For more information on Healing on Both Sides call James Moreland at 423-364-1697
Just before the tears began to stream down Sebrina Robinson's face, she told parents to take control of their children.
Go through things in their rooms. Look at their cellphones. Do pop-up visits at their schools. If they're in a gang, get them out, she said. They can't have the same friends they had in a gang. Take their phones. Drop them off at their appointments and be there to pick them up. Go to the police or put them in the Army if you have to, just get them out.
The 42-year-old mother of five lost her next-to-youngest daughter, 20-year-old Talitha Bowman, on Jan. 1, 2015. Robinson said her daughter just happened to answer the door when Cortez Sims came to an apartment looking for someone else.
The 17-year-old gang member allegedly shot Bowman twice in the back, one bullet exploding her heart. Sims faces a trial for murder on Sept. 27.
Robinson is among a growing group of mothers in Chattanooga and across the country mourning slain sons and daughters and supporting other mothers new to the grieving process.
Her daughter's 2015 death and the ones that have happened this year are senseless, Robinson said. She spoke before the toll went to 13 following a shooting early Sunday morning outside a downtown restaurant. Chattanooga police say many of the deaths are gang-related.
"Twelve bodies, 12 people hurt, 12 families suffering," Robinson said. "Even though my daughter has been dead a year, I'm still suffering, and I know they are going to suffer just as hard."
Robinson and other parents of slain children joined founder James Moreland and police officers to form the support group Healing on Both Sides. They reach out to families who have lost children to violence, as well as those whose sons and daughters are in jail after acts of violence.
Members of the group share their painful stories with anyone who will listen in hopes of deterring other violent acts.
Patricia McCrary said her healing will start when someone is brought to justice for the death of her 18-year-old son, Tyrone Stewart.
"I'm still hurting. I got so much anger inside of me because they shot him," McRary said.
She hoped joining Healing on Both Sides would connect her to a detective who could help solve the crime. When she found no investigator, she started trying to investigate her son's death herself. She's made several trips to the courthouse asking about her son's case, but no one gave her any answers, she said. Frustrated and discouraged, she doubts if anyone will ever be convicted for killing her child.
It's been eight years since Stewart was shot to death. Eight years of daily crying, depression medication and rage. She once took pride in successfully raising two boys, both high school graduates, in one of the largest public housing sites and crime hotspots in the city. Now she struggles with guilt because she couldn't protect her oldest son and she's worried about the welfare of her youngest.
Stewart was shot amid a crowd of people on March 29, 2008. An eyewitness testified that 20-year-old Dominic Antonio Pointer shot him at close range outside a "pajama party" at Papa Daddy's Club, 1900 Dodds Ave.
The witness said Pointer came to Stewart like he was going to shake his hand, then pulled a handgun with the other hand and shot him in the chest.
McCrary is angry because, although many people saw the shooting, hardly any came forward in court. And the witness who did speak later changed his testimony to say he wasn't sure Pointer had a gun. The case was dismissed for lack of evidence.
The Chattanooga Housing Authority and Chattanooga Police Department are installing more surveillance cameras to increase safety and lessen reliance on eyewitnesses. The CHA said surveillance videos were used to identify several people who committed shootings and other violent crimes near public housing sites.
Mayor Andy Berke says adding cameras will help police determine what vehicles are on the streets right before and immediately after a shooting, according to news reports.
But some public housing residents say the cameras are equivalent to Big Brother, and that there are more effective ways to spend $1 million to reduce crime, such as creating jobs for young people.
Some community leaders maintain that gangbanging, selling drugs, shootings and theft are crimes stemming from economic inequality.
"When a man commits sin in darkness, don't look at the man who committed the sin. Look at who created the darkness," Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad said last week during an address to the Chattanooga City Council.
"When you see us committing crimes, they are derivative crimes born of the greater crimes of the society," Muhammad said.
Former NAACP Vice President Joe Rowe explained in a presentation he calls "Freedom Road" how most African Americans in Hamilton County experience a different reality than the majority population.
According to Rowe, 50 percent of black men in some Hamilton County communities are unemployed. And unemployment among blacks is two to three times higher than the national average. Prostitution, illegal drug use and violent crime is on the increase. And Hamilton County is among the nation's top 10 counties for income inequality.
"Generational poverty, less education, less money often leads to hopelessness, depression, anger and sometimes to crime," Rowe wrote on a slide in the presentation.
State Rep. JoAnne Favors spoke about the violence in Chattanooga to the state Legislature.
"Most of the gang activity is in my district," the Chattanooga Democrat said. "We've spent many hours trying to see what the underlying factors are and we've come to the conclusion that African Americans are only seven generations away from that dastardly evil called slavery."
Blacks left slavery with nothing, and promises of land and money evaporated, she said.
"In 1865, African-Americans had one half of 1 percent of the wealth in the United States. Today African Americans still have one half of 1 percent of the wealth. The economic aspect has not been addressed and dealt with," Favors said.
Brenda Johnson and her mother, Norma Johnson, did the best they could raising Michael Johnson. Norma Johnson watched her grandson when his mother was at work, but their supervision wasn't enough.
Michael Johnson, 20, was sitting on a porch at 2138 E. 27th St. when a drive-by shooter fired and hit him in the head on April 29, 2010. He died a day later. He was a member of the Rollin 60's street gang.
Maybe there was some male in the gang he looked up to, Brenda Johnson said.
He tried to do good, she said. He got kicked out of Brainerd High School, but was going to Chattanooga State Community College for his GED. He wanted to be a lawyer.
Brenda Johnson said her son had potential to be a businessman.
"Get these young men jobs and a trade school to give them something else to do," she said.
If young people can lead three or four people in a gang and keep track of money, they probably have some management skills, she said.
Muhammad recommended jobs and job training for inner city youth in his people's state of the city address at a Chattanooga City Council meeting this month.
He recommended that Berke use the $1 million that he proposed for cameras to provide jobs for inner city youth. And he also called on Volkswagen, Amazon, Coca-Cola and River City to each match the $1 million to create more jobs.
Then he suggested a rehabilitation initiative for the formerly incarcerated to help with job training and to provide them full-time jobs.
Invest time and money to teach people how to read, get their GED and teach them a trade.
"We can't keep telling our brothers to put the guns and drugs down and we don't give them anything to pick up," Muhammad said.
McCrary said she regrets now that she and her oldest son argued on the night he was killed.
She advises parents to hug their children and express love toward them.
"I know we want time for ourselves," she said. "But kids have it hard when they walk out the door and you might not get that chance again."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@times freepress.com or 757-6431.