Don't don't don't don't don't. Please don't.
Don't start killing again.
It was Palm Sunday night when a fragile cease-fire was called, which makes this Day 16.
Things have held since then, but it feels thinner by the day. One dead body, four other shootings.
Three of them since Friday.
The stories behind the bullets? Not sure. I've heard everything.
Robberies. Argument over a girl. Over drugs. A drive-by. Gang-related. Not gang-related.
So has the cease-fire begun to crumble? Held firm? Not sure. I've heard everything.
Younger kids, doing their own thing, are pulling the trigger. Gang leaders aren't behind it. Yes, they are. No, they're not. Just wait till summer, when it gets hot.
It's as if the streets themselves aren't even sure.
(Official Chattanooga is not too sure either. Mayor-elect Andy Berke just dismantled the Gang Task Force. He hasn't said whether he'll keep or dismiss current Police Chief Bobby Dodd.)
This truce? However strong or weak, it is a start. It says something to the larger community. To the establishment. To white Chattanooga.
I've seen purse strings begin to unlatch. Seen critics interrupt their cynicism.
Your cease-fire sends this whacked-out message that most people out here never saw coming. It counters the stories we tell ourselves about gangs.
They don't care. Thugs, just killing themselves. Can't stop it. Don't even try.
When you stop pulling the triggers, it train-wrecks that. Puts a bullet in that lie. It makes all of us realize you want this peace more than anyone else.
God, I hope so.
The other lie we tell ourselves?
They'd never take a job. Too much money on the corner.
If a factory were to appear today offering 500 entry-level jobs, they'd be gone by tomorrow. Gang membership would drop by half; honest paychecks taking the place of the streets.
"If I had a job, I'd be at home right now, getting ready for bed," one man said, sitting around the dining room table, on the night of the cease-fire.
On this side of the street, we've got to fill the void. Fill the vacuum. For
the truce to last, something has to appear to take the place of gang life.
Something positive. Constructive. Something good.
Gangs aren't a surprise. Combine poverty with empty fathers with prison with despair with drugs with guns, and the surprise is not that gangs exist, but that more of them don't.
Right now, people are watching. Your self-created peace puts the pressure on us.
But the bullets start to fly? Man, it's lights out.
I know you're out there, eyeing the newspaper. Certain people -- on the streets and near them -- have said: be careful what you write. People, in jail and out, are reading.
Well read this: your life matters.
And I don't want you to kill anyone.
And I don't want you to die.
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 ...