The violence has to end. That was the message at Thursday evening’s VRI meeting. Speakers echoed that message to a group of men, known for being involved in various gangs around Chattanooga
Police, prosecutors, outreach workers and community leaders gathered Thursday evening for another VRI call-in.
This is the city's 11th call-in since the Violence Reduction Initiative began in 2014 and the first since Mayor Andy Berke named Deputy Chief David Roddy Chattanooga’s top cop.
Channel 3 was invited to attend the meeting. The media isn't allowed to take pictures, shoot video, or record audio for confidentiality reasons.
The VRI call-ins began in March 2014. Since then, Chattanooga has held 11 call-ins with more than 240 participants.
Roughly 25 gangs members, all on probation, showed up to Thursday’s meeting, to hear help is available to them if they want it. It's an eye-opening experience for gang members looking to change their lifestyles and for those community members invited to attend.
Acting Police Chief David Roddy had two clear points for those in attendance: do not kill and do not be a member of the most violent group.
The meeting featured speakers including Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers, Acting Police Chief David Roddy, a federal prosecutor, an attorney with the DA’s office, a former gang member, and a mother who's lost a son to gang violence almost two years ago.
Mayor Andy Berke told the crowd the number one conversation he has with constituents is about them. He said it did not matter what neighborhood he was in, the community is concerned about gang violence.
Chattanooga Police Sergeant, Joshua May, warned the crowd the next gang-related murder, law enforcement officials will hold the entire group accountable. Officials made the consequences clear -- if participants -- or their gangs -- were involved in violence, attorneys would make them deal with the repercussions in court.
A PowerPoint with local gang member’s photos, who were recently locked away, was displayed to the crowd. Federal and Local Prosecutors warned of long prison sentences for drug and weapon offenses.
The most emotional part of the night was when a local mother described losing her son. The mother of 20-year-old Jordan Clark spoke about losing her son to gang violence in August 2015. In a room full of people, Satedra Smith looked at each gang member and told them “don’t put your mothers, sisters, or daughters through this unnecessary pain.” She asked the group how many of them knew her son, the majority rose their hands. Smith fought to hold back tears, "his life mattered," she said. "It mattered to me, his sisters and brothers. His life mattered."
The men in attendance were handed business cards with a phone number to call for help finding a job, to get their GED, or help with getting into college.
The meeting finished with a reminder to the young men, to put the guns down and stop the violence.
Monday, October 23 2017 2:44 PM EDT2017-10-23 18:44:27 GMT
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