Bonfires, gatherings disturb rural communities

Published 1:10 pm Thursday, April 20, 2023

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Some Lowndes County residents and people living in other rural communities are having trouble sleeping. 

The situations keeping them up at night are due to noise, traffic, and the fear of violence resulting from private bonfires and other local gatherings where food, music and other entertainments sometimes lead to noise disturbance, high columns of traffic, and on occasion violence, shootings, and substance abuse.

Citizens report residential neighborhoods are experiencing disturbance from gatherings hosted by neighboring landowners. In certain situations, guns, alcohol, and other substances are brought to the party, creating a volatile mix when tempers flare and disagreements arise.

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Lowndes County Sheriff Chris West said the residents across the county have experienced disturbances from private gatherings.

“We are having this happen county wide,” West said. “In fact, all sheriff’s offices are dealing with it. In our rural counties – Lowndes, Wilcox, Butler, Dallas – there’s nothing for children to do. There’s no activities, nothing going on throughout the summer. And property owners who invite people to their homes, they are inviting down all of their social issues too.”

Disturbances are not usually created by local citizens, West said. Oftentimes, the danger comes from people outside the local area.

“A lot of the people that come to these events, the majority of them are not from Lowndes County,” West said. “They’re from adjacent counties and communities. So, we get a lot of gangbangers, the drug scene people and all that. A lot of those guys are pretty dangerous.” 

Burkeville resident Barbara Evans said these events create more than just noise disturbance. In her neighborhood, residents have experienced noise, street-clogging traffic, and litter as well.

“There’s much more than noise,” Evans said. “There’s traffic that has actually impeded people from getting home from work. The other day, there was trash all over the road and some of us women have been picking up trash for years. We just can’t keep this up.”

County Commissioner Robert Harris said the county is working on solutions. 

“We do have problems throughout the county,” Harris said. “There have been incidents with gun violence in our counties and adjacent counties. We want people to be able to go out and have recreational type fun but we also want them to go home to their families.”

The commission recently passed a measure to require landowners hosting such gatherings where admission is charged to purchase a business license. Harris indicated the measure may cut down on those operating an income-generating business activity without a license or proper insurance.

“In order to have a business in Lowndes County or in Alabama, you must have a business license,” Harris said. “If something happens and they have not complied with the law then whatever enforcement agency which handles that must enforce that. And, if they are operating without a business license, more than likely they don’t have insurance. There’s a liability in that too.”

West said local law enforcement agencies are working together to address the issue. Landowners can face misdemeanor charges when hosting gatherings that get out of hand.

“There’s disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace,” West said. “Those are only misdemeanors but if [people] keep going to jail on these, Judge Johnson can make it harder and harder for them.”

Evans said some residents seem afraid to speak out, but are looking for solutions to bring peace back to their communities.

“What usually happens here in rural areas is that people just learn to live with things like this,” Evans said. She said she hopes the commission’s measure will have some impact on the situation.

West said he welcomes residents to come forward with ideas and solutions, so that communities can enjoy gatherings in a fun and peaceful way.

“I welcome ideas from community leaders,” West said. “We want to circumvent problems so that there can be peace in the community and we can have a venue where people enjoy themselves.”