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Gangs are overrunning some Chattanooga neighborhoods.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Gangs are in Chattanooga. Gangs are killing people in Chattanooga. Gangs are overrunning some Chattanooga neighborhoods.

Ministers have organized prayer circles with heads bowed. The Chattanooga Police Department has created and dismantled gang units. Social-work programs have been launched to give new opportunities to reformed gang members or to keep young kids from becoming gang members in the first place.
But the only quantifiable change is glaring: The number of gang members is now more than double the number of sworn police officers.
"The negligence of political bodies over the years has led us to this violent moment in time," Hugh Reece, former president of the Southeast Council of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said in a recent email to the Times Free Press.
"No one wanted to take it serious a couple of years ago when the U.S. surgeon general classified the level of youth/gang violence as a public health crisis. Elected officials were extremely slow to admit the gang problem even existed, although citizens were being terrorized by angry youth. Prevention measures were never put into play."
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said the issue of gangs has been cyclical.
"We had it in the 1980s. We've had in the '90s. We had it in the early 2000s," he said.
"It's all about money and all about selling drugs. Period. When the leader gets taken off the streets and goes away for life, that's a big deterrent. We've had several like that. ... The only thing that's new is the age of some of the people doing the shootings -- 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds are shooting up neighborhoods and shooting at each other."
Though police have been dealing with gangs, there's been too little conversation elsewhere in the community, some say.
Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Suzanne Bailey has worked in the justice system targeting youth for about 30 years. She attended a steering committee meeting last week focusing on gangs.
"I think most of us agree, we've not done, as a community, what we could have done. And that's blame for all of us. There's no one group to blame."
Now the city's trying again. But skepticism remains.
The city has hired two anti-gang coordinators, an assistant district attorney and a retired minister, and vowed to use a federal program that has tackled gang issues successfully in other cities.
Some in the community think it's pretty much a new verse of the same old tune. Others, though, are hopeful the new plans will be more than words that linger on the lips of politicians and community leaders, but later die.
Politicians such as Mayor Ron Littlefield and Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Beck tout programs they've implemented to address the gang problem. Some programs succeeded at first, but died when community involvement and funding dried up.
And the problem is worse than ever.
Last year, two-thirds of the 25 killings in Chattanooga were blamed on gangs. That's up from 30 percent, or six of 20 homicides, reported in 2008.
City Councilman Russell Gilbert, who represents an area that includes Bonny Oaks Drive, Kings Point and part of Brainerd, recognizes a failure to adequately address the gang presence.
"If it were addressed years ago, we wouldn't have this problem now. But it's here now, so you have to address it," he said.
Reece said that outside of programs for jobs or education, increased police presence or stronger sentences for gang crimes, change must begin with residents.
"A lot of people want to dog the police department and judges, but they don't want to look in the mirror," he said. "Nothing is going to change in the city unless they step up to the plate. They all know who the drug dealers are. They all know who the gang members are."
PAST EFFORTS
In 2006, Littlefield's office endorsed Stop the Madness, a Christian nonprofit focusing on youth, after two shootings in one week. The city gave Stop the Madness $100,000 in each of two years, but then stopped the funding.
Program coordinator Ternae Jordan, who is also the pastor at Mount Canaan Baptist Church, said the organization does not promote itself as focusing on gangs.
"But we're still touching the lives of kids through enrichment programs and outreach. We don't have a gang program. We have a youth program. I struggle with giving kids credit for being in a gang. I think we have a youth problem. It criminalizes kids."
Littlefield touted Stop the Madness after a high-profile gang shooting.
Adrian Patton, 26, was shot and killed as he drove through the Emma Wheeler public housing complex. A couple of days later Jermaine Southers, 24, was shot and killed at East Lake Courts in retaliation for Patton's death.DISCLAIMER:Text may be subject to copyright.This blog does not claim copyright to any such text. Copyright remains with the original copyright holder.

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A person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty

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