published Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Pachyderm president: Stop ignoring gangs


by Dan Whisenhunt

GUNS NOT ALLOWED

State legislators last year passed a law allowing gun permit holders to carry guns in parks. The law allowed local governments to opt out; about 70 cities statewide voted to do so. Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy allow guns in parks.

The following governments in Hamilton County do not allow guns in their parks:

* Chattanooga

* Hamilton County

* Lookout Mountain

* East Ridge

* Signal Mountain

* Walden

Source: Newspaper archives

The recent shootings in Coolidge Park are a sign Chattanooga has a gang problem and it's time to stop pretending otherwise, the president of the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club said Monday.

During the Republican club's regular meeting, Marty Von Schaaf called on elected leaders to recognize the city's gang problem in the wake of Saturday night's shooting that left five people wounded.

"We're sick and tired of this kind of thing and we have a gang problem in Chattanooga," he said, prompting applause. "It's there, it exists and it's time to move."

However, the Chattanooga Police Department said Monday the shootings were not gang related. Police officials said one of the people involved in the shooting was a gang member, but said the shootings were not caused by gang activity.

On Sunday, Lt. Kim Noorbergen indicated the shootings may be related to gang activity.

Mr. Von Schaaf said after the meeting his comments were based on the lieutenant's statements Sunday.

He also noted the city doesn't allow guns in the park, but added having more guns probably wouldn't have prevented Saturday's shooting.

Last year the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law allowing gun permit holders to carry guns in parks. However, several local governments opted out, including Chattanooga.

The featured speaker for the event, 3rd Congressional District candidate Robin Smith, picked up on the remarks and referenced the incident in her speech to club members.

Afterward, Mrs. Smith said local officials might be reluctant to acknowledge a gang problem in the area because it could hurt business.

Hamilton County Commissioner Larry Henry, who attended the meeting, said there should be more stringent law enforcement in place but implied some of the problem may be out of officers' hands.

"I don't know how you can make parents be parents," he said.

General Sessions Judge David E. Bales, also at the meeting, said he sees the problem in his courtroom.

"(There's) too many young people aligning themselves with gangs," he said, adding later, "The community has got to take a stand before it becomes like Mexico."

He said he does think people have tried to minimize the problem and said more resources should be put into neighborhood groups and church groups.

Jeff Brown, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said he thinks there is a gang problem but doesn't believe people are sweeping it under the rug. He said the city's police force is understaffed and it isn't entirely the city's responsibility.

"There has to be a heightened sense of responsibility for the communities as well," he said.

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said the shooting was not gang related and said the city has never shied away from acknowledging gang activity.

Staff Writer Todd South contributed to this story.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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