Cook: 14 suggestions to help end street violence

Cook: 14 suggestions to help end street violence

November 2nd, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Want the shootings and gang violence to end?

Really and truly?

1. Reopen Kirkman Technical High School, creating a viable vocational pathway that would re-energize our nearly nonexistent black middle class.

Because gangs dissolve when folks have decent-paying jobs.

2. Bring back the local Black Panther Party or a similar political life force able to unapologetically articulate black pride and self-determination while creating a moral alternative to gang life.

Because gangs dry up when folks have vision.

3. Divest any public or privately held funds from the Corrections Corporation of America, which has privatized our prisons and created a system that will forever crave prisoners, most often young black men.

4. Restart the gang intervention model envisioned by Boyd Patterson's now-dismantled Gang Task Force, which used rehabilitated felons and former bangers as believable and legitimate anti-violence voices who could walk into the schools and neighborhoods and offer an alternative way of life.

5. Recognize gang members are human beings with the same predictable hierarchy of needs that you and I share.

"Psychologists say it starts in the home," one gang member said to me. "If we can't get the nutrients there, you're going to go to the place you can."

Gangs then emerge as a pseudo-family, offering protection, fellowship and an economic safety net. Yes, it's drug money, but what would you do when the cupboards run dry: sell dope or starve?

"I started when I was in third grade," the gang member continued.

The rest of us should learn to be humble before such hardship, instead of standing in condemnation of it.

6. Recognize the deep trauma held within the black heart, mind and body. There are ZIP codes full of post-traumatic stress. (Studies show there is more PTSD among children in south central Los Angeles than Baghdad.)

"I had a dream yesterday. I couldn't sleep," one man said at a gang meeting Friday. "I saw the bloodstains on the sidewalk. The blood cried out. I heard the voices from the bloodshed cry out, 'Do not let my dying be in vain.'"

7. Listen to the voices that explain how gang violence is just one link in a very long chain of racial injustice and inequality.

"Part of the mechanics of oppressing people is to pervert them to the extent that they become the instruments of their own oppression," said a man in the documentary "Crips and Bloods: Made in America."

8. Begin to rally around black-owned businesses and support black entrepreneurs.

"You know how long a dollar circulates in the black community?" said Richard Bennett of A Better Tomorrow. "Six hours."

9. Intentionally engage young black males as early as possible through the creation of a Boys Inc., a program modeled after the very successful Girls Inc.

Then create a series of single-sex schools -- pre-K to graduation stage -- populated by black males from across the county.

Call it the Chattanooga Boys Leadership Academy.

10. Realize the growing presence of MS-13, the Hispanic gang that multiple sources have confirmed as operating within the area.

If we want to address a problem proactively, we begin today -- right now -- by surrounding our Hispanic male youth with positive protection from gang life.

11. Assist, not ostracize, gang members who are trying to reform themselves and others, like Reginald Oakley, the felon who organized the 2013 Palm Sunday truce.

"We had five different sets there that night," one man recalled Friday.

Has anybody done that since?

"No," he said.

12. Instead of only emulating David Kennedy's anti-violence model, we should contract with Father Greg Boyle of Los Angeles, whose Homeboys Industries is considered the best gang intervention model in the nation.

"Nothing stops a bullet like a job," Boyle likes to say.

13. Support the powerful movement that is emerging in this city, a scattershot collection of black-run grassroots organizations all devoted to ending violence.

Most groups don't make headlines, or run in well-known circles.

("What is Benwood?" one woman asked, when I mentioned the foundation to her.)

14. Finally, take them at their word when they say -- over and over again -- what they need.

"Jobs," one gang member said, speaking for a thousand. "The selling dope, the robberies will stop."

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329.