The Violence Bred By Poverty Whether In Poorest Appalachia Or Poorest Philadelphia, Joblessness And Desperation Can Bring A Whole New Way Of Living - And Dying.

Posted: December 18, 1994

Dallas Bishop was murdered in her trailer in the hills of Kentucky.

Yusef Mininall was slain in his sleep in a drug house in West Philadelphia.

They didn't know one another. Dallas tended her marijuana plants in the rocky soil of Owsley County, the 19th poorest in America. Yusef smoked and sold crack 600 miles away in barren rowhouses on Lindenwood Street.

When bullets pierced their bodies, they were simply two drug dealers:

A 48-year-old grandmother.

An 18-year-old newspaper carrier.

They were as culturally different as could be. Dallas spoke in a meandering drawl; Yusef in the rhythm of rap. The closest neighbor to Dallas' trailer was one-quarter mile away; Yusef shared a block with 200 people.

But they had much in common. Poverty ruled their worlds. Desperation threaded their days. Prosperity diminished with each year as coal mining jobs dried up in the mountains and industries shut down or left the city. And in the end, when their body bags were zipped shut, no one could even see the obvious: One was black; the other, white.

For years, images of poverty, violence, drugs, teenage pregnancy and distress have been plucked from city neighborhoods and bullet-pocked housing projects and stereotyped as poor black men and women.

But the violence that springs from despair is not just an urban phenomenon. It is part of a culture of poverty that stretches across America, one that transcends skin color and is rooted in drugs, lawlessness and welfare. In some parts of the nation, these ills are just beginning to fester. In others, they have existed for generations.

In Dallas Bishop's Appalachian mountains, a slice of rural America is suffering through a crash of unemployment and hopelessness. In recent years, according to police statistics and six months of interviews with more than 100 people, there have been dramatic increases in drug dealing and violent crimes in Appalachia's depressed coal regions. Marijuana patches thrive in Harlan County, Kentucky. Metal detectors stand guard at Mount View High School in West Virginia. Drug-related slayings are being committed in hollows with names like Hell's Branch. And in communities such as Jeremiah and Black Snake, people sleep with guns nearby.

"People are frightened," said Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Brooks in McDowell County, West Virginia. "I'd say 70 percent of cars and trucks in this county are carrying weapons."

Between 1987 and 1992, police records show, criminal arrests doubled and tripled in many of eastern Kentucky's depressed coal counties. Assault arrests jumped by 300 percent in Perry County. In Owsley County, a farming community of 5,000 people, drug arrests jumped 375 percent, while narcotics were a factor in 70 percent of all murders. Arrests for violent crimes declined in 1993, but drug crimes rose as arrests by Kentucky's Marijuana Strike Task Force jumped from 558 in 1992 to more than 970 in 1994.

Across the mountains in West Virginia, the number of murders has increased steadily in all but one of the last six years. In 1984, a murder occurred every 4.2 days in West Virginia - by 1992, that average was one murder every 3.2 days.

Police say the large majority of violent crimes in Appalachia are committed by young, white men.

In Philadelphia, according to FBI statistics, the homicide rate in the poorest neighborhoods has increased by 300 percent since 1985. The large majority of those arrested are young, black men.

By contrast, FBI data show violent crime actually has gone down in middle America since 1985.

Where crime is rising or rampant is in the poorest communities - urban or mountain.

Many Appalachians say the problems of the city are becoming more common as the mountains increasingly rely on food stamps and government assistance.

"I've noticed more fear because we're in trouble and things are getting worse," said Judy Martin, director of Appalachian Communities for Children. ''There's more guns among children, and violence. . . . Things that used to be settled in nonviolent ways are now being solved in violent ways. There's more guns and deaths. There's a perception that things are getting worse, an anticipation that we're going down the wrong road."

Martin's words - spoken in Annville, Ky. - have a resonance 600 miles away in Philadelphia, where names of murdered children are spray-painted on brick walls. Violence in Appalachia has not reached the degree and randomness found in Philadelphia, where the murder rate is four times higher than West Virginia's. Appalachian children are not gunned down over a pair of Reeboks.

Yet for all their differences - from the color of their skins to the histories of their ancestors - people in the poorest communities of Appalachia and Philadelphia say they are bitter over what generations of poverty, isolation, and failed social programs have done to their worlds. Woven into their cultural differences are many common threads.

Both cultures historically share a higher-than-normal level of violence, stemming from land feuds in Appalachia and lack of economic opportunity in the city. In Philadelphia and in the mountains, there is lack of mobility and a sense of being kept from anything better. Traditional distrust of government and police runs high. Thousands of crimes go unreported in both places as revenge is plotted on a corner or along a creek.

In Appalachia, Dallas Bishop's son, Johnny, vowed to kill his mother's murderer, or be killed. In Philadelphia, the robbers who killed Yusef are caught in a code of the streets in which retaliation is exacted against whoever draws first blood.

"With the gun and with fighting, you build your name up to keep people off you," says Jesse Thomas of Knott County, Ky., who is serving a life sentence for murder. The talk is the same from Marvin Dorn, a recovering addict in North Philadelphia: "The kids don't have any kind of regard for life. It's a badge of honor for them to take somebody out. They're being taught that. This is being passed from generation to generation."

Poverty is the most pervasive misery shared between the city and the mountains. Appalachia's prosperity has been tied to the ups and downs of its only industry: coal. Since 1980, automation and recession have left 70,000 miners jobless in the core of the region's coal fields. Poverty rates have climbed to more than 40 percent; in some counties, one out of every two children is poor. In Owsley County, government assistance annually adds up to $26.1 million, or 52 percent of all personal income.

A similar pattern holds in Philadelphia, where 40 percent of all children live in poverty. The city has lost 250,000 jobs in 25 years. About 65 percent of residents around Broad and Poplar Streets in North Philadelphia live in poverty, and about 20 percent of all income there comes from government assistance.

Poverty has crept into every breath of their lives. When welfare checks come out the first of each month, the scene is virtually identical in both cultures. Flea markets - creating an underground economy for the poor - spring up on sidewalks along Butler and Broad Streets in Philadelphia and in the shadows of coal tipples near Panther, W.Va.

Many scouring those flea markets are single mothers whose ranks have dramatically increased in both places. Thousands of others lack an education. In many counties of eastern Kentucky, 40 to 60 percent of those over 25 did not graduate from high school. In North Philadelphia neighborhoods, half the people over 25 have no high school diploma.

Jerome Powell, a probation officer in rural West Virginia, talks about problems he faces.

"A lot of kids say they have guns or can get them like that. They want the weapons to protect themselves from other juveniles. They say everybody has them. 'I got to have one.' . . . In this area, it's poverty that's causing it. . . . They have no insight into the future. You've got kids 16 and 17 with no goals. Kids 18 come in here and can barely write their name. . . . (They) sit there and drink wine and smoke reefer all day. They do this and say, 'I don't have a chance.' "

He could just as well be talking about North Philadelphia.


Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Brooks of McDowell County and Deputy Sheriff Joe Jesus of Philadelphia have not met. They patrol different cultures miles apart. Yet, as they recount their stories, it becomes clear that what they face before sunrise every day is strangely alike.

It starts in the chill of darkness:

Joe Jesus drew quick breaths in his bulletproof vest as he checked his 9mm automatic and crouched in front of a rowhouse in a North Philadelphia neighborhood so dangerous, he said, school crossing guards should carry Uzis.

Jesus didn't know the Lively family, who lived inside. He suspected that Travis Lively, 25, was hiding there after trying to run down a state trooper. Jesus and seven other officers swarmed the stoop and the back of the house, their boots clicking down the alley. They banged and the door opened. The Lively family scattered through the house like thrown dice, insisting that Travis had fled.

Jesus - a wiry grandfather and deer hunter - knew better. He panned the scene and listened.

In the West Virginia mountains, 500 miles away, a domestic-violence call was scratching over the radio at 1:30 a.m. as Mike Brooks rushed for Coalwood, a small community that had withered since the coal mines closed. Brooks knew the Mullens family, knew the 17-year-old son, Michael, was trouble.

Brooks arrived at the house and walked up on the porch. He stepped inside. The youth's back was to him and there was quiet, the twitch of a muscle tightening. The youth spun forward and took a few steps and said, "I'm going to blow your f-ing head off." The .22-caliber automatic handgun rattled and Brooks burst backwards out the door and onto the porch. He scrambled to his patrol car and radioed for help.

Bullets peppered metal. Brooks was pinned down and alone.

The streets of North Philadelphia were still asleep when Jesus bolted up the stairs of the Lively home and searched bathrooms and bedrooms. People yelled. Travis Lively darted from a portable closet and tried to dive out a

window onto West Sharswood Street. Deputies tackled him and dragged him to the floor. The suspect's family stormed into the room and began shoving Jesus.

Lively's hands were bloodied from broken glass. Handcuffs clicked.

Jesus and his deputies nabbed their man.

Brooks was still behind his cruiser when help came from beyond the abandoned coal tipple. By 3:30 a.m., the Mullens boy - who stood 6-foot-1 and weighed 240 pounds - had fired more than 30 shots. Minutes later, Mullens, just shy of his 18th birthday, stepped in front of a bedroom window and was killed by a bullet fired 40 yards away by an officer using a deer rifle borrowed from a neighbor.

Brooks, a broad man with a clenched face who moves with the rhythm of a heavily loaded train, waited for the coroner.

"I don't know why the boy did what he did," said Brooks. "Maybe he wanted to let off steam before his 18th birthday. . . . I'll tell you one thing, there's some violent sons-of-bitches around here."

Brooks has seen a lot of violence, both calculated and random.

His brother, Roger, a coal miner, was shot to death in the Ponderosa Tavern in 1981. Today, Brooks patrols the 558 square miles of McDowell County, where he encounters everything from shootings and stabbings to booby-trapped marijuana fields. Growing marijuana has become such a big business, Brooks said, that drug dealers take every precaution to protect their crops: Some are surrounded by hidden bear traps; others, closed in with fences, are protected by rattlesnakes made more dangerous and difficult to detect because their rattlers have been cut off by the drug dealers.

"People are frightened," said Brooks as he wound his cruiser over mountain roads and into narrow, wooded hollows. "I was asked 10 times yesterday by people who wanted to know what stipulations they had to follow for carrying a gun in a vehicle. I think a lot of them are threatened, even to the point of being scared to go to the convenience store for milk and bread."

Guns, cherished in a region where a boy's first hunting rifle is his passage to manhood, have multiplied with the increasingly lucrative drug business. A recent raid on a McDowell marijuana field netted 568 plants worth $1.1 million.

"Why are people dealing drugs?" Brooks said. "Hell, poverty is why. Mom lives here. Dad lives there. A lot come from broken homes and are on fourth- and fifth-generation welfare. They see people with new clothes and jewelry, and they want it. . . . It's like what I say, poverty is not about skin color, and it's not about where you live. It's a learned helplessness."

Brooks' cruiser moved on toward Gary, once home to the largest coal- processing plant in the world. The eight-story building was torn down last September, squelching hopes that thousands of unemployed miners would return to work. Between 1976 and 1992, McDowell County's coal mining jobs fell from 9,261 to 1,328 or by 86 percent.

Jesus' Philadelphia beat is its own map of despair. From Tasker Homes to 10th and Butler, where broken-up rowhouses stew in poverty and where shut-down factories are torched and blackened, Jesus hunts some of the 50,000 criminal suspects awaiting trial.

He drives alleys and streets searching for people who don't want to be found. Just about every time his small hands spin the steering wheel around a corner, Jesus spots a site of bloodletting. There, at Ninth and Clearfield Streets, a Federal Express driver was gunned down. A few blocks over, a priest was beaten. Jesus turns the wheel again, passing Eighth and Indiana Streets, where a 15-year-old girl whom teachers called a budding poet was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Every street has a ghost. On the corners of Jesus' childhood, such as Eighth and Norris, where he played buck-buck and kick-the-can, the sounds of gunfire and the hawking of crack dealers bounce off the bricks. Sometimes Jesus has hunted guys he grew up with, including an old friend, a Vietnam veteran, who drifted into drugs.

"The area has gotten so much worse," said Jesus. "It's deteriorating, and the drugs are much heavier. The bad guys are more prone to violence. They're not really afraid of nobody. There's no respect for law no more. . . . Drugs are the major problem. How do you get your kids to go to college when they see Joe on the corner? He's dealing drugs and he's got a brand new Mercedes and $90,000 worth of gold around his neck."

The signs of decay could be seen from Jesus' unmarked van as he passed the Quaker Lace Factory - once home to 300 workers and now a scorched monument to a neighborhood where 64 percent of the people are poor. As Jesus drove, a man on the street offered to sell him drugs, oblivious to Jesus' bulletproof vest with SHERIFF in big black letters.

A few streets over, a child in pajamas stood shivering in a doorway as Jesus and other deputies handcuffed the man of the house and hauled him away on abuse charges. Down the street, a uniformed police officer sat asleep, mouth agape, in a patrol car with the engine running and lights on. To Jesus, the officer was more an exhausted gladiator than a slacking cop. "This is the worst area to work," Jesus said. "You can get 40 calls a night. It's unbelievably bad."

Pulling onto Lehigh Avenue, Jesus chortled when a rat darted in among the traffic. "Even the rats aren't afraid," he mused later.

Back in McDowell County, Brooks spat juice from his Copenhagen snuff into a Pepsi can and eased his cruiser behind a Chevy Cavalier. "There goes a drug dealer," he said. "We've been trying to get him for a while. Hell . . . we've got cars coming in from Detroit and West Palm Beach. We're facing assault rifles, AK-47s, and automatic handguns."

Brooks' department recently ordered shotguns. The county is so underfunded that it doesn't provide Brooks and his colleagues with health insurance. A few police officers in McDowell qualify for food stamps. The county has a child poverty rate of 50 percent, and, with the decline of coal mining, its population has shrunk from 100,000 to 34,000.

"It's bothersome to me," said Brooks, "I'm 26 years old. I'm married and have a son. I work ungodly hours. I get paid $795 every two weeks, and my wife just totaled our bills for this pay period and I have $2 left. I'm busting my a- and putting my life on the line, and people around here on welfare and selling drugs are riding around in new cars."

A hard rain fell in the mountains. Brooks drove past Kimball and Northfork. White steam spewed from a tipple, forming a big ghost in the unlit valley. He descended the hill into Welch, where stragglers hung on the corner near the post office. He shook his head and accelerated for a 10 p.m. dinner at Pizza Hut, where he met deputies Danny Mitchell and Habron Johnson. They ordered pizzas and traded stories about the night.

"I'll tell you," said Johnson. "Pharmaceutical drugs is about the biggest problem we got. Painkillers and Tylox. Percocets. You got people who were crushed in the coal mines in an accident and they got excuses to have that stuff. And then they turn around and sell it on the street."

Johnson lowered his face and then lifted a mirthless grin. "Kids today," he said, "They see Boyz N the Hood and those movies and they want to be that. Most of them have never been out of West Virginia, and that's what they want to be. It comes from having nothing; it comes down to survival, and it don't matter if you're black or white. It's happening on both sides."

The pizza was done; crumpled napkins lay in the box. Brooks - who keeps Polaroids of recent murders: a woman who shot her husband in the face with a shotgun, a 16-year-old girl found beaten on a railroad track - adjusted his holster and strode toward his cruiser to finish his shift.

Just after 6 a.m., sunlight reached into the Kentucky hollow where Dallas Bishop was sitting in her trailer next to two .38-caliber handguns. The day before, her son Johnny recalls, things got pretty rough when two men wanted to buy drugs and beer from Dallas on credit. She wouldn't give the one boy any, and he got mad and pulled a gun. Dallas, a dope dealer and bootlegger in these

hills for years, chased them off.

Dallas rose from the chair and put a kettle on the stove, passing the kitchen table, where $238 sat in a bowl. A 9mm was tucked in the bedroom, and so was Dallas' ledger, her bootlegger's bible, the book that held the names and details of $250,000 in transactions.

Someone pounded at the trailer door and Dallas' boyfriend and fellow bootlegger, James Brandenburg, ambled toward it.

Three men came through the January night and rapped on the door of the crack house in West Philadelphia.

Their sullen faces were well known to the house's bouncer, Henry Blakley, who peered at them through a peephole and then swiftly undid the switch lock and wooden latch to let them in. The house was chilly. It had no heat or plumbing, just the flickering of a kerosene lamp to illuminate the drug sales.

Two of the men who stepped inside pulled their guns close and briefly scanned the room. Court testimony later showed that everything at first was serene that night: Yusef Mininall, 18, the drug dealer on duty, was asleep on the couch. James "Peewee" Moore sat beside Mininall, cracking jokes as he waited to meet a girl named Amanda.

Clothes rustled. Two of the men reached for something.

Dallas' trailer door flew open. Bursts of a .44 magnum knocked Brandenburg to the linoleum floor. A bullet pierced Dallas' abdomen. Another struck her

wrinkled face. There was a scraping of shoes, then quiet. A footprint of a

Dollar Store sneaker smeared in the blood that gathered on the concrete-block steps outside the front door.

A pickup truck screeched off the muddy road, raced past the tobacco fields along Route 847 and fled into the rolling hills.

Mininall was still sleeping when, without a word and in quick, mechanical motions, the gunmen strode across the dimly lit room. Two shots were fired, police say. One bullet pierced Mininall's heart and severed his aorta, blood streaming over the couch. The gunmen then panned to Moore. One bullet entered his chest and another lodged near his bladder as he fell to the floor. The shooters took $100 off Moore and $1,200 from Mininall's pockets.

The gunmen burst out the door. Mininall never woke up.

Dallas Bishop, who supported six children by bootlegging in the hollows of America's 19th-poorest county - was dead, too.

"My momma . . . ran whiskey and pot," says Dallas' son, Johnny, a big man with droopy eyes who vows he's going to kill his mother's murderer. "She was alone when my daddy left, and that's how she raised us kids. We was poor. She had to support our family. That's what it was. You can drive around here and see there's no jobs."

Johnny was the next-to-youngest of Dallas' children. His father grew tobacco in Owsley County, where shacks and trailers border farm fields at the foothills of the Kentucky coal region. Johnny was 6 when his parents divorced. ''In 1970, Mom shot Dad in the leg after one of their fights," he said. ''They split up. Dad left and never paid child support, and Mom was left alone with us. She started bootlegging in the late 1970s."

When he was 16, Johnny quit school and spent 10 years laying railroad tracks. He hurt his back and quit. He followed Dallas into the booze and drug trade, but was not as wily as his mother and he got arrested and quickly gave it up. Lately, the dope business has been tugging at his mind. He knows of secret places of fertile earth above the broad-leafed tobacco fields where marijuana can flourish, but says he's leery of the quick-trigger tempers that come with such a life and how - since Dallas died - he's jittery about all the people in her past who may do him harm.

"No, I ain't scared," says Johnny, who has three children and three stepchildren. "When you're raised like I was, you get used to the violence and meanness. I just don't want nobody near my kids. But as for me, I'm not afraid to die."

James Moore knew selling drugs was hazardous, but he never figured his buddy, Yusef Mininall, would get blasted away in his sleep. And he never thought he'd spend the rest of his life paralyzed in a wheelchair. He and Mininall had been friends from childhood. They peddled crack and traveled with guns and prayed they'd always sneak by the odds.

The jury saw a humbled Moore at the trial of Mininall's killers. He testified from his wheelchair while his mother, Lula, held the microphone. ''They just came in shooting," Moore said. "I got hit and I fell and I got back up and I got hit a second time and I fell again and I couldn't get back up."

Moore's testimony helped convict David King and Andre Rollins.

Rollins had told police that he and some friends were hanging out hours before the shooting when one man suggested a robbery: " 'I'm broke. I'm trying to get some dough. . . . Why don't you come around and jam the spot?' That means stick up the spot."

"How much money be in there?" Rollins recalled one man asking.

"About $1,200," came the answer.

Today, Moore, 24, weighs about 100 pounds and can only move his arms and head. "His spirit isn't too good," said Lula, 61. "He's scared to go outside because he got shot. He wants the window shades up in his room. . . . He's got a tube in his penis. He's got a bag on his side. To be as young as he is, to be shot like that. . . ."

Moore and Mininall spent their youths racing through the Richard Allen homes, one of the poorest places in North Philadelphia. "We seen bad things happen," said Moore. "I seen little boys get killed."

As the middle of three sons, Moore knew the dangers of the drug game. "I knew a lot of drug dealers," he said. "But I never was really into it." He did find other employment, but he never stayed at the job very long; he worked as a printer, a car wash attendant, and a janitor at Veterans Stadium.

Moore, who now lives with his mother in the Passyunk projects in Philadelphia, turned to hawking crack. "Growing up in the project," he said, ''you don't really have a lot of money unless you sell drugs."

He says the Passyunk Homes seems just as violent as the Richard Allen Homes of his youth. The broken bricks and gunfire are interchangeable, said Moore, who sat in his wheelchair by the window.

"A lot of people get killed here, too," said Lula Moore. "You hear bullets all the time. You just stay locked up in the house. I go out only when I have to. I go shopping, and watch my little grandson go to school. . . . The (killers) can walk and get around. They still got life. My son got his life taken."

Johnny Bishop says he is never more than an arm's length away from a gun.

Every morning he wakes to chickens darting over gravel and a view of a rusted church bus, discarded transmissions, and junked cars peeking out of the grass. The lock on Johnny's trailer is a Donald Duck toothbrush stuck in the latch to keep the front door from blowing.

Johnny hustles up work when he can, hauling cabbage or fixing an engine. The sheriff recently handed Johnny a summons saying he's three payments behind on his rent. He balled the paper up and stuffed it in his pocket and said he wonders how a man is supposed to keep straight when the world keeps trying to bend him crooked.

"Say you got three kids and a family," says Johnny, squinting his eyes and figuring math in his head in a county where 60 percent of children live in poverty and the real unemployment rate is 50 percent. "So you put a little marijuana up on the hill. It'll feed and clothe your kids and get you through the winter. So you protect that and you'd kill someone who tried to take it."

Johnny twitches in his sleep, when the night stirs memories of Dallas and reminds him of what he says is the unfinished business of her slaying. One of the suspects in his mother's murder - also a drug dealer - committed suicide up on a mountain before police made an arrest. Johnny says police have not arrested the real killer.

"None of my family members sleeps solid," says Johnny, including the boy named Dallas, for Johnny's mother. "The murderer is still out there. We know who done it. And this will never be over until he kills us or we kill him. . . . I wake up with a gun and I go to bed with a gun. I got kids. And this case is unresolved. I will kill him. One day, when he's not with his family, I will kill him."

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