It appears that not a day goes by that a shooting hasn’t happened in the black community in Chattanooga. Just the other day, four black men were shot in Alton Park, and the week before that four were shot in East Chattanooga. As a life-long resident in these areas, I wonder if the community leaders have a clue about what’s happening or care about violence that seems to be as common as the lack of education that is perhaps the cause. Is there anyone listening to our misery? Or is my voice a voice crying in the wilderness?
I know the cost of this violence in human terms, which has racked up scores of victims losing life and limbs, but has anyone thought about the financial cost when a shooting victim goes to the emergency room of a local hospital? For example, the cost of the four men shot on Fagan Street has to be in excesses of $100,000 or more.
I know the black leaders (religious, political, educational, civic) are clueless of a solution to the problem, and the citizens they represent are hopeless. However, since money talks, maybe the good white people in Chattanooga when considering the financial implications of this black on black violence will do something. Because when you realize that it’s your tax dollars that is paying for this senseless violence, hopefully you will have a call to action, and blacks in Chattanooga will get some peace.
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I can guarantee you that the rest of Chattanooga is “listening.” But I’m not sure that “the good white people in Chattanooga” can just swoop in and solve the problem of black on black violence in the inner city. The problems are rooted deep in cultural habits, parenting missteps, poor personal choices and (maybe) expecting the solution to come from the outside instead of from within.
On Dec. 10, 2008, the Times Free Press published an article entitled “Chattanooga: Local crime concentrated in inner city, report shows.”
Crime in [Hamilton County] disproportionately is concentrated in five subregions in Chattanooga – South Chattanooga, downtown, Bushtown/Highland Park, Amnicola/East Chattanooga and Ridgedale/Oak Grove/Clifton Hills…. Those five subregions make up slightly more than 14 percent of the county’s population but account for nearly 50 percent of robbery complaints and more than 45 percent of drugs and narcotics violations, the report shows.
In the article, David Eichenthal, president and CEO of the Ochs Center, noted that these five subregions ranked in the top five in the county for low school attendance and in the top six for births to single mothers. Obviously there is a link between a life of violence and ditching school. Obviously there is a link between a community of violence and babies born to a single parent, babies born to a teenager, babies born to women who have chosen to give their bodies to boys – or to men who are tied to crime or drugs or immaturity.
According to Chattanooga youth development organization On Point, “Local research conducted through the Chattanooga Health Council confirms national research that risk behaviors are linked. Sexual activity among teens has been scientifically linked to poor academic performance, violence, substance abuse, increased truancy; kids involved in one of these behaviors tend to be involved in others as well.”
I completely understand that single mothers trying their best to raise their children have to work to put food on the table. It is not realistic to think that the single mothers of downtown Chattanooga today can be home when their children leave for school every morning or when their children get in from school every afternoon. That makes it difficult to monitor whom their preteens and teens are spending time with and whether or not they are getting tangled up in a life of crime.
But the younger generation can make the change for themselves. They can protect themselves from the same struggles of their parents. There are so many non-profits already in place - put there by the thousands of Chattanoogans outside the region who really care - that can partner mentors and teens to help them make positive choices, to help them band together and say “no” to the temptations of the flesh and therefore guarantee themselves a brighter future than what they see in their communities now. It is possible to choose abstinence. It is possible to wake up on time in the morning and get to school. Self control is difficult. Going against the grain is difficult. But it is not impossible.
On Point has curriculum that can empower teens, increase their sense of self worth, sharpen their critical thinking skills and develop a vision for their future. The Bethlehem Center in Alton Park offers character development, leadership development and literacy training with a special focus on at-risk males. Chattanooga Sports Ministries offers activities to keep children occupied and fit instead of in trouble, specifically soccer programs in Alton Park, East Lake and East Chattanooga. House of Refuge in St. Elmo helps area men overcome addiction. The Oak Project mentors single mothers and their children. First Things First offers resources and seminars for parenting and marriage help.
What if the younger generation of these violent subregions of Hamilton County would decide for themselves that they want better. What if they flood the dozens of organizations already in place to help them make a change? Pledge to educate themselves on how to avoid a life of crime and single parenting then find the organizations and mentors already in place near them to make that happen? Then hopefully the rest of Chattanooga will stand up and provide the funding and volunteer hours that are required to keep up the positive change. Unless the vision comes from the masses within, I am not so sure that more programs, more police presence, more anything will really make a difference.
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Why did the mayor dismantle the gang task force and the program "The Future Is Ours" as soon as he got into office? It is my disappointed belief that he did it as he didn't want the "gang" term to hurt tourism in our area. Typical political reaction: putting money over the good of the people.
Chattanooga definitely has a gang problem. Perhaps once a tourist gets shot downtown, the mayor will realize that stopping/preventing gang violence is more important in the long run for both tourists and residents.
Now they're wondering how to stop gang violence? Good luck with that, those programs were a great preventative deterrent to a problem that isn't going away on its own.