Shootings must stop, and patterns offer clues

Shootings must stop, and patterns offer clues

June 23rd, 2013 in Opinion Times

When is the shooting going to stop? And why can't we make it end?

We know lots of facts about the more than 60 shootings that have injured or killed people in Chattanooga since Jan. 1.

Think about that. More than 60 shooting injuries or deaths in little, beautiful, fun, peaceful-looking Chattanooga where the river winds quietly through green and blue mountains.

We're averaging about a shooting with an injury every three days here.

A week ago today, police reported that a woman heading home from a shopping trip drove herself to the hospital after she realized she'd been shot in the side after she was in the vicinity of a gunfight in a store parking lot.

The 23-year-old told police she noticed people yelling at each other in the lot and heard gunshots around 10 p.m. last Sunday on Brainerd Road. She said it wasn't until a few minutes later that she realized she'd been hit by one of the bullets.

In the first three months of the year, Times Free Press staffers collected the names of 38 people who were shot or involved -- sometimes the trigger person -- in shootings. Of those 38, 26 have police records: 20 had been in juvenile delinquent hearings and six had been tried for some crime as adults.

The 18 in Juvenile Court had a total of 66 delinquent charges. Ten were felonies involving violence -- three aggravated assaults, three aggravated robberies, two attempted murders, one especially aggravated robbery and one felony reckless endangerment charge.

But those 18 juveniles also had 10 felony property charges, five possession of weapon charges (not all guns), seven drug possession charges and 34 misdemeanor charges -- including 14 simple assaults.

Does anyone notice a pattern here?

There's more.

We also collected school information on our list of shooters and victims. Of the 20 youngest individuals (all 21 or under), 14 were Hamilton County students, but only five graduated from high school. One died, one went to jail, three were transferred to state youth institutions, one dropped out, another withdrew to Job Corps and transferred to out-of-state schools.

Nine were D and F students, four were C students, one was an A-B student. Four had records of in-school suspensions and detentions. Five had records of school suspensions, expulsions or orders to alternative schools. Only five had no discipline entries.

So the pattern grows more clear: These youths are behind in school, they eventually leave school, sometimes by their own decisions but sometimes not.

After losing traction in school, they have been in and out of crime trouble for years. Even early on, these youngsters were gang members waiting to happen.

Often police discount the gang aspect, saying that while those involved may have gang tattoos or clothing, the shots were fired over a girl or woman, or during a drug deal gone bad, or whatever.

But gang involvement shouldn't be discounted. Gang culture is gun culture. It's violent. Period. Gangs, like other groups, use guns as a show of status, a rite of passage. But gangs also are using the guns as a tool to settle disputes.

And yes, gangs are fed by poverty. In communities where few have jobs, learning is an uphill battle because the youngsters have less extras to ready them for the first grade. That can become a generational treadmill of more poverty and future learning problems -- and of course future gang culture.

Finally, after years of waving off an emerging Chattanooga gang problem as "wanna-bes" the city and its residents are waking up to see the entrenched gang culture here.

In April, after "bloody March," gang leaders themselves saw the problem growing out of hand and arranged a truce.

"Bloody March" was the gang leaders' description for a spate of daily shootings described as retaliations following violence after the death of a Howard High student who was shot in a vacant house a few blocks from campus. Between March 5 and March 25, police worked 14 shootings in which someone was killed or injured.

The truce worked for a while. But now Chattanooga is aiming to -- and must -- bolster the effort with relationships, jobs and other efforts.

At the end of June, former Howard School Principal Paul Smith will take a pay cut to become the city's public safety coordinator -- a new position that largely will be a one-man coordination outfit to replace the gang task force.

And the police effort is increasing, too. The city is expending overtime to staff downtown and North Shore's Coolidge Park with 10 extra officers all summer.

A shooting every third day is absurd for a city like Chattanooga.

It's time to look at the patterns and address the root issues.

It's time to stop the shooting.