published Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Cook: Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sunday Bloody Sunday.

Christmas morning last Sunday began in the most schizophrenic way. Much of Chattanooga was sleeping peacefully with presents tucked under the tree, while downtown, blood fell onto the streets, as at least nine people were shot in our city's latest round of gang violence.

The violence began on Market Street outside Club Fathom, a stone's throw away from the spot where my family ate ice cream a few weeks ago. Near the place where yours may have gone shopping or for dinner or to see a movie.

Our city's Bloody Sunday sends a very loud message, wrecking our illusions that gang violence is segregated to certain neighborhoods. Violence on Market Street on Christmas Eve is a wake-up call, like some voice-from-heaven warning: The violence is bad. It is real. No hiding it anymore.

And it could have been worse.

What if a bullet had hit off-duty policeman Jacques Weary, who was working Club Fathom security that night?

What if the bullets he fired in return had killed one of the teenagers there?

What would that do to the spirit of our city?

The last few weeks, this newspaper has been asking readers to vote for their most memorable news story of 2011. On my ballot: the shooting death of Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin.

There is something deeply tragic about the death of a police officer. We project all kinds of images onto a police officer: hero, societal savior, the first person we call when things go wrong, the first person we blame when more things go wrong.

The police force, assuredly, is not perfect. But the position of police officer is symbolic of something noble in a world where nobility seems nearly extinct.

And they work for middle-class salaries, gambling each morning if they will make it back home that night, with little thanks or praise.

And that's why, when a police officer is shot, there is a hole in the fabric of our city, like something interrupted.

As for gang members, their whole life is a violent interruption and, while they are masquerading behind colors and tattoos, each still remains a human being, a kid lost down roads darker and more hopeless than any you or I have seen.

The big picture is startling. Police, sworn to protect and serve, are in a situation where public enemy No. 1 can be a 15-year-old kid.

That, Chattanooga, is our great tragedy right now.

I'm afraid it could grow worse.

As the sun sets on 2011, it does so with our city leaders vocalizing a real commitment to reducing gang violence. One aspect of this multilayered vision is an increased and heightened response to gang violence from law enforcement.

City leaders call it "suppression." It will involve more adults with badges going toe to toe with kids in gangs. It will increase the probability of gun violence between law enforcement and gang members, which will increase the odds that one of those bullets is going to hit its target.

What will unravel in our city if another police officer is killed? Not by the hands of a white escaped convict from Colorado, but a black parentless teenager from East Chattanooga?

What scar would mar our city if a police officer kills an eighth-grader with a gun?

On Christmas Day, it almost happened.

David Cook can be reached at davidcook@blumail.org.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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lanaland said...

What people don't seem to be noticing is that the city governments are providing fewer and fewer day and night recreational programs for youth. That kept kids off the streets. It exposed them to adult mentors, and a social network. It taught them skills, and kept them out of trouble. But public funds that used to be available for youths in arts, theatre and sports, etc., have been shifted to corporate welfare, such as services for developers through Chattanooga's Regional Planning Agency, and for fat insider contracts. When I was a kid, you could play at the city gyms for no fee. When my mom was a kid, there were dances. There were sports teams. That could keep a lot of kids out of gangs. The civic centers were once used for the public, not overpriced for private rental, making our public assets more off limits, and increasingly exclusive. If we're going to let America's social network and moral fiber fall into disrepair, and give our public funds and assets to government insiders and the elite, then we need realize what we're taking from our youth: their present; and their future.

December 31, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.
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