published Friday, March 29th, 2013

Cook: Stand up, stand down

It's happened before. And is happening now. In places dealing with far worse bloodshed than here.

Springtime in south-central L.A., 21 years ago.

In one of the most holocaustic neighborhoods in the U.S. -- a place one criminologist said looked like the end of the world -- hundreds of Crips and Bloods met and agreed to stop the violence.

The Crip who wrote their peace agreement based it on the Israel-Egypt accords of 1949.

Behind them, months of work: NFL hero Jim Brown, who pulled together gang members into his intervention program. Hip-hop artists. Gang members -- and trusted allies -- who already had started searching for a better way of life.

By some reports, the treaty lasted for nearly 10 years.

Boston, early 1990s.

All the right people got on the same page: preachers, cops, community leaders, parole officers and, most important, the people on the streets.

So when the Vamp Hill Kings gang started a string of killings, the group was ready.

Police made a lot of quick arrests. Then called a forum. Almost every Vamp Hill King came.

Police said: From here on out, anytime violence happens, we're arresting as many of you as we can. For littering. Truancy. Looking funny. Anything.

Social services said: Here are all the opportunities available to you.

Community leaders said: We are here to help, however we can.

The forum had a huge psychological effect, creating, among other things, a sort of excuse for gangs to use: We can't act up because look what the cops will do to us.

Within a year, youth homicides were down 73 percent.

The program became known as "The Boston Miracle" and has been duplicated across the U.S.

El Salvador, last year.

The start of 2012 saw an average of 14 killings a day, making the Central American country one of the worst murder capitals in the world.

Then two gangs, with the help of a Catholic bishop, called a peace treaty.

And the rate of killings and kidnappings dropped by more than half.

The gangs? Two of the globe's worst: MS-13 and Barrio 18, with upward of 50,000 members so well-armed The New York Times called them "virtual armies."

Earlier this month, the treaty celebrated its one-year anniversary.

And Chattanooga, present day.

Five days ago, multiple city gangs agreed to a cease-fire.

The story here is similar to the stories in other cities. Many gang leaders in agreement. Respected elders working behind the scenes.

But for this to work, more has to happen.

Multiple news conferences and forums. The mayor. Police chief. Each saying the same message: We want to help make this work. You have done what we thought impossible.

Police get the word out on the street: Whoever breaks this truce, we're coming hard and fast. We'll arrest you for anything and everything we can, simply because you broke up one of the most important moments in recent years.

But so far, I haven't heard any of that.

No news conference. No messages. No nothing.

For so long, we have talked and talked and talked about gangs. Spent so much money on gang violence. Funded this. Supported that.

And now, when it's needed the most?

Gang leaders said it was time for them to stand down.

It's time we stood up.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

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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shen said...

It only works, Mr. Cook, if there aren't powerful hands behind the scenes sabotaging peace efforts. Tragically, as in many situations of this kind, there will always be others involved who have a vested interest in keeping the violence, killings and turmoil alive. Although they give an outwardly appearance of wanting to solve the problems once and for all.

March 29, 2013 at 10:28 a.m.
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