When we got back from Latvia I heard the tragic news that a good friend of mine from back in Savannah, Emily Pickels, had been killed in what appears to be a cruel and random act of violence. Emily and I had been friends since high school and she was like a little sister to me. We worked at the Davenport House Museum together and participated in a lot of their living history activities. Since we lived in the same suburb of Savannah, we would often carpool and would spent the 45 minute drive talking, laughing, and trading advice.
Emily, or "Pickels" as I often called her, was full of life and spunk, and as she got older she really came into herself. I was studying in France when she went to college, and she would skype me and tell me all about her new life in college. It always made me grin to see her number pop up on my phone because I knew zany Emily would have an interesting story to tell.
She eventually took a break from school and came back to Savannah, where she found work as a tour guide. That girl was a hard worker, no doubt. Last time I saw her, she had FIVE jobs. Five! That was the kind of person she was-determined to make her own way, pay her own bills, be her own woman. She took the break from college until she could save money to pay for it herself. There was a hardiness about Emily, and even when things got tough, she never complained or whined. She'd make a joke, shrug it off, and get back on track.
I also loved that she was so open and honest about things. We'd always laugh and say, "Geez girl! You have no filter!" But that's what was great about her! She told it like it was. She didn't take crap and she didn't sugarcoat. It was exactly what I needed sometimes, and even though I rolled my eyes when she'd tell it like it was, I was listening.
When I came back to Savannah for the wedding a few months ago, Emily was definitely high up on my list of people to visit back home. When I attended the DH's Garden Party, she spotted me as I walked in the gate, let out a shriek of delight and ran through the crowd to tackle hug me. It was the best "Welcome Home" I could've asked for. She of course looked amazing-she grew up into a beautiful woman and always looked so stunning and glamorous. I felt like every time I saw her I was saying, "You are always so glam, Pickels!"
I'm so happy she was able to make it to my wedding, to dance with me and our friends and I'm so glad I have so many great pictures of her looking beautiful, laughing and talking and tearing up the dance floor. At least I have that.
The last time I saw Emily was my last night in Savannah. We ran into her unexpectedly downtown at a bar everyone liked. She sat down for a drink, gave me a hug, and we promised we'd meet up again the next time I came home. If only I'd known then, huh?
If you want to read the news story on her death, here it is. I don't want to talk about it myself, because I want this to be about her life, not her death.
Still, it makes me angry that my hometown of Savannah, Georgia has such an incredible crime problem that they REFUSE to deal with. I lived there almost 10 years, and each year the crime gets worse and no one says anything. They want to keep their image of a cute little historic city, they want the tourists to come, they want the SCAD and AASU and SSU students to move into the cheap apartments that are for rent. They want parents to keep sending money to their college kids, and they don't want anyone scared off.
But ask anyone who lives downtown or has lived downtown, and they'll tell you they've got a story. Just in the years I went to college in Savannah I had friends robbed, mugged, car jacked, house broken in to, and murdered-first Jonathan David Brazell, a friend of mine from college who was gunned down as he walked home from a friend's house. He committed no crime, he was just a sweet, big guy who kept to himself and liked living without a car. Was it a crime to walk home by himself that night? No, but someone thought it was reason enough to shoot him and leave him for dead.
Now, not even a year after Jon's death, I get news of Emily being gunned down as she sat outside her house. Listen, Savannah, these weren't people involved in bad things, as the Police Chief so insensitively implied a few weeks ago during a press conference following Emily's murder. These were people LIVING THEIR LIVES and they were targeted for no reason. And as much as the City would have you believe these were rare occurrences, they weren't. Anyone living downtown can tell you that crazy stuff happens all the time. But we brush it under the rug, or insist they must have been "up to something" or the city government gets bogged down fighting over politics or personal agenda or issues that are 50 years old.
So when is enough enough, Savannah? How many more friends do I have to lose before you decide that this isn't the city you want anymore? How many more people have to be killed or injured or robbed before the tourists stop coming back? Or the students? Or before the locals start moving away? We can't just give up our city to criminals. It's time to take action, and I mean REALLY take action.
The Police are always claiming that they're "doing everything they can" but I would disagree. I went to college in Savannah, and I spent a lot of time doing what 20something college kids do-i.e. partying at night downtown. I NEVER felt safe downtown. To say there is a "police presence" there is laughable. The only police I ever saw were the ones posted outside the most popular bars and clubs to make sure there wasn't underage drinking. Occasionally a police car would drive by. But where were the patrols just walking around? Keeping an eye out? Downtown Savannah definitely has a feeling of "get away with what you can until you see blue lights-then scatter". On multiple occasions I saw things get out of hand downtown-people getting into fights, getting too drunk, acting crazy. Too many people, too much booze, and no authority in sight to keep them in check. You think you're doing a good job Mayor Edna Jackson and Police Chief Willie Lovett? I would invite you to go in plain clothes to City Market or Congress Street or Ellis Square around 1 am on a Saturday night. Tell me how safe you feel.
And this is in the populated area of downtown!! Imagine how the rest of the city feels at night?
Look, I don't know what it's like to be mayor or police chief, but OBVIOUSLY something needs to change. What you've been doing just simply ISN'T ENOUGH. People are DYING, the city is UNSAFE, and you all are more worried about making money off Saint Patrick's or whether or not to sell alcohol on Sundays than the important issues.
So Emily, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your life was cruelly cut short at 21 years old. I'm sorry I didn't get to dance at YOUR wedding. I'm sorry the city you loved and represented so well didn't do enough to stop criminals from doing things like this. I'm sorry I never got to go on one of your awesome Segway tours, because I bet you were hilarious and informative.
I love my hometown of Savannah. It's a beautiful, wonderful place with charm, culture, and amazing people. But these recent events make me sick. And it's time for some real change.
Rest in Peace, Emily Jean Pickels.
March 29, 1991 - September 1, 2012