Mayor's gang Rx calls for more police; but more from parents, community too
(WRCB) - Chattanooga Mayor Littlefield already has gotten grief for spending more than $150,000 to a prosecutor and juvenile justice professional to co-chair his comprehensive plan to battle gang violence.
And he wants to divert $75,000 set aside for developing minority businesses, to further study the gang threat.
But the building blocks, he says are programs that he believes already are working.
The rapping is freestyle. The message is clear: "in my zone, in my zone, leave me alone."
Rap is but one tool to creating better reps, or reputations, for at-risk boys and girls at the South Chattanooga Rec Center.
It helps 14-year-old Orchard Knob Middle School student Javier Lansden keep his eye on the prize; a career as an actor and comedian.
"If they know I'm gonna do something wrong, then they'll say something--they're like stay focused J,' he says.
"All of our programs are teen-based," rec specialist Marcus Thomas says. "Their ideas. They sit on the planning table and they produce what they want to see happen."
"That may not be as interesting, that's not as exciting, that's not as show business," Mayor Ron Littlefield says. "But it's no less important, and that's what we're gonna see more of."
That's the Mayor's cue to City Council to expect a request for at least another $500,000 for rec center programs as part of his Comprehensive Gang Initiative, formally announced Tuesday with the hiring of Boyd Patterson, and Fred Houser as co-directors.
Patterson is a prosecutor with the Hamilton County District Attorney General's Office. Houser has worked with the Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center and the non-profit Chattanooga Venture program back in the 1980s. Each will earn between $70,000 and $90,000 yearly.
Mayor Littlefield also will ask Council to divert $75,000 earmarked for development of minority businesses, to pay for a study of Chattanooga's gang threat.
"That's designed to tell us where we're strong, where we're weak," Patterson says.
"The national experts tell us that you might think you understand the problem completely, but you don't," Mayor Littlefield says.
And, Littlefield concedes, without a study, Chattanooga isn't eligible for federal money that could help pay for whatever new programs or expansions that the Gang Initiative deems desirable or necessary.
Hamilton County will have voices on the steering committee.
"What we want to do is try to plug into them as a resource," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says.
"I'm sure these people have the wherewith all to get the job done," District 4 County Commissioner Dr. Warren Mackey says.
"The group that's not at the table are the parents," Police Chief Bobby Dodd tells Eyewitness News. "And that's where a lot of the responsibility lies."
Had parents been stepping up, Chief Dodd asserts, Chattanooga might have avoided the ongoing issues at Coolidge Park the past year and a half, and the shootings of nine people, a majority of them teenagers, outside of Club Fathom/Mosaic Ministry, early Christmas morning.
"What's missing right now in the whole equation," Thomas asks. "Jobs. Teenagers want jobs,"
Mayor Littlefield says the Gangs Initiative will seek advice and aid from the faith and business communities, though it's too early to detail exactly what forms that might take.
"Who's gonna keep me focused are my parents and my friends," says rec center participant Shellie Hampton, 13.
Hampton wants to be an astronaut. Good thing that science is his favorite subject. Even better that he was able to earn $300 this past summer thanks to a Rec Center internship.
"They can make more selling drugs, no question," Thomas says. "But it's also about being valued. Encouraged. Having a friend. A kid can take pride just in sweeping the parking lot and earning a few dollars."
For Hampton, it's about the life lessons earned. And learned.
"I don't want to have bad friends. cause if I have bad friends, then I'm not gonna be able to make it in life. they're gonna bring me down," he says.
"It's hard to say goodbye to a friend you have. But it's easier in your head, when you get that friend gone."