from the Winston-Salem Police Department — with which he served in a crime-prevention capacity — said a need emerged in the Banner Street area for everyone to unite for a common purpose.
“We had some break-ins in the neighborhood,” Adams explained, which led to contacting the Mount Airy Police Department about launching the watch group.
“Our Neighborhood Watch started in May,” said Joan Godwin, who co-chairs the group along with Eric Hiatt.
Thirty-one people attended its first meeting.
“We’ve had about five meetings so far,” said Gerald Daniel, a community officer with the Mount Airy Police Department who helped the residents organize.
Daniel lamented the fact that in earlier times, people in a neighborhood all knew each other and watched everyone’s backs, but now fewer people embrace such a communal approach. Sometimes a family might not even know the name of someone living next door.
At the same time, Neighborhood Watch groups have become less prominent than they once were, with Daniel able to list only one other in Mount Airy.
But the recent formation of the group in the Banner-Penn Street area is renewing the value of such efforts, which Daniel said could spur a resurgence of Neighborhood Watch in other parts of town.
“I hope so,” he said.
“If we can have people in the neighborhoods looking out for each other again, it will make the city safer,” Daniel added. “This is not a new concept.”
The idea behind Neighborhood Watch is simple — given than law enforcement officers can’t be everywhere at once, residents provide extra pairs of eyes to monitor and report unlawful activities.
“A lot of it was teaching them how to be a good witness,” Daniel said of working with the members of the Banner Street group regarding the importance of obtaining good descriptions of vehicles and people who might be up to no good.
“The more eyes we have in the neighborhood, the better it is for us,” he said.
“And it’s working.”
The actions of group members in reporting the presence of a suspicious vehicle recently led to drug charges being filed against four people in a parking lot at Fellowship Baptist Church.
Party takes shape
Godwin said the initial success of the Neighborhood Watch group, coupled with the recent celebration of National Night Out across the country, sparked the idea for Tuesday night’s block party.
Although Pilot Mountain and Dobson held National Nights Out this month, Mount Airy doesn’t officially observe the annual event, which Tuesday’s party was an attempt to rectify, she said.
Along with the Mount Airy Police Department, other public safety personnel were invited, such as members of the Surry County Sheriff’s Office, the city Fire Department and the Surry County EMS.
Godwin said a backdrop of violent incidents involving law enforcement officers that have occurred over the past year elsewhere in the country provided another reason for Tuesday’s party.
“We decided to show our appreciation to these people because so much negative publicity has been given to the police across the U.S.,” said Godwin, who believes citizens in this area are fortunate to have a quality law enforcement presence.
The idea for the block party caught on like wildfire, with donations of food and other necessities made by local businesses and individuals to make it a reality.
Banner Street was closed from Penn Street to Sunset Drive to accommodate the occasion.
“I think this is great, not only for our support but this community here,” Officer R.G. Boles of the city police department said. “It’s a lot of good fun to get together for the same cause.”
Other city officers agreed.
“It’s was very nice of them to do this,” Stacy Inman, also a member of the Community Police Division, said of the party put on by the neighborhood.
“I’m happy as I can be about it,” Daniel said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.