SAN ANTONIO — When shots exploded in the darkness early Friday morning in the 300 block of Belmont, people as far as three miles away reacted with alarm in social media posts.
Many expressed fear at the sheer volume of shots they heard in two separate volleys.
The shooting, which killed 66-year-old Clarence Jones and wounded two other people, was recorded on a number of home surveillance cameras in the blocks surrounding the attack near East Commerce and Walters.
Mark Antonitis has a home several blocks away near Polaris and Center Streets. His cameras clearly recorded what sounds like a couple of hundred rounds being fired. Initially, San Antonio Police said they found about 75 shell casings in the street near the home. But neighbors, whose homes sustained collateral damage in the attack, said bullets were flying from more than one direction.
One officer said residents called for days because they continued to find shell casings up and down the block.
The property manager said bullets pierced the home’s electrical and water systems, making the house uninhabitable for now. The front windows are all shattered. The front door is riddled with bullets. The walls have large gauge holes in both the wood and metal skin of the home. The front stoop bears witness marks from the impact caused by large caliber rounds.
Neighbors said the rental property has seen a revolving door of problematic tenants. Property managers said no matter how many times they have cleaned the property up, problems return because a vacant, wide open home next door is constantly overrun by criminals engaging in drug sales and prostitution.
Antonitis, who launched a bootstrap crime prevention effort he calls Project Safe Polaris, said he and his neighbors are tired of the crime and they are actively fighting to take back their local streets.
“We're making a difference by banding together to drive out an endemic problem that is decades old,” Antonitis said.
The SAPD SAFFE (San Antonio Fear Free Environment) program and the District 2 City Council office have been providing a great deal of help, Antonitis said.
Antonitis said the SAFFE Officer described the long-entrenched problem as multi-faceted.
“He described it as two decades old. People do business here. They do prostitution. They do drugs. And we have endless evidence of that but what was difficult to understand was why no one was doing anything about it,” Antonitis said.
Antonitis said they asked for advice, and then acted on what they were told.
“He told me and then we did it and it was as simple as that and it has made a huge difference and he has made a huge difference,” Antonitis said.
Buy-in from everyone in the area is one key to success, according to Antonitis.
“We have everybody in this neighborhood: The people who are renters, the people who are owners, the people who live here, the people who have their lives here. For 20 years they've been under assault by a criminal element that will simply not give up,” Antonitis said. But, he added he believes the tide has turned. “Well you know what? We're starting to beat them,” Antonitis said.
Antonitis said they are making progress because when people see something, they’ve been saying something.
“We've created a team of people who are up day and night. Fortunately we have two people who are night owls, who like to stay up until 4 o'clock in the morning when the action really becomes interesting. So, we're making a difference there,” Antonitis said, adding they are a determined lot. “Those people call the police and we have all agreed that we will not put up with people sitting here, standing here, blocking traffic, selling drugs, selling themselves.”
One delivery driver who did not want to comment on the record said his route includes Polaris and he is constantly stopped by people offering goods or services.
The driver said “Just yesterday I was trying to make the turn off Polaris and some people stopped my progress. A half-naked woman offered me [a sex act] for $10, but then she dropped the price to $5.”
The man said there was a man with the woman who offered to sell him "a rock."
“I assumed he meant crack cocaine so I called the police,” the delivery man said, adding “They literally stopped in front of me and I had to wait until they moved out of the way before I could turn.”
Antonitis said one project they are working on now is an effort to install traffic calming devices on Polaris, that might cut down on the amount of traffic from outsiders who use the street to buy drugs or solicit for sex.
Antonitis said the District 2 council office has been helping with a petition drive to make the idea a reality. “There's a process. You can't just snap your fingers and make things happen,” Antonitis said, proud of the progress they’ve made, saying there will be a neighborhood meeting on Tuesday for neighbors to begin to craft what they will do next to keep solving problems in Lincoln Heights.
The next organizational meeting the group is supporting will take place Saturday, April 23 at 9 a.m. at the SAPD East substation. A new Citizens On Patrol class is being formed.
More information about SAPD participation programs can be found here.