- Yes 79%
- No 21%
212 total votes.
Staff Photo by Dan Henry Officer Rusty Morrison frisks a man that admitted to using drugs in an area that is known for Bloods gang activity Friday evening. Members of the Chattanooga Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit patrolled the city during a monthly show of force Friday night with an emphasis on patrolling areas prone to high gang activity.
Young people join gangs for protection or so they won’t get beat up on their way to school. They join for a sense of belonging or as an avenue to quick cash and drugs.
They join because they have nothing better to do or because they see celebrities flaunt affiliations and symbols.
“They see the short term (benefit of) gangs as far as the money, the cars, the girls that are hanging out at the parties,” said Chattanooga police officer Michael Bolton, a member of the department’s crime suppression unit.
Whatever the reason young people join gangs, their actions most often lead to nothing good, even in mid-sized cities such as Chattanooga, which created the four-member crime suppression unit in 2007 to combat gang-related violence.
* 1984 — In East Lake Courts, gang members calling themselves Dogs painted blue graffiti throughout the community and beat a neighborhood man passing out religious tracts.
* 1986 — In September, the high school football season started with brick-and-bottle throwing, a robbery, gang fights and vandalism at several games.
Later that year, Juvenile Court Judge Dixie Smith said a new gang in town, the International Gangsters, had an initiation requiring a potential member to steal a car and beat up three people.
* 1987 — Juvenile Court officials said two juveniles and an adult, all identified as members of a gang calling itself Nationwide Pimps, were charged with conspiracy to rob an armored truck.
* 1995 — In the summer, three brothers in a Cadillac fired into another car full of young men, killing one, reportedly because at least one person inside was wearing red. The three brothers were members of the Crips, according to court testimony.
In November, a basketball jamboree at the UTC Arena was interrupted by a fight involving 60 or 70 young people, most wearing gang colors and flashing gang hand signals.
* 1996 — In January, three teens were charged with the armed robbery of $5 from a 13-year-old who told police they were members of a gang.
In late February, gang graffiti was etched across an intersection on Pine Ridge Road in North Chattanooga. Police charged three youths with arson for fires that consumed walls covered by gang graffiti.
A California man covered in Crips tattoos was arrested in February along with a Chattanooga man who reportedly was associated with a local gang, the East Coast Crips. The two were picking up a kilo of cocaine mailed from California, police said.
On March 7, a resident of West 44th Street found the words “Bloodz for ever” painted on her fence.
Several days later, 23-year-old Stephon Ball, wearing the colors of the South Side Bloods, was shot and killed after he argued with three other young men in Spencer J. McCallie Homes.
* 1997 — Four Chattanooga Southeast Thugs gang members were charged in the baseball bat beating death of a 21-year-old and the assault of another victim.
* 2004 — In October, two men were arrested after an 8-year-old was shot in the bladder during a birthday celebration on Poss Drive. The shooting stemmed from a gang feud between the Alton Park Crips and the Highland Park Gangsters, according to court testimony.
* 2005 — In March, an 18-year-old man was treated at a hospital after a drive-by shooting at Maurice Poss Homes that police said likely involved a gang.
In August, residents of Cameron Lane in Brainerd distributed fliers to reorganize a neighborhood watch to reclaim their community from what they called the Kemp Street Gang.
In an August fugitive raid, officers arrested a man associated with a white supremacist group and an undocumented immigrant belonging to the MS-13 gang.
Later in the year, two illegal immigrants taken into custody at a Dunlap, Tenn., tavern were identified as gang members.
* 2006 — On April 29, two teenagers were wounded when shots were fired as a group of 50 to 75 young men gathered near the Boys’ Club near East Lake Courts.
Later that night, a series of fights broke out in a group of several hundred people “dressed either in red or blue” in Coolidge Park, police said.
On the same night, about five fights broke out in a crowd of hundreds of people in the parking lot of the Rave movie theater. Police arrested seven teenagers on charges ranging from aggravated assault to resisting arrest.
On June 13, Adrian Patton, 26, was shot and killed as he drove through the Emma Wheeler Homes. Michael “Mike Mike” Daniels was charged with first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy to commit murder and illegal possession of a firearm. In May 2005, he was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
On June 16, Jermaine Southers, 24, was shot and killed at East Lake Courts in what police call retaliation for Mr. Patton’s death. Quanan Hutchinson, 20, has pleaded guilty to facilitation of second-degree murder and will be sentenced Sept. 22.
On June 22, a 13-year-old boy was struck in the leg in a drive-by shooting in Eastdale.
* 2007 — On March 9, three men were arrested in connection with a homicide two nights earlier. Larry Lebron Parks was an innocent bystander when he was shot at an Eastdale intersection, police said. The three men arrested in connection with the shooting — Jeremy McMillon, 20, Eric Carter, 19, and Gregory Guillory, 47 — were believed to have been firing in retaliation for an altercation earlier in the evening among rival gang members.
On Aug. 20, Jamarvin Wellington was found shot to death outside 1314 *. Orchard Knob Ave. Police have not yet arrested anyone in connection with the incident.
* 2008 — On June 26, LaTony Johnson, 22, died as a result of a stabbing that occurred at 2241 East 27th Street. Police were called at 2:19 a.m. after two men became involved in a fight. Mr. Johnson’s death, believed to be gang-related, started a string of violence that was thought to be retaliation, including shootings at cars and houses, arsons and firebombings.
On July 3, the day after he turned 21, Jacquard M. Petty was shot once in the head. Mr. Petty, who was pronounced dead later that day at Erlanger hospital, was at the 2301 Club at 2301 Milne St. near Dodson Avenue when a disagreement with another person began shortly before 2:30 a.m. that day, police said. Police arrested Carltrovous Moore in connection with the event that police believed to be gang-related.
Source: Newspaper archives
Sgt. Todd Royval, the unit’s supervisor, said those who join gangs don’t do so with an eye on the emergency room, a cemetery plot or prison, though it’s almost inevitable that’s where they’ll end up.
“There’s no advantages to being a gang member because you go one of three places,” he said. “You either go to jail, go to the hospital or get put in the ground.”
The number of people in gangs and the number of gangs locally have not grown dramatically in recent years, but their popularity and publicity have increased, leading people to notice what Sgt. Royval has seen since 1994 — gangs are causing problems.
“Gangs is the word of the year,” he said.
Three main gangs lay claim to much of the gang-related crime in Chattanooga — the Bloods, the Crips and the Gangster Disciples, Sgt. Royval said.
Officers know the names of more than 400 gang members or associates in Chattanooga.
While most gangs in Chattanooga are loosely organized and of the hybrid variety — meaning they’re comprised of several small gangs banded together such as the Bloods and Crips — the Gangster Disciples have a chain of command, defined leadership and a covert style of selling drugs. They’re also doing slightly more recruiting than other gangs and also have grown more quickly. And while they’re the biggest in size, the Athens Park Bloods are close behind, police said.
“(The Gangster Disciples) hide some of the criminal acts better and become not so stand-on-the-corner, sell-drugs, drive-by-shooting type gang,” Sgt. Royval said. “They’re supposed to become a more organized-crime type gang.”
Gang activity in 2006, including the killings of Adrian Patton and Jermaine Southers, and the simmering neighborhood tensions the violence created heightened law enforcement scrutiny and public outcry against gangs.
Hugh Reece, a former Hamilton County Juvenile Court employee who now serves as a community outreach consultant for the Community Anti-Drug Coalition Across Hamilton County, has advocated for a community-wide approach to gangs for more than a decade, pushing elected officials to acknowledge and respond to the problem.
The pleas largely were ignored because city officials didn’t want to scare tourists away by discussing the problem, he said.
“We’ve been harping with elected officials for something like 15 years now. ‘We have a gang problem and if you don’t address it now, down the road it’s gonna be severe,’” Mr. Reece said. “And now look where we’re at. Look at all the shootings and robberies.”
Not only city officials refrained from acting quickly. Community and neighborhood leaders met in April to discuss the gang problem and had hoped to organize a large-scale, city-wide effort to begin the process to tackle the problem.
Chattanooga Police Department Sgt. Jerri Weary, who helped coordinate the meeting, said organizations took ideas to their collective groups but did not initiate a city-wide effort. She did not know what each organization did after the meeting.
PROBLEM HARD TO TRACK
Statistics specific to Chattanooga gangs and gang crimes are not readily available. Few of the incidents reported to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation monthly by law enforcement agencies are marked as gang-related, according to TBI data. Because the data is self-reported, agencies do not always include gang data because classifying a crime as such can be subjective, said TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm.
“It’s probably a matter of not being reported accurately at the time that it is reported,” she said. “A lot of times, an investigation would reveal later that it’s gang-related, after it’s reported to us.”
But Matt Hennessee, a Chattanooga police officer who works with the FBI to calm gang activity, confirmed that 75 percent of violent crime in Chattanooga, such as robberies, homicides and drive-by shootings, are gang-related.
More than 750,000 members belong to about 25,000 gangs nationwide, according to the National Youth Gang Center based in Tallahassee, Fla. The center provides information and statistics to help legislators and policymakers in their efforts to study and reduce gang violence, according to its Web site.
Hispanic gang members make up nearly 50 percent of all members across the country, with blacks accounting for slightly more than 30 percent, the survey states.
In Chattanooga, blacks constitute a majority of gangs, though officials have declined to discuss specific local statistics.
Reluctance to discuss details about gangs isn’t limited to Chattanooga law enforcement. Citing policy and safety issues, the Knoxville Police Department would not release information about the number of gangs in the city. Spokesman Darrell DeBusk said the number fluctuates and that the department does have a gang task force that actively monitors gang activity, but the department does not want to give credibility to gangs by publicizing their numbers.
In Chattanooga, officers said they see more problems with gangs in the East Lake area and in East and South Chattanooga, but noted gang members live everywhere, often outside the areas they target for crimes.
Problems may not pop up as often in North Chattanooga or Hixson, but members are heavily recruiting other members from those areas, Sgt. Royval said.
One of Chattanooga’s two gang-related homicides in 2008 occurred in East Lake: LaTony Johnson was stabbed in late June. Jacquard Petty was shot a week later outside a nightclub on Milne Street.
Police also investigated two gang-related homicides in 2007.
“The motive for the shooting is senseless,” said Lt. Tim Carroll, head of the police department’s major crimes division. “You’re wearing the wrong colors, you’re on the wrong side of town, they got kicked out of their gang. They go by their own set of rules.”
Gang members resort to violence for a variety of reasons, Sgt. Royval said.
A young gang member, for example, may need a way to foot the $20 dues required for membership. When he realizes he can’t afford it, he may rob an elderly woman in front of a convenience store.
Shootings and stabbings usually result from a gang member or his gang feeling disrespected.
“And the only way to retaliate against it is to go by and show that ‘You will respect me’ and do something that’s completely over the top like a drive-by shooting or jump out and beat somebody,” Sgt. Royval said.
Policing Chattanooga's gangsRide along with investigator Michael Bolton as he and other members of the Chattanooga Police Department’s crime suppression unit identify and police gangs in inner-city neighborhoods.