Witness says gangs involved in fight

Witness says gangs involved in fight

March 21st, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in News

A man caught up in Saturday night's fight among hundreds of juveniles at Coolidge Park said the incident was gang related.

East Brainerd resident Carlos Harrison said the fight was started by a group of 25 young men. After police told them to break up, they started walking in small groups toward the underside of the Walnut Street Bridge.

"They were just bored," said Harrison, hanging out in the park Sunday afternoon. "They said, 'We're bored, man, let's fire on somebody.'"

Police on Saturday said as many as 300 teens and young people were present when the fight started. Shots were fired, but no injuries reported.

Chattanooga police spokeswoman Jerri Weary said Sunday that officers arrested several young people, but she could not say how many or on what charges. She said none have been interviewed because juveniles must have a guardian present during questioning.

Police found a firearm nearby but haven't arrested the gunman, Weary said Sunday. They haven't determined whether there was gang involvement, she said.

Harrison said these incidents often start when people send mass text messages to friends, organizing large social gatherings in public places. As soon as competing gang members get involved, trouble starts.

"You send one text message to [a Blood], they're going to send it to each other. They're not going to come by themselves because they're beefing with the Crips," he said. "If you've got a group of five Crips walking around here with all Bloods, they call some more people. They get scared; that's all it is. They're scared."

Harrison said he was involved in a similar incident at Coolidge Park last March when about 225 people brawled. Five people were shot in the leg in that fight.

Despite Saturday's incident, several parkgoers said Sunday that Coolidge Park is a safe place.

"I don't feel scared enough not to come and bring kids," Highland Park resident Ben Johnson said. "It's not something that you're going to be hanging out on a normal day and then suddenly there's going to be a shooting."

Ooltewah High School 10th-grader Marcus Brown said he frequents the park, and during the day it's fairly safe.

"I've never seen anything. I've seen people arguing, but they usually break it off," he said. "As long as the sun's up, it's safe. It's not safe after that."

Harrison said that because incidents such as Saturday's often start with misunderstandings between strangers, community-building gatherings at the park would stop people from feeling the need to fight.

"If they had more events where people got to know each other, they wouldn't have to do that," he said. "They won't have to think that guy's looking at them because he's trying to attack them."