Chattanooga has a gang problem but don’t tell anybody okay?
In a world of tourism and “disney”sStyle presence our town has continued to push back what everyone who has stepped foot off Lookout or Signal Mountain already knows. We have moved from a “7 dwarfs society” into “the Bebe Kids”. Born and raised in Chattanooga I am aware of what parts of town to go in and which to not. With recent crime in the downtown area and Coolidge Park, it has surfaced that the laundry of our city has begun to mildew and get the smell we all know occurs when left wet too long.
The true problem lies not in the gang system but the system of needing a gang to belong in. When comparing troubled youths of any ethnicity, household income, or life genre the same issues pop up. They are youth. No one who has been through a lick of life can not think of a time that they weren’t angry. Angry about not being the prom queen or not being able to get that tattoo. Its a right of passage! You have the right to rebel,and start the process of figuring out what life is all about. Those times can either come and quickly leave or stay and result in chaos. As a city whom prides itself in being rich in arts and culture we have begun to forget about our surrounding areas, until a time of crisis. With so many outreach programs and over 100 non-profits, why is it that we can’t seem to help those around us and begin an initiative to act. To not sit by as the violence escalates into a volcano in which we can no longer control.
We can play the blame game all day long, but it seems the root of the problem begins in the home.
We sat down with District 8 city councilman, Andrae McGary, and as the youngest African-American on the board, Andrae brings a different and fresh perspective into our downtown crime situation.
So what is really going on behind the curtain with our city and what can be done?
You have competing interests which is primarily why the mayor and county mayor have spoken at the issue the way that they have. Economy comes from tourist dollars and when we make the news in surrounding areas such as Knoxville and Nashville, you need to ensure that you do not rock the boat.
With tourist season coming up, you don’t want people to think it is too dangerous to visit. We have major companies such as VW, Alstom, and now restaurants and busineses coming into town so everyone pushes the issue under ground.
Some may say violence is down from last year, but who cares it is still there. Lets talk about now. Mums the word as it has been for years, focus only on whats happening now and keeping people calm.
While they are playing hush hush the issue grows and spreads. Our leaders are in a position to say “enough is enough!” and when they don’t say it, we are basically giving permission for these same people to keep it up.
Like a child, you gotta break it, nip it in the bud.
I don’t know any other way to put it.
What can we do to be the anti-body while not being adversarial.
You know and I speak bluntly because I don’t have time or patience to pretty up my language, I say what I think and I think what I say.
The issue is how do you energize people?
So, how do you energize people?
When you talk about energizing people , everyone wants to have a conversation, and dialogue, “Lets meet, lets talk”, then you get on the 285 loop and keep circling. I really try to bypass that. Not that I want to be the guy who is about action and not thinking, that leads to all other problems in itself, but basically we’ve had the conversation…….
Its kind of obvious what we need to do.
Its not rocket science.
Now I’m just one pea in the universe what can I do?
Doesn’t matter what you are going to do, as small or as big, it just matters that you do it.
As Mother Teresa says, “Not many of us will do great things but we can do small things with great love.”
Lets do something small out of concern and leave the big stuff to the big boys.
What I am doing may or may not make a big dent in the issue but it may make a ripple and maybe because of my position and what I’m doing that ripple will grow and expand and touch somebody else, and thats really what the idea is.
Obviously the ripple has been going but in a negative aspect from the years of neglect on the city’s side.
Being from Chattanooga I know its going to be hard as hell to get ahead because my mommy or daddy is not in the system and I have realized how important it is for me to network.
How do we take the art show and positive influences away from dowtown for a day and into Highland Park, East Lake, etc. Showing positive influences and beginning the networking.
Then at some point figure out you can’t control everything.
The first part in the conversation is recognizing we have a generation that is not being parented, bottom line. It is not just poor black kids either.
It is all across the spectrum, From Mommy and Daddy who want the big boat and are “keeping up with the jones”, to the single parent households where momma works her ass off.
Wherever you are in the spectrum, we have kids who are not being parented, end of discussion!
That being the case once you start talking about kids who have time on their hands, they are going to get in trouble.
I know I did.
One of the major draws to gangs is solidarity, It’s my boys, we get in trouble together, we do stuff together, its a sense of family, a sense of belonging, particluary if they are not being parented.
So their first real main conection outside of their mother is a gang member, It is a solid connection.
The motto: “if I eat, we all eat”. Thats strong, very strong, particularly for young black males who are looking hard for solidarity and not finding it.
This goes back to the point of mentoring, you have to look for it and want it. You have to look for it because, it is not looking for you.
You have to want it. One of the strange comments I’ve come across while on this project has been the realization that some of these youths do have a supportive family system and full rides to college, etc.
Its not about academics, or the prettiest girlfriend or having money or any of those other status symbols. At the end of the day you want to connect with somebody, And all the other things I described are used as magnets to attract people. If you ask the average guy including myself, why do you want the prettiest girl in school, it is not because she is pretty, but because of the respect that came with it. All the other guys now looked up to you. You are the man and have the girl they all wanted. Alot of what guys do is to attract other guys. If they had everything in place there wouldn’t be this search for “I gotta be the man….I gotta be somebody” so imagine if you aren’t good looking/have money or you got this, got that. Imagine how you would feel about yourself…. take that you have stacks against you and you are allready looking for something to connect with. Whether you have these things or not it is that inward drive to connect…. but when you feel like your not connecting with people it creates that drive even more.
It aggitates, intensifies, and if you don’t have anyone else to connect with, what are you going to do? It is only a matter of time.
And that is one aspect of the conversation, it is multi-sided.
The other side of it is you have kids who aren’t connecting with something or someone so they begin claiming this group or the other as to keep from getting jumped.
Its that simple.
An average young person who says they are in a gang is not necessarily in a gang its just protection….simple safety… They do not want to be a target and jumped every time they leave the house.
I’ve even been hearing of kids going to juvenile and claiming to be in gangs when they are not. This claim allows them into a special room since they are hindered a danger and keeps them they can get into a special room. In a gang or not it gets them out of the “big room”.
The multi sides include safety concerns, solidarity, and image.
Saying who you want to attract it seems in my life I have many more black male friends then females. I have been on each side of the minority and majority spectrum and am very thankful for those experiences. I believe the image is construed and even after so many years how can we bridge that gap. How do we create a venue/arena that is nuetral for those who want to get out and exist without violence. Make it cool almost.
I think you made a very valid point in regards to networking. I am thoroughly convinced that the highest person in your network determines how high you go. So if the highest person in your network is a gang member, guess what?
If the highest person in your network is a multi-millionaire what will that determine. The highest person in your network is your ceiling.There has to be a need to push and pull, to widen your network and diversify.
What happens when you know nothing but one geographical neighborhood, go figure. Transportation also becomes an issue in neighborhoods who are isolated and you begin to operate in a single universe.
There is not one answer to this issue
Any solution to the youth problems consist of three items.
Prevention, to prevent the oppurtunity of crime to begin.
Intervention, drawing the youth out of the situation.
Oppression, working with the police and community.
Each must collaborate together.
What kind of programs can we start?
I’m not so convinced that programs are the answer.
Making an ongoing relationship with those who can get it done is very important.
You have to build and activate that network.
Its a process and sometimes is humbling. You think you have this great idea and people will just do it, but this is not usually the case.
You have to work and put it together.
You have to know and be known to prove your stance and commitment to the cause.
The reality is that there is no easy answer and these networks are built one person at a time.
Your better off in my opinion doing something small and being content.
Don’t try to save the world.
Just do something small.
If you really feel like you got it and you are able to get people together then go after it, but don’t spend all of your time going after people, just go after that kid.
You never know how much of an effect you will have by touching that one persons life.
That is the message again, while we go around Highway 285 talking to people and going after multi-million dollar foundations to give money and make big plans, that is what we miss.
It is very simple.
Unfortunately that is not the conversation some people want to have………….
Thank you Andrae.
After talking with downtown officers and many community members the results seem to link in many ways.
Something has to be done to undo the damage and start a new era of mentor-ship and networking with outer lying areas and right here in our own “backyard” .
Someone has to start taking a stand against the hub bub of our city officials and face the music.
Someone has to help clean the dirty laundry.
Will it be you?