Sgt. Todd Royval of the Chattanooga Police Department's Crime Suppression Unit speaks Saturday at the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed gang summit. He described telltale signs of gang membership. Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press
Chattanooga gang members are feuding on Facebook before taking it to the streets, local police say.
Before almost every gang-related shooting in Chattanooga, police officers get a call warning them there is an argument on Facebook and something is going to happen.
“It’s crazy that typing back and forth causes people to shoot each other, but basically that’s what it is,” Chattanooga police officer Josh Mays said Saturday. “They’re arguing back and forth, and as soon as they see each other, the first thing they do is pull out a gun and shoot.”
Mays was among several hundred young people, elected officials, parents and community leaders who gathered at the East Chattanooga Weed and Seed’s first gang summit Saturday at the Tivoli Theatre.
“There’s way too much death going on in this city,” Mays said. “Way too many guys and girls walking around with bullets in them, and that’s just what we know. For every shooting or stabbing we find out about there’s probably 10 or 15 that we have no clue even happened.”
The summit comes after a week in which five people were shot and one died. Ronald Blackmon, 25, died after he was shot in the head March 4. Police said the shooting suspect, a gang member, told them he mistook Blackmon for someone else.
The next day, someone blindly fired several shots through an apartment window, striking a 3-year-old boy and a 20-year old. Two other men were shot in separate incidents.
Parents are the front line of defense against gang activity, speakers said.
“One of the main things that I can tell the parents here is that if you do not know how to get into your kid’s Facebook [page] and look and see who they are friends with and see their pictures, you’re way behind,” Mays said.
The officers showed Facebook pages of local youths sporting gang tattoos and making hand signs. A six-pointed star with pitchforks represents the Gangster Disciples. A five-pointed star represents the Bloods. Crips use a six-pointed star and the number six. Vice Lords use the letters VL, the number five and a five-pointed star.
Gangs also use nicknames. “G Mac” stands for Gangster Disciples. “Damu” is Swahili for blood, and Crips sometimes call each other “Cuz.”
Neighborhood groups such as MOE (Money Over Everything), Cutthoat and Kemp Drive Posse become training ground for more established gangs.
Speakers at Saturday’s summit called repeatedly for a united front against violence.
“Every week our heart is broken,” said Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey. “We are not so divided that we cannot work together.”
Weed and Seed officials said they will host a roundtable discussion within six months that will focus on solutions to ending violence and gang activity.
“Our purpose today is to reach out to each other. This is bigger than what we see. This is huge,” said Joe Vesselles, director of the male mentoring group Multi-Cultural Youth Training & Development. “I’d hate to see another child lose his life because we did nothing.”
Being in a gang can get you killed or in jail, said 12-year-old Tamara Ashford of Brown Middle School.
“You think the gang loves you, but they don’t. If they loved you, they would tell you to get an education,” she said.
Darryl Lamar Smith, Campus Crusade for Christ’s national director for campus ministry Student Venture, gave the keynote address.
“All kids have a bright future, but if they don’t choose it, they lose it,” said Smith, a 1983 graduate of Kirkman High School.
Youths must be mindful of their associates, academics and activities, he said. Parents must understand that kids want the same as adults — that they’re loved and accepted.
“When it’s not in the home, they look in other places,” said Smith. “Gangs give false hope, a false belonging, but for kids it’s better than nothing.”
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...