Study: lack of parenting, jobs are keys to gangs' appeal
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- All of the Tennessee Valley sees the aftermath on the 6 o'clock news. Yet another scene of flashing police lights. Buildings, or young men and women filled with bullet holes.
The statistics tell us that five times as many crimes last year had gang ties, as compared to five years ago. Gang members as suspects, and as victims.
But the $75,000 Comprehensive Gang Assessment, which the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies and UTC's Center for Applied Social Research completed for the city of Chattanooga, yields far more than raw numbers.
"It (gang members or those affiliated with gangs) is not one big group you can lump together," Research Associate Dr. Marcelyn Porter says.
"We need to look at parenting issues more so than simply family structure," adds Center Director Dr. Barbara Medley.
The study questioned more than 6,000 people; teachers, parents, law officers, clergy, social service workers, middle-and high-school students, and gang members themselves. Some 761 students or adults identified themselves as 'gang-affiliated.'
Asked why they've joined or associated with gangs:
Money - 70.2%
Family - 54.8%
Friends - 68.3%
Protection - 68%
Power - 57%
Respect - 55%
Forced into it - 42.4%
Among those listening as City Council members received their briefing Thursday: two young men described as 'inactive' gang members.
"I just know everything ain't gang-related," Ronnie Brown says. "Like when that girl got shot."
He's referring to 13-year-old Keoshia Ford, who suffered brain damage and paralysis when a bullet struck her head in March. Police maintain that she caught in the crossfire between rival gangs.
The study quotes some doctors as saying her medical care could run more than $320,000 yearly.
"Nobody's forced into gangs," Brown insists. "That's a choice."
Some, identifying themselves as 'gang-affiliated,' agree. One writes, albeit sarcastically: "We are not all bloodthirsty kids with guns. Some of us are peaceful kids with guns."
Another writes: "Can't fight it, so might as well join it--and together--we can run this."
But still another claims: "The only reason I'm in, if I leave, they might kill me and my family."
The 173-page study offers several blueprints for tackling Chattanooga's gang problem. But the most sobering statistic of all: gangs apparently aren't confined to South or East Chattanooga anymore.
"We saw some view of gang activity present in all the schools (surveyed )across the County," Dr. Medley says. Across 21 zip codes.