First they got Trammell to pay for thousands of dollars worth of bright streetlights that shine on the complex at night. Then Verizon donated cell phones so the neighborhood-watch group could alert police and each other at the first sign of crime. Today, the women do this 24 hours a day. By their account the initiative is paying off.
Since October, the five women who call themselves the bold "5-O" of the Walmsley Terrace Tenants' Association have put the troubled complex, with its 10 buildings and 132 apartments, on the map.
The small group of seemingly unlikely crime stoppers has convinced Richmond Police and city officials that Walmsley Terrace matters. Its people want peace.
Today, Cox says, crime is down 70 percent. The women work closely with the Richmond Police, blowing the whistle at signs of trouble with a phone call to the 2nd Precinct. Cars are towed when "visitors" don't park in the allotted spaces. And police come when they witness anything suspicious. Drug dealers and lurking cars carrying those who want drugs have come to know the women and, remarkably, fear them.
"There used to be six people at a time running up to cars like a pack of dogs for crack, heroin, pot," says Trammell. Some had even approached her city car, she says, looking for drugs before noticing the city logo emblazoned on the side.
Mease, Trammell's assistant, says he remembers when police were reluctant to venture into Walmsley Terrace, a South Side neighborhood so rough that murders were nearly routine. Nobody seemed to know a way to clean it up and stop the crime, he says.
Just last year the dealing was so bad, city officials targeted the area for its Community Assisted Public Safety (CAPS) initiative, which aims to rid urban blight where crime occurs. Coming under CAPS could have meant condemning the property and forcing its residents out often with nowhere to go.
Most tenants at Walmsley Terrace are low-income women with children, Cox says. Only about 30 of them pay the $435 monthly rent. The rest receive government subsidies like welfare and Section-8 vouchers. The majority of them are single. Male visitors and boyfriends, she says, took over the complex years ago and brought in guns and drugs. Those outsiders are who threaten the complex's future, Cox says.
"What these women don't realize is that after everything is said and done, the men will be in jail or dead and the women will have to fend for themselves," she notes.
The five women of the tenants' association, who range in age from 48 to 67, decided to do something about this, too. Every day they try to convince the younger women who harbor criminals that they're contributing to the ruin of the neighborhood. They hope to build confidence among them to kick the men out. And if they don't, the small but urgent task force will. Members of the tenants' association take shifts to constantly patrol the complex with cell phones in hand. They've repeatedly brought in Trammell in her city car and the 2nd Precinct Richmond Police Capt. Peggy Horn to underscore their alliance.
"It was a hellhole," Trammell says. She points to the only exit and entrance to the complex. "There is one way in and one way out" of the complex, she says. "These women have stopped a whole lot of traffic and cut the crime."
Still, there is work to be done. Regularly, the streetlights are shot out and need replacing. Plenty of drug deals still take place, Cox says regretfully. "We've gotten rid of the main players but we still need to catch their cronies," she says. "We've got about 30 percent to go" to fix the problem. She says the trouble is confined mostly to one building.
"See them?" Cox says, pointing to a nearby unit where doors close and blinds are quickly drawn. "They're trying to scatter." There are a few stubborn ones who she's convinced still stir trouble, she says.
"We kind of feel empowered," Cox explains. "They see us coming and it's like Moses parting the Red Sea." At this, Cox, who is president of the tenants' association and her vice president, Josephine Crawley, smile at one another, communicating a kind of consensus: It won't be long before the unwelcome are arrested and gone for good.
Cox recently applied for a grant through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She hopes to get money to build a new playground and community center.
Last year Walmsley Terrace celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas as an organized neighborhood with free turkeys and presents presented by the tenants' association, and paid for by the city. At Easter, baskets full of treats were given to kids. "Everything we're doing is a first," Cox says.
The most visible sign of the group's success is children playing outside. They never did before, Cox says. Now that it is safer, kids are everywhere. Cox says there are 260 children living with their mothers throughout the complex.
Outside the gray buildings there's little room to play except in the parking lot or the small, mostly dirt-filled lots. Kids of all ages run up to Cox and Crawley and hover about as the women walk their turf. Some grab Trammell's hands and pull her down, asking all kinds of questions.
"We've got intelligent kids here," Cox says. "They've got a lot more to do than sit in a chair outside and watch some drug deal go down." S