published Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

David Cook: In Chattanooga, some sort of peace from gang violence

The group of gang leaders had just walked out of the dining room -- a stack of pizza boxes on the table, makeshift ashtrays, extra chairs but still not enough for everyone -- and back into the gusty night.

A moment or two passed. About as long as it takes to light a cigarette. Or say a brief prayer.

Near the head of the dining room table, one man -- respected and feared by the younger men who had just left -- looked up and spoke.

"What time is it?" he asked.


On Palm Sunday night.

"The truce has begun," he said. "You were a witness."

As the Sunday evening sun went down over the Chattanooga streets where 16 people have been shot this month, some sort of peace was struck among city gangs.

At different times during the night, leaders from some of the most visible and violent gangs traveled to one Chattanooga dining room, drawn there by a group of their elders, several men whose histories on the street give them a legitimacy and authority to pull off something that no one else in this city seems able to do.

A cease-fire.

It may be fragile. Like an infant born too early, or too late.

But it's alive.

"It's time to stand down,'' one of the elders said.

Call it the Palm Sunday peace.

There was little formality. The front door opened and gang leaders (different gangs came at different times) walked in. They all looked under 30.

Handshakes. Some laughing, but not for too long. Some wore colors, others did not. A few were drinking, most were not. Some carried a weariness in their eyes. Actually, most did.

All black males.

Yet just as easily: had you changed the background, clothes and setting, it could have been soldiers coming in from battle. Italians meeting around a Chicago back room.

The clothes of violence are not exclusive to our city. Or to one group.

Nor is the hope for peace. Or at least, less violence.

For 20 or 30 minutes, each group spoke about how this noise -- the retaliatory, back-and-forth, bap-bap-bap violence -- needs to stop. Getting out of hand. Getting crazy.

The older men spoke with a blend of love and anger. A sternness. Cursing, yet out of concern.

The younger men spoke about keeping folks in line, holding to the truce. They spoke about the other groups not present. How to walk out onto this fragile bridge being built.

How to trust the gangs they distrust.

And in the air hung the notion that seemed to be falling into the hearts and minds of everyone in the room in different ways, at different times, with a different gravity:

This way of living is not working.

"If I had a job, I'd be at home right now, getting ready for bed," one man said. He looked 20.

We -- the rest of us -- talk so much about crime. And how to stop it. Sitting at that dining room table, I thought about how small those conversations seem compared to this.

Gang members have this paradoxical relationship to power: surrounded by the social powerlessness of poverty, yet also able to call an end to the violence in a way that no other person or agency in the city is able to do.

Not the mayor. Not preachers. Not cops.

"They want to resolve the problems with the shootings and killings," said Skip Eberhardt, one of the elders, who also runs a GED program for men just like the ones there Sunday night.

The cease-fire was born out of two situations: the long, patient work of Eberhardt and other elders who are trusted and respected by younger gang leaders.

And second: the desire of those younger leaders to build something better than this.

This doesn't mean all crime ends. There will be shootings. But they may not be gang-related. And -- the leaders gave their word -- it won't be like this bloody March.

"They want the city to know,'' one man said to me. "That's why you're here."

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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dfreezy said...

Great column David. I'm glad you pointed out that the rest of us sit around talking about how to end crime, and don't consider the people who actually live with it on a daily basis. It makes me think of this stupid times free press poll

Why the paper asks stupid questions like this, I don't know. Who cares what the readers of the times free press think about this? They aren't the ones who matter. The ones who do are the people who live their lives out as gang members. They're the ones will make the difference. Not the bourgeois yuppies on the North Shore and Signal Mountain.

I also hope the whitewashed media will stop attributing every single shooting to "gang violence," because most of the shootings don't involve gang members. That's just a racist term that our media likes to slap on any crime involving black people.

March 26, 2013 at 12:56 a.m.
dfreezy said...

I bet all the people who voted 'no' in that poll have never talked to a single gang member in their life.

March 26, 2013 at 12:57 a.m.
jjmez said...

I also hope the whitewashed media will stop attributing every single shooting to "gang violence,"

Don't blame that whatewashed media, dfreezy. That's what the police feed both the public and the media. It helps to bring in more federal dollars, spread continous fear and suspicion. Especially of people who don't look like they belong in certain areas. Turn neighbor against neighbor.

Look at all the new units that opened up within police depts. to fight the war on gangs. Place innocent citizens under surveillance, etc. etc. The entire thing, war on drugs, war on gangs, war on war, war on this/that and the other is a sad and pitiful racket, and the public bought into it. Why? Because, fear is the ultimate way to control the masses. And again, don't forget those federal dollars. They're a guarantee for promotions, bonuses, job guarantee and hefty retirement packages while communities around us deteriorate and fall deeper into poverty and despair.

March 26, 2013 at 8:13 a.m.
tcrashfx said...

I bet most of the people who voted 'yes', or 'no', in that poll, or read this opinion piece, have ever talked to a single gang member in their life.

March 26, 2013 at 8:30 a.m.
jesse said...

I would bet that most people that read this newspaper are smart enough to not put themselves in the position of needing to talk to a gang member!

March 26, 2013 at 8:38 a.m.
jjmez said...

It all depends on how we define gang-member, jesse. Seems like the term gang member is being overplayed, and has come to represent any and all things black, urban-inner-city in Chattanooga.

March 26, 2013 at 8:52 a.m.
jesse said...

JJ, About ten years ago i lived on my boat at ross's landing and myself and my girlfriend rode the shuttle to the nightfall cajun night and by the time it was over the bus had quit running so we walked back to the dock! Along the way at about 5th and market we were approached by 4 bangers walking abreast blocking the side walk!Needless to say we stepped out into Market St. to avoid a confrontation! LAST TIME we walked downtown after dark thirty!!

Were they gang members?I don't know BUT they were THUGS and i was outnumberd and I had her w/me so what ya gonna do?

March 26, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.
jjmez said...

What made you ASSume they were bangers, and not just idiot criminals with no respect for anyone, jesse? My family and I use to walk through Ross's Landing up until about 10 or 15 years ago, when a group of yuppie white youths chased us from the area with brass knuckles and other objects. We felt safe going there day or night up until then. It never occured to me to consider them g-bangers of any kind. Just stupid, a&hole youth. Ones with apparently no values, respect or sense of right and wrong. I haven't been back to Ross's Landing sense. We basically stopped attending the River Bend Festival for the very same reason. The last time we attended, while walking back to our cars, people were throwing things from their cars at our group, many from out of town, some foreigners (that really left a great* impression of the city), and shouting racial slurs, while the police stood by and did nothing.

March 26, 2013 at 9:09 a.m.
jesse said...

Well JJ, when they are in a PACK AND all wearing RED cap and pants on the ground I assumed i needed to MOVE OVER!

UNLIKE you i decided starting a conversation w/them about it would be a BAD MOVE!!

March 26, 2013 at 9:52 a.m.
jjmez said...

jesse, the PACK my family encountered were all dressed in that black gothic style. You know the type, like Harris/Kleibold were known for. Unlike YOU, I had small children with me. And even with a weapon, there was no way to take on all of them at once. As there were several circling and attempted to surround us. Even with Martial Arts training, instructors teach your first defense is to attempt to remove yourself from the situation rather than confrontation and chance excalating an already dangerous situation. I'm not out to prove myself a hero, just a survivor, attempting to protect my family.

I'm assuming your 'BAD MOVE' reference was that you were likely packing. Did it occur to you they could have just as well been packing?

March 26, 2013 at 9:58 a.m.
jesse said...

i don't "pack!"

I just stay out of "situations" every chance i get!

March 26, 2013 at 10:31 a.m.
Leaf said...

OK, I'm all for nonviolence and all. But is it maybe not a good thing to have the different gangs cooperating? I'd rather have an unsophisticated hodge-podge of thugs than an organized criminal operation.

March 26, 2013 at 1:21 p.m.
timbo said...

dfreezy...I agree with you whiteys don't know anything...I don't really care if these gang members kill each other. More power to them.

I even agree that "whitey" doesn't need to get involved. Especially when the inner city types come around with their hands out for more money to waste on this stuff.

As long as it's downtown (I live in the county) who cares? Did you ever see the movie, "Escape from New York." Maybe we should arm all sides a little better and give them shooting lessons.

David Cook lives in fantasy land..OK let's all sing..

Kumbya my lord, kumbya

Someone's shooting, Lord, Kum ba yah! Someone's missed me Lord, Kum ba yah! Someone's rapping, Lord, Kum ba yah! O Lord, Kum ba yah....

Gosh..I think we all feel better now. are the only racist on this page. Look in the mirror before preaching to the rest of us about racism.

March 27, 2013 at 1:04 p.m.
john3182 said...

I believe ALL gang members should be in jails, regardless of age, race, or status. In jail, they need to try to be rehabilitated and if not, then locked away. If the gang members are underage, then the parents should be held responsible for their children's actions. Maybe it would help keep kids off the streets if the parents are held responsible for the citizen that is held up by their son or daughter.

March 27, 2013 at 5:59 p.m.
Lr103 said...

Why stop at gang-bangers, john3182. Why not drunken teens who go out joyriding, wrapping the family car around a pole or tree, killing everyone inside? Then the young who go on mass killing sprees? Oh, and don't forget the ones who murder their entire families. We won't have to wait until it happens. Just ask little timbolo. He can spot these potential juvenile deliquents a mile away. He and that friend who recognized a gang-banger at a gas station because the teen was playing loud music. He can read their minds. And God forbid, if they play their music too loud. That's a sure sign they're criminals in the making. Using little timmies strategy (he practically suggested going on a killing spree) the problems can all be nipped in the bud ahead of time. Regardless of quilt or innocence. Just KILL'EM ALL! GOD WILL RECOGNIZE HIS OWN!!!! {sarcasm}. U people are scary.

Here's a grand idea: Maybe the entire human race should stop reproducing altogether and let the human race die out. For centuries, human have done nothing but raped and ravished the land, destroying the natural eco-system. Abusing the natural resources. Wiped out entire populations of human and animal life with multiple, continous, non-ending wars. We humans suck!!

March 27, 2013 at 6:49 p.m.
jesse said...

Depends on what kinda music they be playin LOUD!!

We could just open season on bangers,put a bounty onum!

Go banger huntin instead of deers and bears !

March 27, 2013 at 7:51 p.m.
jjmez said...

I don't see how someone like timbo can go on a discussion forum advocating going out killing other human beings and not have those guys in dark suits and hats come knocking at your door to ask questions. Some things go above and beyond freedom of speech.

It's always been the belief that when someone openly speaks in certain dark tones, they've actually already committed the act or acts.

March 28, 2013 at 9:29 a.m.
Easy123 said...


I thoroughly enjoy watching you discredit yourself and reveal the true depths of your psychosis.

You are truly a moron.

March 28, 2013 at 12:25 p.m.
jjmez said...

JonRoss said... jjmez, remember when Barack Obama stated that in dealing with the Republicans he preferred to take a gun to a knife fight ?

little johnEEEE, seems like everyone but you know the president was using a well know and repeated figure of speech that has nothing to do with actual guns or knives. Whereas, little timmbloo was speaking in absolutes.

Not only that, johnny. You purposely exaggerate what the president actually said.

March 28, 2013 at 1:12 p.m.
Easy123 said...


I thoroughly enjoy watching you discredit yourself and reveal the true depths of your psychosis over and over again.

You are truly a moron.

March 28, 2013 at 1:23 p.m.
jjmez said...

JonJonRoss, doesn't that leathered bound booklet with the five letters spelling out Bible warn again'st bearing false witness? Shame on you and your group.

That statement was said during the 2008 campaign. Many of the candidates were saying things. What about Sarah Palin and having Obama in the crosshairs statement during campaigning? All of this ugliness started from the right. The information is easy to research.

That quote was taken from a 1987 movie titled The Untouchables with Sean Connery and Kevin Costner playing leading rolls. It has been widely used, but not in the context you're trying to make it out to be.

When then candidate, later president, Obama used the quote it was in reference to how nasty the 2008 campain was turning, coming primarily from the right, and had nothing to do with weapons of any kind.

At the fundraiser President Obama was speaking. Here's an excerpt from that fundraiser: "Chozick, June 13, 2008: He [Obama] warned that the general election campaign could get ugly. “They’re going to try to scare people. They’re going to try to say that ‘that Obama is a scary guy,’ ” he said. A donor yelled out a deep accented “Don’t give in!”

“I won’t but that sounded pretty scary. You’re a tough guy,” Obama said."

All in all, the speech had nothing to do with actually bringing guns or knives. But you and your group are so blinded and filled with hate and paranoia that you've become insane with it.

btw--would any of you be in possession of a red truck? just curious

March 28, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.
Easy123 said...


"The Obama political machine is the largest hate group to exist in the U.S. since the formation of the Confederate government in 1861."

Your psychosis has been duly noted. Nothing you say is factual or even remotely congruent with reality.

"Mr. Obama has made slaves of us with his seizure of the healthcare system and his constant lies about its affects."

Again, your psychosis has been duly noted. Nothing you say is factual or congruent with reality.

"Mr. Obama's threats of violence are hate in its purest form."

Your attempt to twist his words into something other than what he meant them to be is sickening. He didn't threaten anyone that disagrees with him with violence. It is simple as that.

You have to be a troll. No one can be as blatantly ignorant as you.

March 28, 2013 at 4:10 p.m.
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