Leaders say community should reach out to youth

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After a month of shootings in the city, almost all of which involved young black men, retired Chattanooga police detective Napoleon "Donut" Williams had had enough.

He was tired of hearing "Where is the black community?" in the midst of all the violence.

"Here we are. Here's the black community," Williams said Friday, standing on the steps of Chattanooga City Hall as a crowd around him applauded. "We love this community. We were born in this community; we want young people to put these guns down.

"Ain't nobody making money now but the funeral home," he said. "We want to reach out to these kids and let them know this is not the way."

Williams organized Friday's event, which attracted about three dozen black leaders, clergy and residents, to call for an end to violence in the city. The group met after a slew of shootings in the area this month that have left four people dead and 12 others injured.

Unemployment and despair lead some young people to join gangs, a local pastor said.

"No hope. Not a lot of opportunities. That's what I hear over and over," said the Rev. Kevin Adams, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church.

Law enforcement officials are considering stricter enforcement of curfew laws already on the books or requiring adults to accompany minors in city parks, including Coolidge Park on the Tennessee River, where shots were fired last Saturday in a crowd of about 300 youths.

Adams called for legislation to create programs to train and hire ex-felons so they can become productive members of society. Terran Gilbert, the son of City Councilman Russell Gilbert, called for mentoring programs for youths.

The Rev. Paul McDaniel, a former Hamilton County commissioner and senior pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church, asked where young people are getting all the guns.

"What's the source of these guns?" McDaniel asked. "If we make it easy for them to purchase guns, then we are a part of the problem."

State Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said young blacks must be convinced that this city belongs to them, just as it belongs to every other resident. They also must have access to jobs and the hope of a better future, she said.

"They have to have the proper resources, jobs," Brown said. "They must understand that it [a job] goes to the best-qualified person and I get it if I am the best qualified. That's what keeps hope alive."

Chattanooga Housing Authority board Chairman Eddie Holmes said CHA officials are calling for stricter, swifter consequences for residents or visitors who repeatedly commit crimes at public housing sites.

Now, CHA residents who receive an eviction notice for such infractions can appeal to the housing authority. But Holmes said that in the future those appeals will be heard in front of a City Court judge.

"If any criminal activity happens on our property, we're moving to evict you," he said.

"So much has happened on our site that we have to be a little more aggressive. We have a charge to protect all of our citizens."

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