published Monday, March 25th, 2013

Chattanooga gang leaders call cease-fire

Do you think the gang cease-fire will make a difference?

Former gang leaders from different parts of Chattanooga called a meeting of current leaders Sunday evening and agreed on a cease-fire in the bloody rivalry that has left some neighborhoods bullet-riddled and terrorized.

"This is day one. A truce has begun," said one of the attendees at a house where the deal was made over a dining room table.

Groups of leaders from some of the city's most active gangs dropped by the house at different times to agree upon the cease-fire. They agreed it was a fragile start but that everyone wants the bloodshed to stop.

"It's a work in progress," said another attendee. The participants declined to give their names and asked that the location be kept anonymous for fear of retaliation or arrest.

At least 16 people have been shot this month, and three have died, including a 16-year-old student who was shot just a couple of blocks from his school.

Just this weekend, two people were wounded in a shooting in the 1300 block of Buckley Street in East Chattanooga.

It's unclear how many of this year's shootings are gang-related, but police have said that many of them are.

Skip Eberhardt, a former gang leader who now runs a program to help those trying to earn a GED, sat in on the series of meetings Sunday evening. He said the summit had been in the works for the past couple of months, even before the shootings grew more frequent.

"I think some of their best buddies are getting killed. They're tired of it," he said.

Getting the members of the warring groups to the table has been challenging, Eberhardt said.

"Some of them still have animosity and don't trust one another," he said.

A gang assessment conducted last year in the city showed that gangs were entrenched in some neighborhoods, but the overall problem was described as emerging.

No police or city leaders were at the meeting Sunday night.

During a public safety panel last week, Mayor-elect Andy Berke promised Chattanooga would become the safest midsized city in the South.

He cited figures comparing the Scenic City with 50 other midsized cities in the region and concluded Chattanooga had the 10th-highest violent crime rate. Berke vowed to focus on policing, prevention, prosecution and punishment of crime during his four-year term.

Staff writers Beth Burger and David Cook contributed to this report.

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