Residents want East Lake Courts youths indoors earlier as gun violence in public housing increases

Residents want East Lake Courts youths indoors earlier as gun violence in public housing increases

October 8th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in Local Regional News

Children play in the East Lake Courts public housing projects Wednesday. Some residents want a 9 p.m. curfew in the hopes it would prevent shootings in the neighborhood.

Photo by Allison Love/Times Free Press.

EAST LAKE COURTS GUN VIOLENCE

Residents at East Lake Courts report hearing gunshots at all hours. Here, as recorded in news reports, are the gunshot victims so far this year at the public housing site:

1. Jan. 10: A 50-year-old man, Joe Houston, is shot in the stomach near 2200 E. 26th St. Court East at about 9 p.m.

2. April 24: Guy Wilkerson, 18, is shot at 2601 Fourth Ave. Police believe the shooting was gang-related. Demetrius Bibbs 19, was charged in connection with the shooting.

3. July 30: Thomas Armstrong, 19, sustains a nonlife-threatening gunshot wound at 2125 E. 25th St.

4. Aug. 18: Two 16-year-old boys are shot and wounded in the 2400 block of Fourth Avenue as they were standing on the sidewalk shortly after midnight.

5. Aug. 20: James Ballard, 24, is grazed by a bullet in the 2400 block of Fourth Avenue at 12:08 a.m.

6. Sept. 8: Kenyeta Tramble, 21, is fatally shot in the face in the doorway of her residence at 2213 E. 25th St. Court.

CURFEW LAWS

State curfew law says youths under age 18 must be in by 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and by midnight Friday through Sunday. Chattanooga's curfew ordinance says unsupervised minors under age 16 must be in by 11 p.m. every night except Friday and Saturday when they must be in by midnight.

POLL: Should public housing have a 9 p.m. curfew for kids?

Doris Smith already was thinking she might have the answer to the gun violence at East Lake Courts.

And when a 21-year-old woman standing in her own doorway was shot to death, Smith took action. She went to the next Chattanooga Housing Authority board meeting to propose a bold solution: Require everyone under age 18 at East Lake Courts to be indoors by 9 p.m. The idea later expanded to include all public housing sites.

Smith also asked that CHA hire additional security or police officers to enforce the curfew. Smith's proposed curfew is two hours earlier than that imposed by the city and state.

East Lake Courts residents generally agree with the idea. Some described hearing gunshots at all hours and bullets pinging off the metal fence around the front of the housing site.

Earl Draper discussed the proposal last week while sitting on a porch and getting a haircut.

It might seem drastic to call for such a measure, Draper said.

"But a young woman lost her life," he said. "Anything is drastic. Fifteen- and 16-year-olds walking around out here with guns is drastic."

CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes told Smith that the housing authority cannot afford more police officers.

But Smith hasn't given up.

She and Jesse Lawrence, former East Lake Courts Resident Council president, are talking about gathering support and taking the curfew proposal to the City Council.

Later, Holmes said in an interview that enforcing any curfew laws not approved by the city or state could be unconstitutional.

"We're sympathetic," he said. "But you start violating folks' constitutional rights when you get beyond the [city and state] curfew."

The city and state curfews wouldn't have helped Kenyeta Tramble, anyway. She was shot and killed just before 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday, said Felix Vess, CHA chief of public safety.

Tramble's fatal shooting marked at least the sixth time this year that someone in or near East Lake Courts has been shot. Some victims were as young as 16, and only one was older than 25, according to news reports.

Stephanie Hall lived for 10 years in East Lake Courts on East 25th Street, the same street Tramble lived on. Hall described how bullets punctured her car over the years. By the time she moved from East Lake Courts in November 2010, the car was full of holes, she said during a recent visit.

Hall said having an earlier curfew wouldn't save lives because people shoot guns in the daylight.

Vanity Finley agreed. She pointed to a bullet hole in her window. That happened this year during the day, she said. She lives just a few doors from where Tramble was fatally shot.

East Lake Courts resident Traleesha Williams said there often is no one to enforce the curfew because the people doing the crimes don't have parents at home. The mother works late and the children are home alone, she said.

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd could not be reached for comment on Smith's 9 p.m. curfew idea.

Vess said CHA officers also are concerned about the safety of young people in public housing.

"Young children and teens should be inside after dark if for no other reason than because school is now back in session," Vess said in a memo distributed to public housing residents this summer. "With the recent increase in violence throughout the community, now it is even more important that our children and teens be with a responsible adult if they are going to be out after dark."