Since retired Chattanooga police detective Napoleon Williams called last Friday for a stop to violence in inner-city communities, two gang members have quit gangs and been hired in jobs, he said.
“If you’ve got a kid who wants out of the gang, we need to know about it,” Williams said. “Call us and we will help them. We’re there for them.”
Williams, Chattanooga police Lt. Edwin McPherson and city Recreation Director Greta Hayes met Friday at Olivet Baptist Church to discuss progress and plans made since March 25. That’s when Williams and other black leaders stood on the steps of City Hall, saying they would work to curtail community violence. At that point in March, 16 people had been shot, four fatally. And shots were fired in Coolidge Park in a crowd of about 300 youths, though no one was injured.
There have not been any shootings in the city this week as of Friday night.
Several youths have begun attending Bible study and one gang member was baptized this week at Macedonia Baptist Church, said the Rev. Kevin Adams, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church.
“Interestingly enough, a lot of young people want to stop the violence and they are actively playing a role in trying to call a truce,” said Adams. “They talked to me today about a campaign to get some of the guns off the streets.”
But mostly what young people are asking for is a job, he said.
“Anybody out there willing to hire people who have a little bit in their past, who have a felony or so, they can be productive citizens if they get another opportunity,” Adams said.
Responding to the Coolidge Park incident, the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance banning minors from the park between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless they’re accompanied by a parent, a legal guardian or an adult over 21.
“We’re trying to send young people in a different direction,” McPherson said. “We want to help change the tide before the summer months.”
Hayes said the city intends to hire 20 to 25 part-time workers, ages 16 to 25, to serve as camp leaders and operate city programs for the summer.
The city also is looking for volunteers ages 13 to 15 to participate in job-training programs that will show young people how to interview for jobs and prepare resumes, she said.
The youths will be taken to a Tennessee Titans game, an Atlanta Braves game or a fancy dinner after an etiquette class to celebrate their accomplishments, she said.
The Warner Park swimming pool will open May 15, about three weeks earlier than usual, and will remain open through Labor Day, weather permitting, Hayes said.
Some scholarships are available for people who want to take classes to become lifeguards, she said, while some positions will be available to certified lifeguards.
At the Warner Park pool, Friday nights will be called “Youth and Teen Night,” she said, and a disc jockey will play music or a talent show will be held.
Former professional boxer Jay Bell and Williams have discussed the possibility of a six-week behavioral boot camp in which youths will learn how to be respectful and also to box.
“Some kids get into gangs because they’re too scared to knuckle up,” Bell said. “I want to show kids how to defend themselves.”
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...