The Remaking of Vickery Meadow

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He cruises past Casa Verde, a complex where resettlement agencies don't place refugees. It's targeted by the city attorney's office for not doing enough to abate crime. Since the city enforcement, he says, it's gotten better. But it's still more trouble than Sunchase Square, he says. "They take care of each other," he says of the refugees. "It's a blessing that these people are here."

Driving through another cluster of apartments, a fourth-grade girl from India, with black, wavy hair hanging in her face, approaches the police cruiser. "First we were dancing, then we started singing," she says, beaming. She and two girls from Africa sing "I Believe I Can Fly."

A typical patrol night, the officer says, means going "from call to call to call," responding to burglary reports, car wrecks, family disturbances, loud music and child custody arguments. When he's not out responding, he's patrolling the Five Points area, where panhandlers linger outside of the stores near the two tiny women who sell elotes from a cart.

Crime in Dallas has decreased over the last eight years, and for the most part Vickery Meadow has kept pace, though it increased slightly from 2010 to 2011. Lieutenant Mackie Ham, whose territory covers Vickery Meadow, started his career in the area in the early 1990s.

"When we came on, crack was king," he says. Though the Five Points area is still among the city's most crime-ridden, the drugs and violence of the 1990s have given way to something safer, more stable. In 1990, there were 4,262 recorded serious offenses in Vickery Meadow, compared with 1,704 in 2010.

"We've always said that the neighborhood is at its tipping point — that something will happen; it's only a matter of time," says Angelina Avalos, the Executive Director of the Vickery Meadow Improvement District. "It's moving to a safer place to be." She points to development that has improved the area in the past few years. Run-down apartments were razed to make way for schools and future retail development. The Park Lane shopping center that houses Whole Foods sprung up on the west side of Vickery Meadow.

"It's changed, and it's evolving, " Ham says. "It will be interesting to see what it evolves to."

The patrol officer spots someone walking through the Towne Center parking lot with a 24-ounce can of off-brand beer and a metal pot of stew. "What are you doing, man?" the cop asks the man, who wears a ragged beard and messy jacket. The man, probably in his 50s, doesn't seem to understand much English, but he comprehends enough to mutter that he is from Thailand. The cop lets him walk on, but worries that if the man drinks too much, he'll be a robbery target. It's hard to tell whether he knows that it's illegal to walk around with a beer.

Although he brushed it off as "OK," the phone call Mali received that January Sunday was far from it. From the moment "anonymous" flashed on his phone, as it does with all incoming calls from Congo, he knew it would be bad news. Calls are too expensive for his phone to ring without purpose.

He picked up the call to find his childhood friend, a Congolese farmer, crying on the other end. Forty people in their village had been killed by a Rwandan militia.

His father called later with the same news. Though he's accustomed to the ongoing conflict, it never becomes easy to bear. "It was kind of a shock — very, very hard for me," Mali says. He was familiar with several of the people who died. His village — his former village — is a place where everyone knows everyone.

Hearing the news from his Vickery apartment, far removed from anyone he knows, he did the only thing he could do. He went to the library on his next day off, wrote a statement about the killings and sent it to a network of global human-rights organizations. His leisure time is spent doing the same advocacy work he did back home, including for his wife and children, whom he's working tirelessly to bring to the States. He compiles old emails and records of phone calls to show that he and his wife are still connected, however loosely, by infrequent and expensive phone calls and limited access to the Internet.

"Hopefully I will have them pretty soon," he says.

The agency wants to know how he will support his family if they come. He's not sure, to be honest. His schedule at the bookstore has become inconsistent lately. He's looking for additional work. He can't escape the guilt he feels for leaving them, but every time he glances at his babies on his cell phone, he remembers that he can't miss another birthday. His youngest son turns one in March.

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Leslie Minora