published Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

The roots of Chattanooga's rising gang violence problem

We're not sure where Mayor Ron Littlefield's new advisers on gang violence will focus their attention as they try to get a handle on the problem. Yet it has been apparent for some time that Chattanooga's rising gang-related violence -- as in other urban centers in America -- is significantly linked to deep levels of urban poverty, single parent households, a deficit in educational achievement, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of incarceration among young males stalled by these common indices of poverty.

This isn't a novel revelation, to be sure. But that may suggest the larger problem here: the environment that produces gang violence is a very common phenomena. It's so common, in fact, that it tends to be ignored when communities finally reach, as Chattanooga has, the threshold of gang violence that rings the alarm bell. Then, concerned leaders are prone to act is if they have to find an unknown factor, when it's been growing their nose for decades without much constructive attention.

That's not unusual in the United States. As recent studies have noted, Americans' national image has glorified our country as a classless, upwardly mobile society for so long that the conventional wisdom obscures the grim reality that the United States badly lags other western nations in upward mobility. So here, if kids get involved in gangs, it's not because their neighborhood culture from childhood pushes them that way; it's because they're deliberately choosing to go against our larger societal mores.

On the contrary, an insightful new review by the New York Times last week noted, "at least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less (upwardly) mobile" than other leading western nations. A study led by a Swedish economist, for example, "found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as an adult." That "persistent disadvantage," reporter Jason DeParle wrote, is "much higher than in Denmark (25) percent and Britain (30 percent), a country famous for its class constraints."

Even fewer (just 8 percent) of American males from the bottom fifth of household income -- typically the most impoverished segment, with family incomes in the U.S. below $25,000 -- rose to the top fifth (incomes over $100,000), while 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danish men in the same lower bracket managed to rise to the top fifth of income.

The Pew Charitable Trusts "Economic Mobility Project," DeParle's survey found, suggested similar disparities of America's more harsh economic class divisions. It showed that 65 percent of American males and females born in the bottom fifth of income levels stayed in the bottom 40 percent, while 62 percent of Americans born in the top fifth of incomes stayed in the top two-fifths over their lifetimes.

Such studies generally find that children born into families with higher incomes and levels of education stayed in those levels and vice versa -- and to a much greater extent in the United States than in other western countries that provide more social supports, better health care and more equitable education for lower- and lower-middle class families.

The only surprise in such findings is that more American conservatives and organizations -- from the National Review to Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, to Rick Santorum, the conservative former senator from Pennsylvania who nearly defeated Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses -- have also become focused on the societal causes and historical racial stratification that characterize America's low-ranking in upward mobility, which they also see as defeating the archetypal American dream.

"Republicans will not feel compelled to talk about income inequality, but they will feel a need to talk about lack of mobility -- a lack of access to the American dream," said John Bridgeland, a former aide to President George W. Bush, who has helped start Opportunity Nation to explore policies to reverse poverty.

Acknowledging the problem of economic divisions and the factors that entrench these divisions is just the first step on the long road toward a remedy. Yet it's clear -- and has been for decades in America's urban ganglands -- that urban gang issues are as much a symptom of a larger societal dysfunction, as they are one of the toughest issues.

Experience elsewhere shows that it will take more than an anti-gang, anti-crime/drug/guns strategy to quell the violence. Rather, it will take a comprehensive vision involving families, parents as first teachers, churches, neighborhoods, employers and after-school programs to root out the problem.

It's a costly, hard job for the long haul, and the whole community. But denial is no longer an option.

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lumpy said...

The "Great Society" has turned out to be a curse. Thanks Democratic Party.

January 10, 2012 at 12:09 a.m.
aae1049 said...

The all knowing, out of towner, TFP Editors telling the public that the gang problems are all social issues. We would expect such a narrow perspective from the Dem side side of the paper. Mr. Editor, you failed to mention that the impoverished community fails to take advantage of educational opportunities afforded to them. Any child at Howard or the failing schools can opt out and attend a school of their choice. There are also tutoring programs at the City's recreation centers, and job programs youth. So, cry lack of hand ups all you wish. If people do not accept the opportunities available to them, too bad. That by no means allows them to violate the law or harm others.

January 10, 2012 at 6:12 a.m.
Rtazmann said...


January 10, 2012 at 7:17 a.m.
hambone said...

Ratzmann is right.

Family is the answer!

A mother and FATHER, with values, giving guidance and disipline when needed!

January 10, 2012 at 8:39 a.m.
conservative said...

The "root" of the problem is Morals, specifically lack of Morals. The word is just not in the vocabulary of Lieberals. When was the last time you heard or read of a Lieberal dealing with the subject? Isn't it because ultimately the words GOD and the Bible will inter into the discussion? "But denial is no longer an option."

January 10, 2012 at 8:39 a.m.
maddawg said...

These advisors and commitees will do no good for the short term problem. Maybe they can change the behavior of future at risk kids but I doubt it. The current gang problem needs to be met with overwhelming force and maximum sentences for any of these weekly shootings going on. Bring in the National Guard if need be.

January 10, 2012 at 9:44 a.m.
onetinsoldier said...

Education opportunities abound for blacks. If they are fortunate they can learn to figure out how many beatings a week Fredrick would get if he were to receive 2 a day. And after this education, they can run out and get a good southern job at less pay than the toothless trailer trash whose answer to the above question is "not enough".

January 10, 2012 at 10:50 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

Maddawg said: Maybe they can change the behavior of future at risk kids but I doubt it. The current gang problem needs to be met with overwhelming force and maximum sentences for any of these weekly shootings going on.

Since it well known fact that gang members recruit and continue to operate their illegal activities on the outside from their prison cells, I don’t see how maximum prison sentences will resolve the gang problem. In fact, I know some social workers that believe that Tennessee’s private for-profit prison system, which imports prisoners from other States like gang infested California, has been one of the contributing factors in the rise of gang activity in Tennessee.

As to the future of kids at risk, I believe it is important to remember that street gangs in the U.S. have around since the 1800’s. The earliest gangs involved various white ethnic emigrant groups, and the gangs emerged as a result of poverty along with extreme social and cultural isolation. And although the composition of gangs has changed since those early days, the issues associated with poverty, social isolation, and the marginalization of families living in poverty still exist. Indeed, there is no shortage of gang ready kids living in Hamilton County.

January 10, 2012 at 11:52 a.m.
HimJim37 said...

Why does the comment section to every TFP article always have to include half a dozen partisan political rants that are barely relevant to the issue presented? If the extent of your social commentary is some recycled Rush Limbaugh patter from 10 yrs. ago. why bother commenting?

I think this piece just throws some tough questions out there: how do you bring young kids back into society? The school system cannot be their parents, their policemen, their doctor, their psychologist, their 24-hr guardian, and still educate them. You also cannot blame a child for society's problems and blaming their parents fixes nothing. So, propose a solution. And if your conservative values preclude consideration of real world problems, stick with US magazine.

January 10, 2012 at 12:08 p.m.
UnRhetorical said...

Littlefield has some catching up to do since he thought it was a "flash-mob" causing these problems...

January 10, 2012 at 1:36 p.m.
Legend said...

@ Any child at Howard or the failing schools can opt out and attend a school of their choice.

From the outside looking in the above suggestion makes sense. However, the reality of the issue is far more complicated than simply leaving a failing school to attend a school of choice.

January 10, 2012 at 2:37 p.m.
potcat said...

onetinsodier called a poster "Toothless trailor trash", and started out as saying, "Education opportunities abound for blacks".

onetin just insulted a large percentage of Tennesse residents who live in Trailors. How about the TRASH who live on Lookout MT. or Riverview. Just because you live in a trailor does not make you trash or toothless. Onetin, you are a truly horrible judgemental person, a fool.

As for,"Education opportunities abound for blacks", well yeah, same goes for every other ethnic group, including whites. When a child is poor, homeless,hungry and their Mother and Father are unemployed or on the brink of being so and the electric is cut off and you are being kicked out of your home "God forbid if its a Trailor" which by the way does not come cheap,if you are renting a Trailor and have a medium wage job, you can't even afford the rent for a Trailor and become the Trailor TRASH you so gleefully lablel a group of people with. A child knows the money problems of their own family. School is going to be the last thing on that childs mind.

Think about that you Trash heap of a Human. You are disgusting! If you are a millionaire and live in a mansion it would not change your Trashed Soul.

Some of the most decent,kind and "smart" hard working people i know live in Trailors.

AS for Gangs, they are so many reasons the streets get our Children. It reminds me of Sebastian Junger's book "WAR", its the same thing as a Platoon mentality, its about acceptance, belonging and even Love, not for the War but for each other.

January 10, 2012 at 4:15 p.m.

mountainlaurel said... "... the gangs emerged as a result of poverty along with extreme social and cultural isolation. And although the composition of gangs has changed since those early days, the issues associated with poverty, social isolation, and the marginalization of families living in poverty still exist. Indeed, there is no shortage of gang ready kids living in Hamilton County."

SO close to getting it right. Change "as a result" to "in the context" and you're there. The "extreme cultural and social isolation" is closer to the root of the issue. Very sad. And very remediable with minimal financial cost.

January 10, 2012 at 7:54 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I agree with HimJim on this. It is just bad taste to start out pretending to write on article that addresses the gang violence issue and end it with a pro Republican sensitivity fest.

January 10, 2012 at 8:21 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

Here's a fascinating article about genetics and gang violence. Let's see if the Republicans can empathize with that!,8599,1903703,00.html

January 10, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

SavartiTN said... Here's a fascinating article about genetics and gang violence. Let's see if the Republicans can empathize with that!,8599,1903703,00.html

Did they also commit themselves to carrying out a study as to why someone would murder their family members then commit suicide over whether their dying wife should be fed tea and toast or an orange? There's really no gene that can determine whether some groups are more likely to be violent and others are not. Too many other factors come into play and must be considered. No! Seriously:

excerpt: LOGAN, Ohio (AP) — A dispute over whether a terminally ill woman should have been given tea and toast or an orange apparently upset her husband so much that he shot and killed two of her sisters and his son before killing himself, a sheriff said Tuesday.

The sick woman, 59-year-old Darlene Gilkey, who's dying of cancer, witnessed the shootings from a hospital bed in her living room but was uninjured, Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North said.

Such studies are flawed, in that they've already decided on an answer long before they carry out the study. Plus, such studies come with lots of federal dollars to carry out, someone might even get their name in some medical journal.

"Gangs", or the appearance of gangs, form for many reasons. Even in wilderness, animals form gangs for protection. Mostly to protect themselves against larger more powerful animals, and also when they've been separated from some adult figure in their own group. Remember the findings on the young bull elephants when they were uprooted, separated from adult elephants and moved to another location to populate the area? What did they do? They formed gangs. They terrorized the other animals already inhabiting the area. They went on rampage after rampage, ripping up trees and destroying the plant life. They killed. They fought with one another, as well as protected one another.

Gangs in America's inner-cities primarily have grown and come to a head under the similar conditions. Being under constant threat from authority. Either one or both parents incarcerated at any given time mostly for minor offenses. Is there a connection between brutality at the hands of authority? The so-called WAR ON DRUGS that primarily targeted America's inner city poor during the last two or three decades and the rise in gangs all across America? Many tend to believe so. Living in poverty may have played only a very small minute hand in the problem. It's the way America tend to view its poor citizens. As if being poor automatically equates to becoming a criminal. Then there's exploitation of its poor. Plus the poor makes easier targets to incarcerate and for others to beat up on. The large arrests numbers look good on paper. No one sought to consider the human tragedy and backlash that would come along with American incarcerating so many of its fellow Americans.

January 10, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

Watching WTCI's "Tennessee Insider" the other day showed that local politicos are directing their attention to "outlying areas" like Signal Mountain and East Brainerd.

Meanwhile, the gang problem has about 50 incidents of observable violence within the city limits in the past year. There's obviously been daily activity, but we have at least 50 crimes easily reportable to the public which share gang activity as a characteristic.

We can see two characteristics of the politicians' response: that it appeals to racist fears and is likely to be ineffective because it avoids the main area of the problem, city residential neighborhoods.

I'm confident that we won't see measures that matter. Take Apison's recent town meeting about vandalism and animal cruelty problems. The citizens organized themselves and Sherrif Hammond went to listen to them. This is an example of recent successful community mobilization about a problem.

Our gang activity responses have been poor by comparison. We saw the victims prosecuted by the city. We saw witnesses intimidated by seeing church leaders slapped with bogus lawsuits about the fire code. The only effective government information gathering seemed to come from individual police officers taking emergency actions to stop crime while on patrol.

While we should support our police officers in their difficult tasks, it's obvious that emergency arrest actions from law enforcement are not enough to deal with a gang problem. Individual police officers on patrol cannot possibly address the many conditions which promote gang activity. We can all see that a drive to survive in what people perceive to be a tough environment encourages gang formation. So far, emergency police actions have been our only positive observable response towards this problem.

We need to see the Mayor of Chattanooga meet with our citizens, on location, in meetings near the homes of the victims. Until something like that happens, we won't have a community and government initiative of substance.

I doubt we will see any such meeting. The Mayor and the Chief of Police responded to these emergencies by getting behind a desk and making intimidating phone calls to a key witness, Pastor Reid. Their activities immediately following this crisis probably undermined, not supported, government's mission of promoting civilized survival.

We have seen zero effort of any substance to show even a cosmetic attempt at leading our citizens by daring to meet with them, face to face. Instead, we see the appointment of bureaucratic proxies.

Stopping the rising gang violence problem requires personal participation from all of us, not another "study." Interpersonal relationships that promote lawful behavior and survival are far more effective than a removed pushing of papers in some office.

January 11, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.
Lr103 said...

@328Kwebsite. The goal was never to address the rising crime or alleged gang problem in the city. The goal was to shutdown Club Fathom and run Tim Reid out of Dodge. The recent shootings, just like the Coolidge Park shootings accomplished the goal. In fact, where ever there's another Tim Reid to show up and certain segments of the city don't want him and the type clientele he attracks, you and others will see similar incidents being exploited and used to run any future Time Reids and his type patrons out of Dodge.

January 11, 2012 at 6:33 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

@Lr103: I basically agree, but do not think that is the way it should be, could be, or has to be.

We can do better.

Eventually those racist policies will prove to be unsustainable. Good public policy treats all of our citizens as citizens. It's cheaper, stronger and the right thing for government to do.

Meanwhile, I don't ascribe enough vision to Mayor Littlefield and his kind to credit them with wanting and then achieving anything. I think he is a vision-less exploiter of situations. He does not think his moves through. This latest attempt at appointing a "gang czar" is a stalling tactic. Those people will prove to be political tools; it'll probably become obvious after a short while that, by simply doing what they normally do and believing what they normally believe, that those folks will play into the hands of Mayor Littlefield by doing and achieving nothing.

Somehow, it will probably be that, through careful selection, we will have appointed and paid for people who honestly believe in a path that will not actually do anything in this environment. The appointed people will probably honestly believe what they say; but they will not actually articulate and work with or engage with local people in a meaningful way. The result will be that they achieve nothing. By the time the clock runs out, Mayor Littlefield will be halfway out the exit door.

Pass or fail, his successor will exploit those fall guys. Those appointed people will simply move on to some other PowerPoint slideshow job.

All Mayor Littlefield has to do to get through this is stall out a public long enough to get the next Republican real estate crony elected. It's obvious that he is not going to do anything substantive with his Mayorship, besides wreck the budget and devastate the city and county with his unintelligent policies.

Mayor Littlefield will run out the clock. Even during a serious crisis that is killing our citizens. The poor will continue to pay the price for corrupt and ineffective officeholders in government.

All politicians who get elected have to demonstrate some capacity to carry out retail politics: shaking hands and meeting people. Even though that's part of the solution here, we will see Mayor Littlefield and his real estate cronies doing none --none-- of that. Instead, they will stall.

January 11, 2012 at 7:44 p.m.
Lr103 said...

328Kwebsite, that's basically my point. Things shouldn't be that way. Especially in 21St century Chattanooga, and it's unfortunate and sad even that's exactly they are.

Bigotry, intolerance, the desire to keep a certain segment of Chattanoogans out are drivin forces behind many of the ills and problems affecting the city today.

Today's Chattanooga is the same Chattanooga it was over a century ago. The only difference is there are no signs in place. That'll likely come at a later date.

January 12, 2012 at 11:34 a.m.
FreedomJournal said...

Excerpt Taken From Essays on ‘The Crisis of the Black Male,’ “Fallen Letters Mis-Education & Intellectual Confusion (Essays on the Black Experience), Carl A. Patton, FreedomJournal Press, Murfreesboro, TN., 2007. Part 9: The Breeding of Self Hate

Throughout this series we have attempted to note what we believe to be some very important statements regarding the Black family. But as we close this series of articles on "The Crisis of the Black Male;" we will bring up for review one of the most important concerns within the Black family. If the Black man is in crisis, who is responsible? Surely the economics of racism has played a great part in this crisis. But there are also some other concerns that need to be brought up for review. Once again we see that the developing philosophy of racism has caused many Blacks to become their own worst enemy.

Therefore we see a crisis that becomes more pronounced by those who are set in crisis. The historic dis-organization of the Black family has resulted in many female heads of households. Many of these female heads of households have male children. Many of these Black women also have anger toward the father of their children. In some cases these women have children by more than one man.

We will preface our future statements by noting that we do not come to apologize for irresponsible and no-good Back men nor do we come to apologize for irresponsible Black women. But we do come to note that all Black men that have had children out of wedlock etc. are not irresponsible. We do not deny the immorality of sex without marriage but our point here has more to do with the love and care for the mother and the children. We also come to note that all Black men that did not raise their children and/or provide for the mothers of the children did not abandon these women and children. Often there are other factors that need to be addressed. Promiscuous behavior is only noted when two promiscuous people come together. The result of promiscuous behavior is often off-spring. Nothing is comical about bringing illegitimate children into the world and the following phrase, "Who is Your Daddy?" is not meant for comic relief: It is for sure that this phrase rings quite often in many so-called broken homes:

In so many female heads of households hatred toward the Black man develops. This hatred is confusing because most of these women continue to enjoy relationships with Black men. But many of these women teach their sons (many also teach all of their off-spring) hatred for their fathers. Thus, we pose the following question: "Do many Black mothers sanction and teach their sons to hate their fathers? Does this hatred become unconscious self hate for Black manhood? How then does this hatred impact on "The Black Male in Crisis?"

Cont. Part II

January 16, 2012 at 2:27 p.m.
FreedomJournal said...

Cont. Part II

It is a sad commentary to see Black celebrities and athletes on national TV bashing their fathers and the Black man in general. This is one of the most ignorant and stupid acts committed in the Black community. Any man should know that all women are not virtuous. Thus, you are a fool to think that your mother is a virgin with children. We do not advocate that the sons of Black women disrespect their mothers. But we do advocate that the sons should know that there are two sides to a story. It is also true that some cases of abandonment are the result of an irresponsible man, but women can also be irresponsible. But to get on national TV to bash your father is taken as an indictment on all Black men. Therefore, the Brothers in this situation should be quiet. Keep this hatred to yourself. One has to realize that any negative information about the irresponsibility of Black men feed into racists stereotypes. Thus, My Brother you surely do Not want to assist in your own demise, Now Do You? Meanwhile, the so-called abandonment by the Black man may be for a valid reason. A reason like "Who is Your Daddy?"

Therefore when Black celebrities get on TV they should think twice about embarrassing themselves and the Black community with negative statements about their fathers. The attitude of self hate by some of our most prominent celebrities re-enforces the on-going racism and disunity within the Black family and the Black community.

We would also be remiss if we did not note the scheme of dissension seen in the upward mobility of Black women. Once again we will preface our comments with a statement. We are not making any claims as to the lack of ability and skill of many Black women. Thus, many Black female professionals are deserving of the new found positions in administration etc.

We do note that in many instances the promotion of Black women has been done to cause havoc and ruin within the Black family and the Black community. Many Black female professionals that rise above their husbands in income and job position often take on a different value system. This value system is generated by racism with the expected results of disunity within the family and the Black community. Thus many of these women denounce their Black husband for White men and take on a general attitude of dis-respect for Black men.

Do Black women receive concessions from the institution of racism for dis-respecting Black men? Historically in America and the Diaspora there has been a different relationship between the Black man and the Black woman with the White man. Therefore Black women and/or the Black community should be well aware and not deny this great difference. This is the difference that allows a Black woman to find employment before the Black man. This is the difference that produces a non-threatening relationship in the work place for Black women and throughout society.

Brother, Carl

January 16, 2012 at 2:32 p.m.
lauraleigh said...

There is a really good article put out by the USDOJ/ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention @ In this article they explain the risk factors for children becoming involved in gangs. I haven't read it all, but from what I have read, it is scary to note that once children get past age 10 the chances of preventing them from joining a gang are very slim. This is due to the criteria of single parent household, educational problems/ mental problems, poverty, frequent child care changes etc. It appears that the gang development is the inevitable result from a perfect storm in early development due to no fault of the child and in many cases the misfortune of parents who live day to day like generations before them.

Law enforcement and the local government have got to become engaged and protective of the younger children and the single parents who go unprotected and at the environmental mercy of those who may be too far to reach. This is best described by the incident involving a 15 year old youth that was fatally shot in the back by a Chattanooga Housing Authority Officer. The officer had been committing illegal activity according to witnesses just moments prior to chasing this youth to his death. Perhaps, if the officer had been riding his patrol bike on 4th Avenue the exchange in gang fire would not have taken place and he could have prevented the death of this young male, at least for the day. There simply must be accountability on the part of local government and law enforcement in their contribution to the gang problem in Chattanooga. The officer felt comfortable enough that he could committ a crime while in uniform with the people he was assigned to protect. If the adult males in the community were behind the buildings gambling then who was watching out for the youth----should we be surprised he carried a gun? I wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood without friends and a gun if the police were capable of committing a felony in uniform and then shooting me in the back because I dared to protect myself in a hellish environment.

Once they reach gang level it is unlikely they can or will change. Luckily, this particular officer resigned from the Dept., however, there are many other problems that exist, many other corruptions that flourish in the Dept. and my hope is that when those men assigned by Mayor Littlefield look at the gang problem they look at the whole picture. Chief Felix Vess, in a news conference, stated that we should question why a 15 year old would be carrying a gun. I think the answer is simply that he lived in a war zone where the soldiers failed to do their jobs and became part of the problem. It is the price an officer must pay for the lack of money they receive in law enforcement. They must be honest and contribute to peace or be part of the problem.

I wish the best for those working on the gang problem in Chattanooga.


January 17, 2012 at 12:11 p.m.
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