BY JOAN GARRETT MCCLANE
SPEAK NO EVIL PART 3
THE DIVIDE BETWEEN POLICE AND INNER CITY RESIDENTS IS NARROWING ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BUT CAN IT HAPPEN IN CHATTANOOGA?
ONLY THE MOST DANGEROUS MEN WERE INVITED.
HIGH POINT, NORTH CAROLINA
PHOTO BY DOUG STRICKLAND
ONE FELON’S ARREST RECORD READ LIKE THIS:
CHILD ABUSE, SELLING WEAPONS TO AN INMATE, ASSAULTING A WOMAN, POSSESSING STOLEN PROPERTY AND ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON.
IN CAME A MURDERER.
AND A MAN WHO HAD FIRED A GUN INTO A HOME.
Jim Summey, a former pastor, spoke first. He told the felons not to talk. This is nothing personal, he said. It’s not a trick or a sting. You won’t leave in handcuffs.
“This is all about helping you,” he said. We’ll deliver groceries to your door. We’ll pay to switch your power back on. We’ll help train you for a job. The help is yours, if you will listen.
Then a line of law enforcement officers walked in and sat in a row in front. The felons avoided locking eyes with them. They shifted in their seats.
“This is official notice,” High Point police Chief Marty Sumner told the men. “Any form of violence won’t be tolerated.”
Nearly 100 people filling the city hall chambers watched. A public defender explained the law. The possession of a single bullet — it didn’t even have to be in a gun — would cost them more than a decade in federal prison. He explained how federal judges would be merciless. No pastor’s letter or plea from their mother would help. A federal marshal explained how they would find them if they ran. An FBI agent explained how they would help investigators. The police said they would watch their every move, use wiretaps, undercover cops, whatever surveillance was within the legal limit.
The district attorney promised their cases would be fast-tracked. A hearing would be scheduled in days instead of months. Drug labs would come back in 72 hours.
“This is about respect,” said Walt Jones, the supervising district attorney. “Join normal society like the rest of us. Get a job. Raise your kids.”
Then, the room went dark, and a video played on a wall. A family on- screen cried about their dead son. He didn’t listen to the warning, they said. Images of his body in a coffin appeared.
“You have got to stop this,” said Rob Lang, a federal prosecuter.
A felon nodded his head.
“We are here for you to be redeemed.”
IN CHATTANOOGA, VIOLENCE CONTINUES TO ERUPT IN POCKETS
OF POVERTY, AND THE VIOLENT ARE PROTECTED BY A MOSTLY SILENT
AND FEARFUL COMMUNITY THAT FEELS AT ODDS WITH POLICE.
The 100,000-person North Carolina city has seen a significant drop in arrests and violent crime, while calls to police are up. The annual murder total has fallen from 20 to two since initiatives started in 1997. And the police department’s relationship with the black community —once strained — has changed.
Fifteen years ago, police there were called pigs.
“They were doing standard traditional policing. Ride around. Stop and talk. Running from call to call, getting there late, not focusing on the one thing that is causing the problem, focusing on everyone and everybody,” said Summey, the former pastor. He now heads the nonprofit High Point Community Against Violence.
Complaints haven’t disappeared, but on the whole people say the cops are fair, said Gretta Bush, who is president of the High Point Community Against Violence. The most notorious drug house no longer stands. Children can walk to church. Nine out of 10 felons who are warned don’t get in trouble again. They believe what the police are saying, Summey said.
Violent offenders knew the reality before — that most crime went unreported, that only one out of five reported crimes was solved, that many cases were dismissed or pleaded down, that jail time was unlikely and probation didn’t equal supervision.
They know the new reality.
One felon at the “call in” in August said he tried to shoot someone in retaliation for his brother’s killing. He said he didn’t respect the police, but he was willing to listen to them. He knew felons in High Point were getting help finding work or finishing school.
“If I get in trouble again, I am going to get federal time,” he said.
CITY LEADERS ARE NOW LOOKING TO HIGH POINT FOR SOLUTIONS.
Selbria Rhodes becomes emotional while speaking to Officer Nathan Hartwig outside of the Chattanooga Police Services Center about neighborhood friend Keoshia Ford, 13, who was shot in the head and chest. The shooting happened a block from her home shortly after an unrelated block party that she was hosting was shut down by police, according to Rhodes. Rhodes is a close friend with the grandmother of the shooting victim.
Photo by Dan Henry
CHATTANOOGA MAYOR ANDY BERKE HAS PROMISED THAT THE HIGH POINT MODEL WILL BE RECREATED TO THE LETTER.
David Kennedy, the nationally recognized criminologist who helped create the methods used in North Carolina and cities across the country, will be a paid consultant. The city has also hired a liaison and a special federal prosecutor. The police chief and others have flown to New York City for training. Police officers are being given copies of Kennedy’s book, “Don’t Shoot.”
What should happen next is a frank discussion about mistruths believed by both the black community and the cops, experts say.
Trust must be earned, and in High Point it took more than a decade to build. The commitment has outlasted one mayor and one police chief. The partnerships will start with hiccups, gnashing of teeth, said Summey.
In Chattanooga, black leaders are already skeptical. Some wonder if the city can deliver the same results as High Point. Programs to curb violence or improve relations have cropped up and withered time and again.
“We watched many in the past hire special people, and this can end up being the same type of thing,” said James Mapp, president of the Chattanooga NAACP, who has been at odds with police practices for decades.
Still, experts say everybody has to be convinced.
“If they don’t believe the cops will help them, then they don’t listen to the police,” said Tracey L. Meares, a professor at Yale University. “They don’t believe in the sanctity of the police.”
James Mapp, president of the Chattanooga NAACP
THE POLICING MODEL THAT CHANGED HIGH POINT
WAS BIRTHED 18 YEARS AGO IN BOSTON.
Every few months felons attend a "call in" in High Point to be put on notice. A script is used by police and community members to keep the message on point.
A much younger David Kennedy came with a group of researchers from Harvard University to study youth violence in the city, which exploded with the onslaught of crack. The method developed would later be dubbed the Boston Miracle.
By crunching police data, the group found that the violence problem in Boston could be traced back to an unruly few; 1,300 serial offenders — less than 1 percent of youth citywide — were responsible for at least 60 percent of youth homicides in Boston. Later, that finding would ring true for other cities.
“Even in the most violent neighborhoods, only a terrifically small portion is really likely in any way to be violent,” Kennedy said.
Traditional policing focused on troubled areas. Droves of officers saturated rough neighborhoods. Officers stopped and frisked. The community bristled at what felt like profiling.
But what if the officers narrowed their focus to the people they knew pulled the triggers?
Kennedy said the problem wasn’t with whole communities; it wasn’t even with certain streets. That 1 percent needed to become the focus, and that’s what happened in Boston. First, the most violent gang was asked to a meeting where members were told to put down their guns or face the consequences.
And the consequences had to be real, Kennedy said. So police partnered with prosecutors and federal agents to make sure the penalties for those who ignored the warnings were as stiff as they could be. Bureaucratic nonsense was eliminated. Interdepartmental discord was set aside. Cases were prioritized so backlogs wouldn’t delay justice.
The group got smarter about what charges would stick. They employed the strategy used to bring down Chicago gangster Al Capone, who was finally sent to federal prison in 1931, not for murder, but for tax evasion.
First, they made an example of a violent gang member named Freddie Cardoza, who was found possessing a single bullet. He was sentenced to 19 years and seven months in federal prison without parole. Leaflets were sent to the community explaining what happened to Cardoza, that police should be taken seriously.
Through community partners, nonprofits and churches, the police also offered options for the gang members who were willing to change.
More than 50 communities across the country have implemented David Kennedy's focused deterrence strategies through the National Network for Safe Communities and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Source: The National Network for Safe Communities
THE SUCCESS OF FOCUSED
THE HIGH POINT VIOLENT
CRIME REDUCTION STRATEGY'S
Identifying those persons committing violent crime and the patterns of violent criminal behavior.
Properly investigating cases to produce criminal charges and working toward a successful prosecution in court (conviction on the charge).
Telling violent offenders that any future crimes they commit will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, to include maximum prison time. Then, offenders are offered a variety of community resources to help them change their lifestyles and to stop committing violent crimes.
4. Resource Delivery
Providing the community resources to the individual.
5. Follow Through
Checking the progress of the individual and ensuring that there is no further criminal behavior.
Evaluating each case individually for the success or failure to assist the individual.
Source: High Point Police Department
HIGH POINT VIOLENT CRIMES
TASK FORCE REPEAT VIOLENT
1. Must be at least
17 years old
2. Must be a convicted
3. Must have one or more
arrests involving firearm
4. Must have arrest history
for crimes of violence
5. Must be on post-release
supervision or be on
Source: High Point Police Department
HIGH POINT'S 20 YEAR VIOLENT CRIME TREND
HIGH POINT INDEXED VIOLENT CRIME: PER 100,000
In High Point, violent crime didn't drop overnight. Police worked for more than a decade to see significant results. In 1997, the "call in" for violent offenders started. In 2004, the city launched a drug market initiative that borrowed the principles of the "call in." Overt drug markets were targeted and dealers were told they would be prosecuted with banked cases if they incurred another drug charge.
Source: High Point Police Department
Protesters chant as they march along Market Street during a rally in downtown Chattanooga, held to protest the "Not guilty" verdict of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Hundreds gathered for the rally and marched through Chattanooga to protest and call on the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Zimmerman for civil rights violations.
Photo by Doug Strickland
“WE ARE STILL IN SLAVERY
WHETHER WE WANT TO GET OUT
OF THIS OR NOT ... THAT IS WHY
THEY BUILT THIS SYSTEM, FOR
POOR PEOPLE TO STAY LOCKED
UP AND BE IN ONE PART. ALL
THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS
KILLING EACH OTHER.”
- Shonda Mason, whose son, Eric, was killed in March
SKIP EBERHARDT GREW UP ON
THE SOUTH SIDE OF CHATTANOOGA
WHERE MARKET STREET TURNS TO
He’s 63 now with a gray beard and cloudy eyes, but he used to deal drugs across the city. A lot of gang members in the neighborhood look up to him. He understands their lives, their thinking. He runs a small program that helps them get their GEDs. He tells them education is valuable, that they should throw off their gang affiliations and get jobs. He also tells them to never trust the police.
He started hating police, he said, long before he sold marijuana. Cops were everywhere. They stopped people who were bad. They stopped people who were good. It seemed to him that they stopped just about anyone who was black.
When he got older, he wondered why so many black murders went unsolved. He can list off the names of victims. Jimmy Yearby. Jameika Porch. Barbara Johnson.
He wondered why most of the drug arrests were of black men. Would their lives have been ruined by drug charges if they’d been white and sold pills at the country club?
He bought into some of the conspiracies. The police wanted the blacks to kill each other, he thought. The government introduced crack to destroy black neighborhoods.
“It started making me have prejudiced thoughts,” said Eberhardt.
This past summer, Eberhardt said he watched a group of young gang members in Alton Park beat a woman with a bat and hit her with bricks. It sickened him, he said. He told the boys what they did was wrong, but he didn’t call police.
He just didn’t think the police would do anything.
Many argue that unfair drug enforcement has hurt black communities and driven a huge wedge between blacks and the police.
Whites are more likely than blacks to have done drugs, but blacks do the time, studies show.
The most recent survey of American drug use by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration showed 20 percent of whites had used cocaine, compared with 10 percent of blacks and Latinos. Higher percentages of whites have used hallucinogens, marijuana, pain relievers, and stimulants like methamphetamine, the survey reported.
Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for pot possession, even though usage rates between blacks and white are the same, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.
For years sentencing for crack cocaine possession was significantly harsher than for possession of power cocaine. Crack was cheaper and infiltrated more impoverished minority neighborhoods.
In 2010, Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, which lowered the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.
PHOTO BY ANGELA LEWIS
Police have tried to change minds like his.
They started racial sensitivity classes for officers. They put black pastors in a citizens academy to learn police tactics. When they thought those neighborhoods wanted an increased police presence, they opened precincts. The city’s housing authority got its own officers to police its projects. Police got out of cars, walked the streets again and attended community meetings. They used new accountability software and mapping capabilities to help them respond more quickly to hot spots.
But something would always happen to sour relations.
In 1980 it was the shooting of five elderly black women. Two of the shooters, members of the Ku Klux Klan, were acquitted by an all-white jury. A few years later, an elderly black man died in his jail cell. The police said it was an accident. His family is still fighting today to prove a police officer killed him.
A few years after that, in 1991, a homicide detective who was fired charged the police department with racism.
“[My supervisor] often stated and bragged to me and others that he could manipulate ‘a n*****’ and get him or her to do anything he wanted,” wrote Terry Slaughter, in a court affidavit. “He often laughed about how he could use blacks. We could do whatever we wanted to a person of the black race.”
The next year a patrol officer was fired for beating a black teenager in his cell.
In 2009, a black man threatening suicide with a gun was shot 43 times by six police officers. A spokesperson for the department called it “suicide by police.” His father said he wasn’t a risk. The court sided with police.
Last year, two white police officers beat a black halfway-house inmate who was on cocaine and wouldn’t comply with police. He was struck 44 times with a metal baton, choked and stunned. Both of his legs were broken. Police Chief Bobby Dodd called it one of the worst cases of excessive force he had ever seen.
“I think it’s heartbreaking,” said Freeman Cooper, who was the city’s third black police chief and led the department from 2007 to 2010.
“It is not something that we teach people to do.”
THIS YEAR EAST LAKE, A MOSTLY POOR, MINORITY NEIGHBORHOOD, WAS FILLED
WITH AS MANY AS 50 OFFICERS AT A TIME FOR 45 DAYS. SEVERAL SATURATIONS
HAVE BEEN HELD SINCE THEN, A FEW DAYS AT A TIME, SAID DODD.
THEY HELD SOME SHOOTINGS AT BAY, HE SAID.
IN 2012, 14 PEOPLE WERE STOPPED EACH DAY AND QUESTIONED
BY POLICE IN CHATTANOOGA. ALMOST HALF WERE BLACK.
PHOTO BY DAN HENRY
“I don’t have anything to apologize for,” said Dodd, who has been chief of police since 2010 and has spent more than 25 years in the department.
Police were doing their job. Some people were thankful for the presence. Criminals were the ones who felt uncomfortable, he said.
Jim Fealy, who was police chief in High Point from 2003 to 2012, said he used to feel like there was nothing he had to apologize for. He had a stellar record, he said. Most of the cops who worked for him were well-intentioned, honest people.
Then Kennedy educated him. He explained to Fealy why the police were policing alone, without the buy-in of the community, why the streets were silent.
Police were afraid of engaging the community about perception because they did not want to unpack decades of baggage from a racist history.
“The vast majority has never been talked about … I was scared to death,” Fealy said.
Police think gangsters are irrational, that the neighbors stopped calling with tips because they lost their moral compass.
In truth, these decisions were made because they had lost faith in the system, Fealy said he learned.
Call shooters into an intervention. Approach drug dealers and tell them they are being watched. Then tell the community what you are doing. Make airtight cases for the real bad guys and put them away. Honestly offer options for the rest. This is the formula for change, Kennedy said.
Many think money and drugs drive murders in the inner city. In reality, only 20 percent are tied to dollars, Kennedy said. The rest are about respect, payback.
Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd
RESPECT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THESE COMMUNITIES THAN MOST POLICE EVER REALIZE.
Research from Yale University shows that people in these neighborhoods judge the criminal justice system not by case outcomes but on how they are treated.
A negative view of police sets the stage for score settling. People think kids want to be gang members and fire guns, but they are actually afraid. They know police and courts haven’t been able to put away the real threats.
“I know who stole my chain. I know who robbed my house. I know who hit my sister. Rather than calling 911, people are resorting to private violence,” Kennedy said. “When the young man knows who killed his friend, he doesn’t think the police are on his side.”
In 2004, Fealy became one of the few police chiefs in the country to issue an apology to the black community. He doesn’t think it’s something all departments should do, but in High Point it was a huge step forward.
What he said was simple: We wanted to do things right. We wanted the violence to stop, but we didn’t go about stopping it in the best way. Saturations were callous. Stop-and-frisks were done thoughtlessly. Arrests were an overused tool.
He said his years as chief after that were the most rewarding of his life.
“I accomplished the good and noble things I had always wanted to,” he said. “The chief in Chattanooga can feel that way, too, if he chooses.”
Officer John Patterson
Officer John Patterson with the Chattanooga Police Department's crime suppression unit searches the pockets of Larry Smith during a traffic stop at The Woodlawns apartments in the Avondale neighborhood. Smith was arrested for possession of marijuana.
Photo by Doug Strickland