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Gang Study: business, community must step up with jobs, options

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- Teenagers have been planting seeds, in every sense, at Hope for the Inner City.  It's a Christian ministry in East Chattanooga near the old Tubman Homes public housing project.

They have become skilled gardeners this summer, helping feed families in what has become a 'food desert'; the nearest full-service supermarket is more than a comfortable walking distance away.

It's drawing lots of interest from the Chattanooga Gang Task Force.

The most important thing to help reduce the gang problem would be jobs for themselves and for adults," says Dr. Barbara Medley, director of the UT-Chattanooga Center for Applied Social Research.

The Center, and the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, have spent six months, conducting a Comprehensive Gang Assessment for the City of Chattanooga.

"We got a lot more than what some expected for our $75,000," Mayor Ron Littlefield says.

The study surveyed more than 6,000 people; teachers, parents, service providers, law officers, clergy, and students; 761 of them claim 'gang affiliation.'

What's the best, most effective ticket OUT of gangs?

Roughly half of the Middle-and-High -school students surveyed, "gang affiliated or not -- agree that it's jobs. Students not affiliated with gangs are more likely to believe that other programs, getting parents more involved, and attracting mentors would help too.

Gang-Affiliated v. Not

  • Jobs : 48% -- 50%
  • Programs : 47.1% -- 59%
  • Parents : 40.5% -- 59.9%
  • Mentors : 39.4% -- 53.9%

"Employers have to be willing to provide the jobs and take the risks," Gangs Task Force co-director Fred Houser says. "We're gonna be calling on a lot of people and knocking on a lot of doors."

Houser speaks with two 'inactive' gang members flanking him.

Deoaunte Dean, 21, wants to own a construction company. "I'm painting right now," he says. "It would help if they make more jobs available. More work to do. get more people working."

Writing a check would help.

But Houser's counterpart, former Assistant District Attorney Boyd Patterson, believes that way out may be too easy.

"If it means letting a kid come in and make copies and help out with some of the jobs, okay," Patterson says. "If it means getting the people out of their business environment and into a Rec Center to give them a presentation about certain things, it could mean anything."

Patterson also has proposed Intervention Teams, made up of probation officers, business leaders and an outreach coordinator. They would go into schools to identify students-at-risk, and work with them to improve their academic performance and create options for jobs or job training.

Police Chief Bobby Dodd has put together Operation Homefront, combining Resource Officers and clergy, to take issues directly to parents.

"We're hoping it can be a positive thing," Chief Dodd says. "That we can educate parents. Some parents don't know their kids are involved in this type of activity."

Link to study & the Gangs Task Force: 

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