City divide fuels violence

Published 12:29 am Friday, October 26, 2007

VIDALIA — A number of recent territory-related fights among some Vidalia youth have some officials concerned.

In recent weeks, there have been several altercations between groups of teens from “uptown” and “downtown” Vidalia.

“Uptown” Vidalia is on the north side of Carter Street, and reportedly ranges from the old courthouse to the river.

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“Downtown” is on the south side of Carter Street, and reportedly extends from the police station on John Dale Drive to the riverfront.

Last Friday a fight broke out at Vidalia High School, and Principal Rick Brown was thrown against a vending machine during the altercation, injuring his arm.

At the time, rumors of weapons being used circulated in town, but Brown said they were completely untrue.

The matter was handled in-house at Vidalia High and several students were suspended.

The next night, a related fight broke out at the carnival that was then on the riverfront, Police Chief Billy Hammers said.

“So far, it’s just been a few fist fights and there have not been any weapons involved,” he said.

Reports of the teens using gang symbols are blown out of proportion, Hammers said.

“A lot of young people do that these days without any real reason,” he said. “If you watch on television, even young professional football players will do (a gang symbol) when the camera is on them.”

For the 10 years Brown has been principal, students have talked about “uptown” or “downtown” divisions, but the talk has not resulted in violence, Brown said.

“It has become more of a concern for me and more adults over the last few months have expressed concern about the situation,” he said. “Until all the adults in the community get on board and take some responsibility and realize that their kids might be part of that problem, we won’t be as effective in dealing with it.

“Right now, it’s not a big problem, and we’re hoping to nip it in the bud,” Brown said. “We’re trying to emphasize to the students that when you grow up and join the real world, you get a job and you don’t hang around trying to claim different areas of town.”

Hammers said he has orchestrated a meeting for students involved in the fights and their parents so the opposing sides can work out their differences early next week.

“We’re trying to cut this off before weapons get involved,” Hammers said. “It’s not a big problem, but I’m not passing it off as nothing. It’s certainly concerning.”

When questioned, the students involved couldn’t expain how the uptown-downtown division got started, Brown said.

“When I have asked them why they’re against this other group, there’s nothing they can put their finger on, no point of origin they can claim,” he said. “They don’t know how it started.

“Maybe it’s because of the inclination to feel like you’re part of a group,” he said.