TACK­LING JU­VE­NILE VI­O­LENCE

RE­CENT HOMI­CIDES PUT SPOT­LIGHT ON EF­FORTS TO HELP CITY’S YOUTH

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSANA HUGHES STAFF WRITER

As­pate of gun vi­o­lence in Chat­tanooga over the past three weeks has re­sulted in 13 shoot­ings that placed ju­ve­niles at the cen­ter of three homi­cides. The tally adds to the grow­ing list of youth ac­cused of vi­o­lent crime.

So far this year, five ju­ve­niles have been ar­rested in con­nec­tion with five homi­cides. That’s up from two last year and none in 2016.

And po­lice say a ju­ve­nile was re­spon­si­ble for this year’s first homi­cide.

Thirty-seven-year-old Mal­colm McKoy was shot Jan. 25 in the 2200 block of East 25th Street. He was taken to a hos­pi­tal and died two days later. A 17-year-old was ar­rested and charged in the killing

two days later.

Five months later, on June 29, Christo­pher Robin­son, 46, was shot and killed dur­ing a home in­va­sion. He died be­fore paramedics ar­rived at an apart­ment in the 2300 block of Hick­ory Val­ley Road. Three sus­pects, in­clud­ing a 17-year-old, have been ar­rested.

Then on Sept. 24, po­lice found 19-year-old Shawn­quell Stan­field near the 2400 block of Wilder Street on the ground with mul­ti­ple gun­shot wounds. A 17-year-old was ar­rested shortly af­ter.

On Sept. 29, Areeyon Lane, 18, died af­ter be­ing shot at a Speed­way gas sta­tion at 1330 E. Third St. Two sus­pects in­clud­ing a 17-year-old were ar­rested. Po­lice later de­ter­mined Lane was the sus­pect in a homi­cide the day be­fore.

Eigh­teen-year-old Iziyah Spence was shot in the head Oct. 4 in the 2000 block of Port­land Street. He died four days later on Mon­day.

The sus­pect? A 14-yearold.

Over­all, vi­o­lence in the city is down. So far this year, there have been 83 shoot­ings com­pared to 96 in 2017. Homi­cides are down by al­most half, with 18 this year com­pared to 30 in 2017.

And vi­o­lence among youth in the in­ner city isn’t a new prob­lem — this year’s num­bers don’t stray far from pre­vi­ous years. But lo­cal com­mu­nity lead­ers say the re­cent shoot­ings draw at­ten­tion to an im­por­tant so­cial is­sue they and the city have been work­ing hard to com­bat for years.

THE CON­SE­QUENCES OF US­ING A GUN

Seven mur­der cases — in­clud­ing a new charge in a 2009 cold case — are pend­ing in Hamil­ton County Ju­ve­nile Court. Judge Robert Philyaw said that is a record num­ber of homi­cides for the county to see at one time.

“We’ve had a real rash of ju­ve­niles not rec­og­niz­ing or ap­pre­ci­at­ing the con­se­quences of car­ry­ing and us­ing a gun,” Philyaw said. “It’s dis­turb­ing and dis­tress­ing to see [lives lost] be­cause of a few min­utes’ re­ac­tion or ac­tion, and tak­ing tem­po­rary prob­lems and mak­ing them per­ma­nent prob­lems.”

Ju­ve­niles are of­ten re­cruited to carry out crimes be­cause of the idea that they won’t get pun­ish­ments that are too harsh, Philyaw said. But he calls that “a myth and a lie.”

“There re­ally is a lack of con­scious­ness with a 16-, 17-year-old brain about the per­ma­nency and the con­se­quences of pulling a trig­ger,” he said.

A judge looks at ev­ery­thing on a ju­ve­nile’s record, in­clud­ing any pre­vi­ous ef­forts to re­ha­bil­i­tate, how the child re­sponded to those ef­forts and whether the of­fense was com­mit­ted in an ag­gres­sive or pre­med­i­tated man­ner.

Those fac­tors de­ter­mine whether a child can still be re­ha­bil­i­tated within the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, as op­posed to be­ing trans­ferred to crim­i­nal court, where the ju­ve­nile will be tried as an adult.

If found guilty, a de­po­si­tion hear­ing is held to de­cide what can be done to re­ha­bil­i­tate the child and pre­vent him or her from re­peat­ing the same or sim­i­lar of­fenses. In some cases, that means be­ing placed into an “in­tense pro­ba­tion” pro­gram called SHOCAP, or Se­ri­ous Ha­bit­ual Of­fender Com­mu­nity Ac­tion Plan.

There are 13 mi­nors in that pro­gram, and they’re each as­signed a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer, said Chat­tanooga po­lice Sgt. Vin­nie Holo­man, ju­ve­nile unit su­per­vi­sor.

The pro­gram has four phases, and pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers ran­domly check in on pro­ba­tion­ers to make sure they’re not in vi­o­la­tion of their con­di­tions.

The first phase is house ar­rest for 30-45 days, dur­ing which mi­nors can go only to school and/or work. Once that time is up, a 7 p.m. cur­few is im­posed in the sec­ond phase, 8:30 p.m. in the third and 10 p.m. in the fourth.

“SHOCAP is the last stop be­fore go­ing to state cus­tody,” Holo­man said.

If ju­ve­niles vi­o­late the terms of their pro­ba­tion, they may be placed back on house ar­rest or they may be placed in the cus­tody of the Ten­nessee De­part­ment of Chil­dren’s Ser­vices’ ju­ve­nile jus­tice di­vi­sion at a se­cured fa­cil­ity.

In the past, ju­ve­niles have had to spend up to a year and a half in the se­cured fa­cil­i­ties, Philyaw said, but with the 2018 Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Re­form Act, the time has been short­ened to no more than six months. With more se­ri­ous charges, such as homi­cide, the court may or­der ju­ve­niles to stay at the fa­cil­ity un­til their 19th birth­days.

Re­gard­less, six months is not enough time to re­ha­bil­i­tate vi­o­lent ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers, said Philyaw, who re­cently took to so­cial me­dia to share his frus­tra­tion.

“Why is ju­ve­nile jus­tice and se­ri­ous re­hab op­tions for young of­fend­ers so im­por­tant in Ten­nessee? Be­cause I have five mur­der cases pend­ing in Hamil­ton County Ju­ve­nile Court to­day,” a Sept. 28 tweet by Philyaw tag­ging Ten­nessee law­mak­ers read. “Make it six” he tweeted the fol­low­ing day. Now there are seven. De­cid­ing how to han­dle ju­ve­nile cases is a bal­anc­ing act, Philyaw said.

“No­body likes lock­ing up kids for the sake of lock­ing up kids, and that is not the goal of ju­ve­nile jus­tice,” he said. “But we can’t short-cir­cuit that too much and then have a child turn 18 and all of a sud­den … they’re down in the adult crim­i­nal sys­tem, and we’ve failed that child many times.”

EARLY IN­TER­VEN­TION COULD BE KEY

While it’s not clear what is driv­ing the uptick in ju­ve­nile homi­cides — po­lice haven’t said whether they are gang-re­lated — peo­ple in­clud­ing Joe Hunter, pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor for the city’s Teen Em­pow­er­ment Cen­ter, are ac­tively try­ing to quell the vi­o­lence be­fore it starts.

The pro­gram has peo­ple on the ground in the Youth and Fam­ily De­vel­op­ment cen­ters and Or­chard Knob, Brain­erd and Tyner mid­dle and high schools.

“We are now see­ing this stuff stir up, and we’re go­ing to con­tinue do­ing what we do in en­gag­ing and in­ter­ven­ing, do­ing in­ter­ven­tion and preven­tion,” Hunter said.

Hunter, af­fec­tion­ately known in the com­mu­nity as “Un­cle Joe,” knew Iziyah Spence, the 18-year-old shot and killed by a 14-year-old. Spence at­tended the pro­gram and Hunter hugged him sev­eral times.

“When you hug a boy, and then the boy is in the hos­pi­tal fight­ing for his life, that hurts,” he said.

“He was laugh­ing all the time and telling jokes,” Hunter said. “I didn’t see him as a threat to no­body. So how this hap­pened, who knows?”

Hunter is a former gang mem­ber and still has bul­lets lodged in his body. He started a ju­nior gang at just 8 years old, so he un­der­stands the chil­dren who get wrapped up in vi­o­lent be­hav­ior.

“Just like the Crips are run­nin’ the Crips, their lit­tle brother wanna be a Crip,” he said. “What else do he wanna be? He don’t see no lawyers and doc­tors com­ing at his house or walk­ing down his street. Ain’t no ex­am­ples of be­ing nothin’ else but [a Crip], and now I’m scared ’cuz they shootin’ in my momma’s house. So I got to carry a gun.”

Hunter also pointed to the deep-seated trauma some chil­dren ex­pe­ri­ence as a fac­tor that leads to them fall­ing into vi­o­lent be­hav­ior pat­terns.

“Just like that lit­tle boy that’s scared, that lit­tle girl’s scared, too,” he said. “That lit­tle girl is not taught to be a princess. She’s taught to be tough. … And that’s part of sur­vival, baby. They sur­vivin’. They not livin’.”

“A lot of peo­ple that don’t live in the hood and ain’t never been con­nected to it, they don’t un­der­stand it. They stand back and they point fin­gers. But that lit­tle girl needs a daddy. … With­out the dis­ci­pline of a fa­ther in a home and a com­mu­nity that wraps its arms around you and dis­ci­plines you and sup­ports you, we have a lot of kids that are just loose.”

So Hunter and other Youth and Fam­ily De­vel­op­ment lead­ers work to build strong re­la­tion­ships with stu­dents through the Teen Em­pow­er­ment Pro­gram. The pro­gram, which has been in place since Jan­uary, serves about 20 stu­dents at each of its lo­ca­tions within schools and YFD cen­ters. It goes di­rectly af­ter gang­in­volved chil­dren or those who are prone to be­com­ing gang mem­bers.

“We are putting our­selves in the lo­ca­tions where the chil­dren are be­fore the sparks fire,” Hunter said. “And when they do, we can be there to help stop re­tal­i­a­tion and we can be there to em­brace the young peo­ple that’s in­volved in it.”

The way Hunter works is by men­tor­ing the chil­dren and phys­i­cally keep­ing up with them. If they’re in school, if they’re in the ju­ve­nile de­ten­tion cen­ter, that’s where he goes, be­cause con­sis­tency is his key.

“There is no [pos­i­tive] con­sis­tency in their lives,” he said. “So I’m con­sis­tent with the love of Je­sus Christ that I share with th­ese kids every day ev­ery­where I go.”

If chil­dren can stick with him and fol­low his rules and lessons for a year and a half, they be­come his sons, he said. So when the news hits about a death or an ar­rest, it takes a toll on him.

“I cry a lot,” Hunter said. “I pray a lot and I hurt a lot. It mo­ti­vates me to get up in the morn­ing and go save the next one. ’Cause all of ’em can’t die. All of ’em can’t go to jail. … Let’s do some­thing with ’em. Don’t just let ’em get older.”

One of the ex­er­cises he does with the chil­dren is to take one word each month and ask them to em­body its mean­ing. He takes the re­al­i­ties of their lives and re­lates it to a word.

This month’s word is em­pa­thy.

“I want you to feel what an­other feels,” he said. “I want you to feel what it feels like if you were on the ground get­ting beat. Would you want some­body to help you?”

“That still doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna have some beef and some un­e­d­u­cated kids with pis­tols that’s shootin’ each other, or some ac­ci­den­tal shoot­ings,” he said. But “by be­ing there and hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with them be­fore it hap­pens, we’ve earned the right to be heard when things start hap­pen­ing.” LAW EN­FORCE­MENT’S ROLE

The Chat­tanooga Po­lice De­part­ment has been try­ing to build pub­lic trust through its com­mu­nity polic­ing ini­tia­tive since 2014 un­der former Chief Fred Fletcher, and it re­cently in­creased its ef­forts in en­gag­ing specif­i­cally with youth.

While ju­ve­nile sus­pects have been charged in five of this year’s 18 homi­cides, po­lice Chief David Roddy said that’s not the norm.

But even so, of­fi­cers are be­ing trained in what ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences are so they can have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how trauma phys­i­o­log­i­cally af­fects chil­dren, he said.

“Not only are we arm­ing our of­fi­cers with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what [trauma] looks like, we’re mak­ing sure that we con­tinue to find as many dif­fer­ent ways that we can to help our of­fi­cers en­gage with th­ese chil­dren,” Roddy said.

Some of those en­gage­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in­clude pro­grams such as Col­or­ing with a Cop or Big in Blue, a part­ner­ship with the Big Broth­ers Big Sis­ters of Amer­ica.

But of­fi­cers aren’t lim­ited to just spe­cific pro­grams, Roddy said.

“It’s kind of an un­der-rid­ing cur­rent within the po­lice de­part­ment of, ‘If you find a way to pos­i­tively en­gage a child, you’re do­ing it right.’”

For ex­am­ple, some of­fi­cers will carry a foot­ball with them in their pa­trol cars and stop to throw the ball back and forth with a group of chil­dren and just start a con­ver­sa­tion.

“We ab­so­lutely want to reach out and sup­port and en­gage with any young men and women that may be rep­re­sented in [cur­rent ju­ve­nile cases],” Roddy said. “So maybe in 2019, they’re not one of those num­bers.”

Con­tact staff writer Rosana Hughes at rhughes@times­freep­ress. com or 423- 757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @Hugh­esRosana.

GETTY IM­AGES

Lo­cal of­fi­cials are hop­ing to use in­ter­ven­tion and preven­tion pro­grams to slow youth vi­o­lence.

STAFF PHOTO BY ROSANA HUGHES

Crime scene tape marks the spot where a shoot­ing hap­pened Tues­day night on W. 40th St.

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