Byko: Is race involved in this war between neighbors in Fern Rock?

Deborah Young stands next to a sign she made after what she claims was vandalism by her North Warnock Street neighbor, Beverly Easterling.

A THIN WALL separates warring rowhouse neighbors on a block of North Warnock Street in the Fern Rock section of the city.

Two intelligent but belligerent retirees argue about almost everything, from when their war started to what the issues are.

What they share? A feeling of dissatisfaction with the service they got from the oft-called 35th Police District, and that each is living in hell.

When next-door neighbors are at war, a reset button is often impossible.

One of the women, Deborah Young, is so angry about the neighbor - and with the police and the district attorney - that she's put up a large sign on her front lawn to complain.

In the most recent incident, she says, her next-door neighbor, Beverly Easterling, threw bleach on an American flag that Young displays outside her home. The flag belongs to her son, a U.S. Air Force sergeant, who had flown it overseas.

In March 2011, Young spent $400 on security cameras to surveil her property because she says Easterling was trespassing. The cameras did not capture the alleged bleach incident, Easterling hotly denies throwing bleach on the flag, and she complains that the cameras invade her privacy.

The two senior citizens don't even agree on when the feud began.

Young says 1995, Easterling says 2006.

Easterling, 76, has lived in her home for 44 years, and before retirement had several jobs, including as a tax examiner for IRS. She is divorced and has three adult children.

Before she retired, Young, 68, worked for law firms as a word processor. A single mother, she has one son.

Their most serious confrontation was six years ago, following a dispute over a peach tree, of all things.

The branches of Easterling's tree were hanging over onto the property of her neighbor on the other side, Crystal Cryor.

Cryor tells me that her boyfriend trimmed the branches hanging over the property line one evening.

Easterling insists that Young did the trimming and then stabbed her with the pruning shears after they got into an altercation. Cryor says that "there were words, but no touching."

They all agree that Easterling called police. Young was arrested and charged, even as she proclaimed innocence.

At her preliminary hearing, Young was offered Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a pre-trial intervention program.

Although she was "on the fence," Young took it on the advice of her law firm, got a year's probation, after which her record was expunged.

"Now she goes around the block telling people a criminal lives here," Young complains.

Easterling says the neighbors have a right to know about Young's arrest.

Young quotes Easterling as saying the cops will believe her because she's white, and Young suspects there may be something to that. She has filed reports with the Department of Justice, with Internal Affairs, and once wrote a letter to former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey that resulted in a visit from a deputy commissioner, she says.

Easterling has called the 35th District numerous times, plus other agencies, while Young says she should not have been arrested. The Police Department declined to make anyone from the 35th available for interview.

Each woman knows how to make her voice heard, but each feels that no one is listening.

I did, for more than four hours in separate interviews.

I asked Young to show me the worst thing she's recorded on her closed-circuit system.

"None of these things are 'bad' bad," she says.

Young had placed a "Jesus Loves You" sticker on a handrail on her front steps. The surveillance camera shows a hand, which came from next door, putting scratch marks through the sticker.

"I don't know whose hand that was," says Easterling.

The damage was slight, but why would anyone have to put up with even slight damage from a neighbor?

They traded charges of trashing each other's yards. Easterling takes personal offense to a fence Young put up between their properties. Cryor also put up a fence, although she remains on speaking terms with Easterling, most of the time. Easterling says Cryor conspires with Young against her.

Listening to them, I felt like a marriage counselor sitting between the Lockhorns.

It's gotten to a point where even a smile from one would be taken as a snarl by the other.

"You don't feel you are in peace in your own house," says Young.

"I'm afraid to go out," says Easterling, who was fearful to be photographed for this column, "but I'm not giving up my life or my lifestyle because someone doesn't like you because you're white."

Easterling thinks race underlies some of her problems. Young, too.

Young quotes Easterling as saying last October, " 'This neighborhood was nice before n---s moved here.' " Young says she responded: " 'Who the f-- are you calling a n--?' "

Easterling flatly denies using the N-word. She reveals that her three children had black fathers, which Young told me she learned a long time ago, back when they were on speaking terms.

When Young moved in, she says, the block was dominated by older white widows, and is now majority black. "They didn't move because black people were moving in," she says. "They moved because of age."

A neighbor named Adrienne, who asked me not to use her last name, suspects that race might be involved, "but not on Miss Beverly's part. I'm African American."

Most of what Adrienne knows is second-hand, as told to her by Easterling. "She's a very gentle person, but I have seen little mean streaks now and again," such as when Easterling complained after Adrienne had a brief conversation with Young.

What I've told you just scratches the surface, but we are at the end. You may be wondering what comes next. I know I am wondering.

I know that both Young and Easterling are suffering, even if some of the wounds are self-inflicted and others spring from distrust or misunderstanding.

I called the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which has a community relations division that mediates disputes between neighbors. It is willing to help. Last year PCHR supervised more than 500 such meetings.

What will set that in motion is a call from either party in the dispute. Or both.

The number is 215-686-4670. I urge either Young or Easterling - or anyone else trapped in a miserable situation - to use it.


stubyko@phillynews.com

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky

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