published Sunday, March 17th, 2013


It's Sunday morning in Chattanooga. Blue sky frames scattered clouds and the birds sing as most of you read this.

The same sky shines all over town, but in some communities the birds hush as gunfire erupts. Sooner or later today, odds are unfortunately good that someone will be shot -- or at least shot at.

This beautiful, and in many ways progressive, city has got to come grips with the class, education and financial gaps that have spawned increasing gang activity in what at times appears to be a combat zone in east and south Chattanooga.

It's time for action when "perpetual" lockdowns at the East Lake Boys & Girls Club drive the executive vice president to beg for help after she herds 60 or 70 youngsters into a room with no windows as bullets fly outside.

"We are pleading for your help," she wrote to her board members Tuesday evening while in lockdown. "There is gunfire in the area with people shooting at each other. It is the 3-4 [third or fourth] time within the last month and [a] half. Could you use your influence to talk with City Council, County Commissioners, police or any other official that has the authority to help provide a safe place for our children."

As Debbie Gray pecked out that message, police with military-style semi-automatic rifles were swarming the neighborhood looking for a man who stepped out of a group of 30 to shoot an officer responding to a help call.

The week before, it had been Howard School in lockdown for the safety of young people after a student was shot in a house near the campus. Both the student and the shooter had gang connections, according to investigators.

Imagine if this is your neighborhood. Your school. Your park or recreation area. Your children. Chattanooga -- all of Chattanooga -- is better than this.

But not unless all of Chattanooga begins to care about it in a way that doesn't embrace fear.

Not unless all of Chattanooga begins to think about repairing the broken links in our community: the class gap, the education gap, the jobs gap.

On the same day Debbie Gray's desperation spilled out in an email, a bill developed by Mayor Ron Littlefield's gang task force was being previewed in the Tennessee General Assembly in a House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee meeting.

The provisions of the bill, sponsored by former police officer Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, are all law-enforcement related. Generally, the bill beefs up penalties for gang members or suspected gang members possessing a gun without a permit within 1,000 feet of a school, youth center or recreation center.

But the bill's summary makes it clear that it may very well include people who are not in a gang.

"Under this offense, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the person devotes all, or a substantial part, of the person's time or efforts to the criminal gang, nor is it necessary to prove that the person is a member of the criminal gang."

In other words, anyone with a gun but no permit gets a tougher "gang" penalty if they're near a school or youth center.

A fiscal note on the bill anticipates that the jailing of these potential new offenders will cost the state $2.3 million a year.

But that could be far from the greater cost if this is the only sad Band-Aid the city, its six-month-old task force and state lawmakers can find.

Previous efforts to "protect" families in so-called dangerous neighborhoods have unseen collateral damage. Ask Kenyell Jefferson, who for a decade because of a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, wasn't allowed to visit his grandmother, aunt, cousins, or the mother of his 2-year-old son and the toddler in College Hill Courts. His conviction placed him on the Chattanooga Housing Authority's criminal trespass list and banned him from the apartment property.

Jefferson is free now to go there after graduating from the Hope for the Inner City's Jobs for Life program and landing a job.

Is this tough love or is it just placing one more obstacle in front of an already overwhelmed community?

We'd like our law and policy fixes to be neat, but often they are not.

Just focusing on guns won't stop this. We also have to rethink our city to bridge its widening gaps of class, education and jobs.

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shen said...

When people basically can't make it home from their job without being stopped, arrested and their weekly or bi-weekly wage confiscate, that leads to increasing povery rates too. Which leads to increasing crime and seeking other means, perhaps some illegal, just to make ends meet.

No one should have their money confiscated on the spot during a simple routine traffic stop when there's no proof or evidence of drugs either on the person or in their vehicle. Even when the individual may have unpaid court fines or fees. Because once the hard earned money is confiscated, it's certainly likely to be returned without a fight. A fight most of these individuals, living less than paycheck to paycheck, can't afford anyway.

And no officer should be able to demand a strip search of an individual, when nothing illegal of any kind was found, even if that person does have priors. Strip searches are one of the most humiliating, degrading experiences anyone could have done to them, and they should be a rarity. Not something routine or at the officers' discretion.

There are so many triggers going on in many of these communities that's a contributing factor to crimes and to many of their problems, contributing factors others looking in from the outside can't even begin to comprehend. Making it near impossible to find solutions.

midnight basket ball isn't even a bandaid.

March 17, 2013 at 1:41 p.m.
joneses said...

I awaken to bird songs because where I live the people are responsible gun owners.

March 17, 2013 at 5:05 p.m.
shen said...

Yeah, right, joneses. That is, until little junior or missy goes beserk and kills the entire family because the parents took away their driving privileges. Or some old fart treats their gun like a set of car keys. Forgets and lay them down where some kid gets ahold of the gun and ............ well. We all know how that goes.

March 17, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Granny? Is that you? Are you working for the TFP and writing headlines in all caps??

March 18, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.
Lr103 said...

Just give'em their raise and take home cars. Then things will settle down and we can once again all start to hear birdsongs instead of gunfire.

March 19, 2013 at 9:07 a.m.
conservative said...

What a whiner!

The job of law enforcement is to enforce the law! This encompasses protecting citizens. And yes, law enforcement needs guns, even semi-automatic guns and rifles. I wish Liberals would learn/find out that nearly all guns are semi-automatic.

The minimum wage has played a huge role in black teenager unemployment. Unemployed people get into trouble. I wish Liberals would learn/find that out.

Most importantly Biblical base morals should be taught in school and home. Did you ever notice that kids brought up this way seldom cause trouble and commit crimes? I wish Liberals would learn/find that out.

Did you notice that this writer only whined, mostly about guns and law enforcement?

March 19, 2013 at 9:26 a.m.
BigRidgePatriot said...

Bird and frog songs out this way. It is hard to believe that we have such a concentration of violence and squalor just 20 minutes away. Someone should pay a little less attention to golf courses, hotels, fields of ridiculous sculpture and the likes and more to the business of running a city. Too bad the citizens of Chattanooga elected a mayor that did not even attempt to put forward a plan towards such an end.

March 19, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.
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