published Friday, September 14th, 2012

Cook: The gang assessment made manifest

With plenty of time to make the 9 a.m. presentation, I honked the horn outside their brick apartment. Out they came, and had barely shut my car door before an unmarked white SUV was only feet from my bumper. It stayed there as I started driving away, toward the mayor's office.

The two young black men -- I'll call them Deoaunte and Ronnie -- knew who was driving the SUV before I did.

"Police," they said from the back seat.

Fifteen minutes later, we sat down in the green leather chairs in Mayor Ron Littlefield's conference room and stayed there for the next 90 minutes, listening to the just-released findings from our city's Comprehensive Gang Assessment, conducted by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Center for Applied Social Research.

The data is incredibly compelling. The words, gravely important. One national group is already calling it the most comprehensive gang assessment ever done in America.

But I couldn't shake the disconnect between these young black men in their Nikes who stay in neighborhoods where police drive unmarked cars at 8:30 in the morning and the suit-and-tie, green-leather-chair conference room. I kept looking over at Deoaunte, wondering what he thought.

"I wake up to gunshots," he said, "and go to sleep to gunshots."

It was as if these two young men were the personification of the PowerPoint presentation on the screen before them.

Take the word "gang." It appears 1,026 times in the 173-page report. But what does it mean? A bunch of black kids standing on the corner? Wearing red or blue?

"I define it as my family," said Deoaunte. "If I need something, they're there. When I'm out of work, and my little girl needs diapers, they give you some money. They give you a place to stay. Open arms."

I asked Deoaunte -- who's 21 and used to run in a gang -- to name his gang's values.

"Loyalty. Respect. Honor," he said.

Gang violence usually means shootings, robbings, stealing. But there's also this colder violence, like a country you can't leave, no matter how far you walk.

One of them gets locked up, then falls behind in child support. Released, he's now behind in his payments. He can't get a job, so he starts slinging dope. More entrenched in a dead end. Then he's harassed. Arrested. Back in jail. Around and around it goes.

I'm almost impressed with gangs, who've created a subculture of protection, pseudo-family and alter-economy in neighborhoods that lead our area in the matrix of nothingness: poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, broken families.

What do we expect to grow out of such soil? National Merit scholars? Daylilies?

After the presentation, I took Deoaunte and Ronnie to Wally's for lunch. With us was Skip Eberhardt, a man I've written about before, whose own life today is symbolic of the crossroads our city has reached. Eberhardt, with plenty of violence in his own past, is now doing all he can to get kids off the block and into honest work.

"They're crying for help," he said.

"Everybody I hang around, everybody wants a job," said Deoaunte. "Everybody says the same thing, 'I'm tired of the block.' Y'all want to stop it, give us some jobs."

During the presentation, Eberhardt's cellphone kept buzzing. It was like all the words of the assessment were made manifest in that phone.

"I had two kids call me," he said.

They were looking for jobs.

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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LaughingBoy said...

'One of them gets locked up, then falls behind in child support. Released, he's now behind in his payments. He can't get a job, so he starts slinging dope. More entrenched in a dead end. Then he's harassed. Arrested. Back in jail. Around and around it goes."

Here's a novel idea: Don't get locked up. On top of that, don't have out of wedlock babies. And I'm sure these fine upstanding citizens are only trying to take care of their children.

September 14, 2012 at 1 a.m.
shen said...

Laughingboy, it's not like in your pristine communities, where police come in to make friends. These are communities police have specifically targeted, because it's easier to stop, harrass and arrest someone who can least afford to fight a charge, and who are likely to plead guilty even when they're innocent. Or when they do attempt to fight a charge they are the least likely to be believed by the courts and jurors. During certain days of the week, driving through some of these communities, the police are like sharks circling their prey, or vultures sitting on a fence waiting and preparing to swoop down. It's can be like a daily obstacle course just to make it home with your money to feed your family or pay the bills. Because, if you're stopped and have cash money on you they're likely to find an excuse to confiscate it. That and then they allow their confidential informers to set up shop. Confidential informers use to be a good thing, in that they helped to solve crime. Now they're often used to actually create and crimes and and turn otherwise innocent people into criminals. It didn't take long for many Muslim organizations to get smart. In that some law enforcement agencies across the nation were taking troubled young men, using their confidential informants to set these young men up, supply them, engage them, pump them up, label them then bust them for being terrorist. It's past due time for others to wise up too.

September 14, 2012 at 10:17 a.m.
Lr103 said...

Departmental oversight of informants has gotten really lax over the years. There need to be better oversight and control by the higher ups, and not just the street cops and their supervisors, in how informants are allowed to operate in these communities and what they are often either paid to do or forced to do under threats of being violated and sent back to prison if they don't do as told.

September 14, 2012 at 1:49 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

"I got framed! That's not my gun! Those ain't my drugs! These ain't even my car! I stole it! I mean, uhh, I got framed!"

September 14, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.
conservative said...

I believe several things here :

I believe Deoaunte and his gang dearly hold to their stated values of "Loyalty. Respect. Honor,"

I believe Deoaunte's definition of a gang - "a family", and how they care for one another - "If I need something, they're there. When I'm out of work, and my little girl needs diapers, they give you some money. They give you a place to stay. Open arms."

I believe Deoaunte when he says he wants to work rather than making more money selling drugs.

I believe Deoaunte wants to work and keep a job because of his "When I'm out of work" statement. After all such a statement implies he has had jobs. No reason given for losing said job or jobs though.

I believe Deoaunte backs up that truthful statement with another truthful statement - "Everybody I hang around, everybody wants a job," I believe Deoaunte wholeheartedly when he says "Everybody says the same thing, 'I'm tired of the block.' Y'all want to stop it, give us some jobs." In other words, no justice no peace!

Finally, I believe that Mr. Cook, with all of his connections just can't find Deoaunte and Ronnie a job.

September 14, 2012 at 4:18 p.m.

Until you've investigated work history, your reporting is sophmoric. Employment entitlements are the stuff of liberal fairy tales.

September 15, 2012 at 8:59 a.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

I asked Deoaunte -- who's 21 and used to run in a gang -- to name his gang's values.

"Loyalty. Respect. Honor," he said.

Loyalty to one's own needs without reguard to the comunity, Respect = fear through intimidation, Honor = street cred through application of the first two.   Dig deeper Mr. Cook for there is a good chance you are being played.

Give me a job and I'll stop doing evil to my neighbor. This from a person who has turned his back on every institution afforded them by the tax payers of this city. But if you'll just give me.... I mean it this time. I'm sorry to be negative to the plight of my fellow man but as long as we keep a system that pays poor people to breed, then we will have poor people trying to breed their way out of poverty. No there just isn't a way to keep up with the overwelming number of people breeding for a check and gaming the system. Don't name the father so he don't gotta pay. Use his momma's address so you can be an unwed mother and get your voucher have a 2nd so you can get a larger voucher then let the streets raise your child. Please dig deeper Mr Cook. Look at a system that discouraged marraige that exploits people who try. If you make a little money you loose benifits. So why try. No just keep breeding it is the only way to make it. And look to the gangs for diapers.

September 15, 2012 at 10:39 a.m.
DJHBRAINERD said...

I asked Deoaunte -- who's 21 and used to run in a gang -- to name his gang's values.

"Loyalty. Respect. Honor," he said.

Loyalty to one's own needs without reguard to the comunity, Respect = fear through intimidation, Honor = street cred through application of the first two. Dig deeper Mr. Cook for there is a good chance you are being played.

September 15, 2012 at 11:03 a.m.
jesse said...

Sounds like a modern day version of "Bushido"!

September 15, 2012 at 5:08 p.m.
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