FEATURE STORIES

STATISTICS — Homicides, Shootings, and My Intervention Work


by Paulette Lewis
Jan 2009

 

This past October, a boss from one of the largest, most violent gangs in our city took time to sit down with me and discuss the reasons behind the overwhelming number of violent beatings and shootings that have been going on for the past five months. I have become increasingly agitated with the extreme level of violence and I'm burned out on going to funerals if that’s even possible. So, as I explained to this young man whom I consider a friend, the violence has to stop.

He was candidly open and honest with me, as he always is and he explained that while his crew has a reputation to uphold, the majority of violence occurs as a reaction: when they are challenged or called out, they respond.

I explained that he is blessed to be in a position of power and influence and can shift the energy by just demonstrating a little mercy in certain situations. If someone starts running his mouth to one of his crew members, talkin’ trash and being disrespectful, does it really require ten dudes to stomp his head in, running the risk of causing permanent brain damage? Or, could you choose to just laugh it off, walk away, and let one crew member fight him? I've tried to instill in them that a fair fight is not ten on one, but the philosophy of the streets is, when the numbers are in your favor, you use them because your opponent would do the same if the tables were turned.

I told him that when one inflicts that extreme amount of damage onto another human being, it’s uncalled for, regardless of the reason. Words are words. Self-defense is self-preservation. A brutal attack on someone is evil. When you do evil, it comes back to you. He told me the crew feels no sense of remorse because this particular guy deserved his beating for challenging them and claiming to be something he is not. This remark reinforced something I've known for years: there is a lack of moral right and wrong among this generation. They don’t realize that kind of violence is wrong and, even worse, they don’t feel bad about causing that kind of damage to another human being.

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The biggest challenge for me in negotiating peaceful reactions to situations with the gangs I work with is that they feel mercy and weakness are the same. If they don’t respond when called out, they will lose street credibility and power in the hood. People won’t fear them; they'll continue to challenge them.

After three hours of discussion with this boss-friend, I didn’t walk away with the promise of peace I wanted, but I did get a commitment from this particular boss to make an effort to control his crew and put a cap on the violence. That breakthrough was more than I actually expected because he certainly doesn’t owe me anything.

As fate would have it, three days later, a mutual friend of ours was shot dead after witnessing a fight in a rival neighborhood, and this particular boss' own cousin lay in a coma, fighting for his life. When I arrived at the hospital, some of my kids that didn't get hit as the car was sprayed with bullets were in such shock they looked at me as if they had never seen me before. As I maneuvered my way through about 80 hostile and extremely emotional gang members and family members of the surviving gun shot victim, I became aware of the increasing number of police officers on the sidelines. I noticed the police tape around the emergency room doors and the massive amount of blood on the ground. I asked what happened and one of my Urban Success mentees/girls said, "Ms. Lewis, that’s where they got out of the car and ran inside."

While I sat praying, my boss friend came into the emergency room. He gave me a warm hug and asked if I was ok. I couldn’t even answer him. "Let me holla at you.” He pulled me to the side and said, "Didn’t we just have a conversation about this?" My eyes filled with tears as I clutched my Bible. "Yes. This is the kind of thing that has to stop. There were young girls and children in the car that could have been killed. Another one of my Urban Success kids is dead and for what? Because someone wanted to earn his stripes and not be known as the one who lost the fight? He didn't even fight. He was there with his friend that fought. He just graduated high school and got accepted to college. He died tonight for nothing. I can’t stop this. You can stop this. So what are you going to do about it?" He didn’t verbally respond to me, but given the reduction in violence since then, I know he did something.

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I prefer to spend my energy and resources on the side of prevention. But when I can’t, and damage control is all I can do, it almost feels like the authorities are working against me. My Urban Success mentee that drove the car to the hospital is himself a survivor of gun violence and has been through this experience twice in the past two years. Psychologically, he is a disaster. Emotionally, he is unnerved and a wreck. What upsets me is that while the authorities need to conduct their investigation and apprehend the killer(s), they have a total disregard for the person’s emotional state and state of mind immediately following an incident. My mentee became overwhelmed during the interrogation at the hospital and began acting out, so officers took him to the police department alone without any type of support person. Then, when they were done with him, they dropped him off to an empty house and told him not to return to the hospital to check on his brother – the surviving gunshot victim who was in surgery.

Anyone with a grain of common sense should know that a person in shock, having experienced what my mentee experienced, could potentially be suicidal and should not be left alone under any circumstances. If my mentee had reacted to his Critical Incident experience at that moment instead of having a delayed reaction a few days after as he did, we would have had two funerals instead of one. Thank God he came around when the thoughts of suicide entered his mind, because he certainly had a reason and the means to take his own life if he had decided to do so.

Needless to say, the crew immediately began to protect the neighborhood and its residents. “Souljas” were strategically positioned in key locations such as street corners leading in and out of the neighborhood. If you didn’t belong there or they were not expecting you, you were not getting past them. It was just like in the old days when I started working with this crew. Only now, they brazenly carried their AK47's, AR15's, Tech 9's, shotguns and pistols in plain view over their shoulder or down the front of their pants for quick access. They were on high alert for anyone suspicious, which paid off because the killers came straight to their neighborhood as soon as they learned that my kids had made positive identification of them to police, and they sprayed the streets with bullets. Fortunately, only one of my kids was grazed by a bullet.

However, God's timing is truly perfect. I've prayed for a supernatural change in the lives of these particular Urban Success kids for the past seven years as I watched them experience more violence and death than any one family or crew should ever have to endure. I’ve prayed knowing that God has his hands on them, but not realizing he was waiting for the right moment to reveal himself in a miraculous way. When the surviving victim awoke from his coma, he had an amazing testimony of transformation to tell. He believes he saw God in the light that was before him, surrounding him with family and friends that have passed on. He discusses this experience. He is now a believer. His influence with his crew has spread like wildfire, causing people who claimed they never really knew if God was real to now pray and attend Bible study and search for alternatives to the street lifestyle. They are coming forward, asking Urban Success for help instead of Urban Success begging them to change.

The only problem now is: walking in the faith. The devil strikes new believers the instant they make the decision to come to Christ. He attacks with what can feel like all the forces of hell and will not let up until defeat is clear. The challenge comes in the strength of new believers. Are they strong enough to endure an intense spiritual battle? Do they have the connection and the firm foundation in God that they need to fight? Will they recognize it’s a battle for dominion over their soul or think humanistically that it is just a series of misfortunes?

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For the crew I work with, the test is coming from a life or death standpoint. Not two weeks after being shot at for the second time by the crew that killed my kid, they were attacked again by the same guys. Up until now, they have been developing strong prayer habits and doing their best to put aside their old ways, which would have been to light up their enemy's hood with heavy gunfire until the threat was totally abolished. These were their "old" ways. Old habits die hard when pain is still fresh, faith is still new, and evil resources are at your disposal. But, I've been incredibly proud of them because they are choosing the higher road.

However, around Thanksgiving, their streets were sprayed with bullets yet again. This time, my kids were wearing bulletproof vests, and they fired back. In the old days and in their old ways, there would've been a high- speed chase through residential neighborhoods as gunfire was exchanged between cars. I can honestly say my kids are evolving and transforming themselves. They are truly trying to do better and make good choices because they choose not to strike back at their enemy. They are putting it in God's hands. But, honestly, how much can a human being take? When your very life is being threatened and the possibility of getting killed becomes reality, what would you do to ensure the survival of yourself and those around you? When a deadly force pursues you without ceasing, with the blatant intent to kill you and your entire family, from your children to your grandmother in order to quench their anger, what would you do?  I think most of us would take matters into our own hands.

     We are living in perilous times. As a mentor, I want to protect "my kids" to the best of my ability. Realizing that the police and city officials are not going to do what needs to be done, I’ve turned to my alternatives. As someone who gets down-n-dirty in the hood, I called my street connections to help me. The crew asked me to stay out of it. My bodyguards ordered me to stay out of the way. The problem with our city and the direction of our kids and the gang activity we have now is that too many people are staying out of it.

After crying over them, praying with them and for them privately, I made a phone call. I asked for a meeting with the shooters. This is the part I'm really good at. A major part of the conflict today is miscommunication. A lack of being able to appropriately express themselves as well as not being able to comprehend what is being said to them creates unbelievably violent and often deadly situations.

So far, I've been denied a face-to-face meeting, but I have been able to communicate with them through our mutual connection. They don’t want to back off until they get the one they actually intended to kill. He is hidden and we won’t give him up, so that’s not an option. I'm working on negotiations for peace, because even after taking a life, they respect that my kid has found God in this. They just don’t care at all about the innocent people that they kill in the process.

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It is now January, 2009 and no more attempts have been made on my kids since November, 2008, when I started talking to the shooters. As unfortunate as his shooting and recovery is, as well as the devastating loss of our friend, it couldn’t have happened to a more appropriate person. I am so excited just thinking about what God is going to do with this young man who is truly a leader in the streets as he shifts his power from evil to good. He has a peace I've never seen about him and hope for the future and the desire to praise and worship the God he knows he met and was present with for a moment.

His story may be the spark that ignites the hood for the glory of God.

But, as the devil would have it, it doesn’t end there. He is flooding their lives with overwhelming hardships and obstacles in an attempt to force them back to him. They are standing firm in the face of tragedy, adversity, and severe circumstances. The mother of these kids was tazed in the chest, arrested, and lost her job the same day her youngest son was bound over to adult court for a case and situation that involved his two grown cousins. Her only daughter was severely injured in the chaos at the courthouse and had to be taken to the hospital where she was put under arrest.

Their struggles are causing them to scream the name of Jesus instead of crumble as the devil had planned. They are truly amazing me every day, and I am so proud of them.

 

Read Paulette's column "The Streets," and her interview with RED!

 

 


Paulette Lewis

Paulette Lewis