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under arrest

Morristown/Bristol police tracking gangs, gang members traced to Hispanics/Blacks

by Lewis Loflin

According to a report in the Morristown Citizen Tribune, there's no evidence that Morristown is a regional headquarters for street gangs, but police have identified local residents that claim affiliation or have been linked to 10 criminal organizations. Morristown Police Chief Roger Overholt says the groups range from the Outlaws motorcycle club and the Ku Klux Klan to the Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples and MS-13. (There is a large illegal alien Hispanic population in Morristown.)

Overholt says that other gangs that have had at least an affiliate presence here include the Surenos-13, Latin Kings, East Side Locos and the Black Guerillas. For approximately two years, the Morristown Police Department has maintained a database of individuals who allegedly have gang connections. Overholt says intelligence about possible gang activity comes from patrol officers and other sources. August 13th, 2009

The Citizen Tribune also reports: Drug gangs are not unique:

A Latino-dominated drug-trafficking organization centered in the Lakeway Area sold tens of millions in cocaine and marijuana before a series of debilitating kingpin arrests two years ago. -- But predominately Mexican-led drug gangs are not unique to East Tennessee. Increasingly, Latino groups are capturing drug markets throughout the Southeast and the nation, law enforcement officials say. -- Separated by 175 miles of interstate highway, Morristown and Dalton, Ga. have more in common than being population centers and pockets of relative affluence in the lower Appalachians.

According to the Drug Threat Assessment May 2002:

Mexican criminal groups and street gangs, primarily African American, both based in Tennessee, are the primary transporters and wholesale distributors of drugs available in Tennessee, particularly cocaine and marijuana. Mexican criminal groups commonly transport drugs in tractor-trailers, private vehicles, and through package delivery services.

Street gangs usually transport drugs in private vehicles. Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Mara Salvatrucha, and Vice Lords are the dominant street gangs distributing wholesale and retail quantities of drugs in the state. Local law enforcement officials in Memphis estimate that the city has over 10,000 street gang members, and most distribute drugs.

The vast majority of "gang bangers" continues to be blacks and Hispanics. Less than 10% of gang members nationwide are white. But what about gangs in Bristol? Aug 13, 2006 the local press (BHC) reported various incidents that public officials claim are gang related:

Recent incidents of gang-related violence illustrate that the problem has worsened in the past year, according to police. In late July near Clear Creek Golf Course on the Virginia side of Bristol, a group of men yelling gang slang got into a fight in which three of them suffered stab wounds, police said. More than a month earlier, a 15-year-old boy shot a man on Oakview Avenue in an incident believed to have been gang-related, authorities said. Those incidents follow a decade almost devoid of gang activity.

They also claimed there were gangs here in the 1990s, but present no real proof of it. The deaths of two local teenagers was the claimed to be "gang-related shootings and the shooting of a police dog named Sgt. Boris "in a violent confrontation with a man later convicted of shooting up a gang member's home and trying to kill a police officer."

I remember that incident at the crime and drug infested public housing in Bristol. Just because so many black criminals inhabit the projects doesn't mean it's gang related. In 1998 a local judge sentenced "a reputed gang leader" to five years for pistol whipping another man. Was he really a gang member or part of a group of black criminals pretending to be Bloods and Cripts? The press claims calm returned for around ten years after this, but that's nonsense.

It was during this time using government grants they opened an auxiliary police station in the housing projects and put police into that violent community. The grants ran out, the police station closed. Now the everyday black crime has again exploded. "There is definitely an influence of out-of-state gang members that have moved to this area for the purposes of furthering their criminal activities," said Perrin, the prosecutor, "but in all of that, we've also had an increase in members of local gangs made up of our own young people." But what constitutes a gang Mr. Perrin? Where's the proof?

Now back to press reports:

Gangs form in Bristol primarily to sell crack cocaine, a popular drug because of its quick and intense high. "The biggest increase I've seen is in crack, not only in Bristol but also in the region," said police Capt. Tim Eads. In his city, the Tennessee side of Bristol, a third of drug cases involved cocaine two years ago. The percentage could top 60 percent this year, likely fueled by the influence of out-of-state gangs, police said. On the Virginia side, undercover drug buys have jumped since last year, likely due at least partly to gang activity, police said. City police made 85 buys during the first seven months of this year, far surpassing the 56 made in all of last year.

Yes but those not related to gangs sell the same drugs. Just because drug activity is up doesn't mean gang activity is up just because a disproportionate number of those busted in drug dealing are black. By yelling gangs they bypass the race issue in the press and in the public. But the press further stated:

Grand jurors have handed down 45 drug indictments so far this year, already eclipsing the 38 indictments in all of 2005. The drug problem has become rampant in some parts of the city, said one Rice Terrace resident, a police informant who asked not to be identified. Police recently shut down an apartment in the public housing project where people dealt drugs, but the informant said the operation should be back up and running again soon. Dealers - many with ties to gangs - have a strong grip on the community, he said, and that's why he's agreed to help the police...A crack rock that sells for $50 in Knoxville could go for double that in Bristol...Authorities said Kingsport and Johnson City have seen the same problems.

Ok they get their drugs from out-of-state distributors and they do sometimes move into Bristol, but the bulk of criminals are produced here within the public housing projects and its culture. They keep throwing around terms such as "influenced" but so what? Some kid paints a wall with gang art they saw on TV doesn't mean they are part of any real gang. For example in 2010 a gang of five blacks beat and robbed a man over it seems some drug deal, but there's no proof it was anything more than a gang of common black criminals.

Virginia and Tennessee have enacted anti-gang laws, but local authorities find them difficult to enforce according to the press. They lament the problem in proving it's really gangs or just the usual black criminals in the public housing projects. To quote Kent Chitwood, assistant district attorney general for Sullivan County:

"Since I've been here, I've only seen us prosecute under it once, and when it went to trial, I believe the court dismissed that part of the indictment. There's quite a few burdens that the state would have to meet to prove it, and that's rather difficult to do."

The press blames it on "lifestyle" that's irresistible. (BHC Aug 13, 2006) To quote,

For children from broken homes with nowhere to go, the gang lifestyle can be irresistible - and destructive. Byrd, a city police detective, remembers one teenage boy she encountered who came through the system after getting tangled up in a gang...Byrd said she has seen a disturbing increase in gang membership among teenagers. Kids as young as 14 join because they see the gangster lifestyle glamorized wherever they turn.

But why are those homes broken? The press blames it on racism or not enough social programs. But to quote,

"We just wanted to be like the people in the rap videos and make people think we're tough," said one 17-year-old Virginia High School student, a former gang member who asked not to be named because he's a police informant. His gang consisted mostly of his friends and people from his neighborhood. They started simply hanging out together, but that soon changed. "We would run around with bandanas on, all of them folded the same way and all of us wearing it the same way," he said.

"We didn't ever sell any drugs, but if one of us would fight somebody, we'd all go down to fight them. "There started to be more of us, and we were spray-painting on more stuff," he said. "It can get bigger ... faster than you think. My friends started getting into trouble and stealing stuff.."

He was not a gang member, just part of a group of black criminals. The problem isn't gangs but the self-destructive lifestyles of segments of the population. The choice of unwed motherhood, the choice to drop out school or use drugs. The refusal of society to punish such activities and holding those doing it responsible for their own actions is the problem. They are treated as victims and it's no surprise we get the same results generation after generation.

 

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