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Just a block away from a "gathering house, " Ezra Harris, 56, president of the Woodmore Neighborhood Association, talks about the problems of recent violence in his community.
It certainly appears to be an intergang 'beef.' And the reasons are myriad, and they're often very trivial.
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Leaning against his car, Ezra Harris, center, president of the Woodmore Neighborhood Association, talks to Walter Harmon and Jeffery Evans about the problems of recent violence in his community where he has lived for 25 years.

The rant became a sermon in a parking lot near the shooting.

"Change is not going to come by moving it from one place to another," said Walter G. Harmon, a 64-year-old elder at Abundant Life Church of God in Christ. Not in East Chattanooga. Or in Alton Park. Or along Glass Street.

"That's why we came through here," Harmon said, speaking near a puddle of fresh rain, his button-down shirt wrinkled slightly in the humidity. "To pray."

Standing downhill from 819 Woodmore Lane, where police say 28-year-old Alex Freeman was killed early Tuesday in a spray of bullets, Harmon had gathered with two other men to reflect upon the latest spate of violence. Their anger had boiled over into frustration mixed with sadness.

"If we say we're believers, we have to hold onto hope in a doubtful situation," Harmon said.

Ezra Harris, president of the Woodmore Neighborhood Association, agreed but said Harris might struggle to convey that message to a group of "hard knockers."

"That's what they said about the apostle Paul before he was converted," Harmon said.

Starting Saturday, police recorded five separate shooting incidents that resulted in two deaths: Alex Freeman and Marcus Cal, both 28. On what would have been her birthday, a 23-year-old woman, Aisha Bearden, was found dead inside her College Hill Courts apartment on Monday. The night before, two men opened fire in the 2300 block of Daisy Street, wounding four people, including a 7-year-old boy.

On the whole, there were 12 victims of the violence, Chattanooga Police Department spokesman Kyle Miller said. So far, police have made one arrest and continue to investigate leads.

It was a familiar scene. In April, 12 shootings in seven days set Chattanooga on edge. A 17-year-old was killed and 12 other people were wounded, including two women who were pregnant. At least seven of the shootings were motivated by an ongoing gang dispute, police said.

From the scene of Freeman's death, Chief Fred Fletcher said the shootings appeared to be gang-related. Meanwhile, police are working under the assumption the Daisy Street shooting is connected to the Freeman and Cal shootings.

"It certainly appears to be an intergang 'beef.' And the reasons are myriad, and they're often very trivial," Fletcher said. "That's what makes it so tragic to our community is people aren't fighting over things like the reason this Fourth of July holiday was built to celebrate — which is fighting for their freedoms of their community. These are over little things, like music videos, and disrespect, and the affection of girls — not for significant reasons like men and women dying to protect our country."

Fletcher was not alone.

In a meeting Tuesday, Councilman Yusuf Hakeem said citizens want to know where he and his colleagues stand on ending gang violence. He requested the council meet with public safety officials to discuss curative options. Kevin Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, also called for a unity of efforts.

"Our people are dying," Muhammad said in a phone interview.

In the 1000 block of Jarvis Avenue on Tuesday, where Cal was killed in a gunfight, a teenage boy buried his face in his hands on a front porch. A relative of Cal's declined to comment as he pulled into a driveway.

At 819 Woodmore Lane, several friends and family members who had gathered outside scattered under rooflines or into cars as raindrops began to fall. No one wanted to comment.

Harris, Harmon and a third man, Jeffery Evans, 49, who often visits crime scenes to console people, continued their examination in the parking lot. They had met Tuesday on the scene.

Harris, 56, said he was a former officer with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office with experience as a substitute teacher. Several days, he said, he saw children from broken homes shuffle into classrooms, having eaten no breakfast and plagued by circumstances from within that gnawed at their chance of success.

Harmon nodded.

"Get to the root of what's causing this," he said, motioning up the hill. "We're looking at the surface."

Harris agreed, saying it's not just a problem in Chattanooga.

"Look what happened in Chicago last night," he said. "Four got killed."

The solution, he said, is getting "the bad folk and the good folk at the same time."

"That's how we get to the root," Harmon said.

Staff writers Kendi A. Rainwater and Paul Leach contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at 423-757-6347 or zpeterson@timesfreepress.com. Follow @zackpeterson918.

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