Robin Smith, former Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party and congressional candidate.File Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
— Matthew 7:13
Now, life is full of choices. And those choices, in the end, are ours. A favorite quote to which I refer often is, "We first make choices, then our choices make us."
Chattanooga headlines are peppered with phrases like, "fear of gang activity forces changes in school bus route" and "suspect sought in gang shooting." Violence seems to be a daily activity in our city.
Despite Chattanooga's effort called "The Future is Ours," otherwise known as the Chattanooga Gang Task Force, the surface activity reflects little evidence of progress.
The Chattanooga Gang Task force approach has included partnering with dozens of local agencies and hundreds of individuals to address mentoring, youth employment, local school involvement, community leadership development and police "suppression" as the Comprehensive Gang Assessment calls it.
So, if this extraordinary effort that has been undertaken over the last several years has proven to be the national model, what's missing to yield success?
While agencies, institutions like government, local schools and charities can assist as resources in the effort to remove crime, there has to be an individual and a community choice to reject gang activity.
Seeing a young woman in Judge Lila Statom's courtroom recently recant her eyewitness testimony to a murder cheered by the overflow crowd shows the strength of the gang and the weakness of community opposition.
Kids and youth look for role models who will ultimately determine their view of right versus wrong: how to treat others, what defines the value of a family, a child, a life.
Kids also pursue acceptance. Despite the clamor for individualism, behaviors coalesce around your family values, your peer group, and the associations and affiliations of social activity.
Young people look for structure. It's usually through pressing the limits of what is permitted. But once limits are set, they'll operate within this structure.
Interestingly, a survey conducted as part of "The Future is Ours" revealed the top three problems presented by gangs are "increases in violent crimes, drug crimes, and weapons crime." The top reasons for gang activity include "lack of activities, family and friends being in gangs, the need to feel loved or a sense of belonging, and family problems."
The survey also recorded that the "top three things that should be done" are "mentoring, programs/recreation, and jobs." While the "most important organization for dealing with gangs is the police."
Chattanooga, it's a time for choosing. The decision has to be made to use the police and courts to imprison criminals and clean up the crime on the short term. We should also decide to punish families for problems like truancy in schools.
Citizens of Chattanooga, it's time to decide that "The Future is Ours" and that family needs to serve as the role model and the family of faith in the community to serve an invaluable role of structure.
The "wide gate" and the "broad road" of acceptance of wrong-doing and crime are leading to destruction. It's time to choose.
Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner at the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.