(View also slide show and video pt. 1 & pt. 2)
CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee -(WDEF) Mention the words black on black violence in the inner city and places like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York come to mind but Chattanooga is quickly becoming known for it's fair share of escalating black on black crimes.
The story is usually the same as it involves a disagreement between two black men or a group of African Americans that leads to violence. Some of the victims live. Others die. No one knows this better than Celeste Woods. Nine years ago, her son Demond was shot to death in an East Chattanooga neighborhood. Woods say's she'll never forget that horrible night.
"The next thing I knew, I was getting a phone call that said Demond had been shot. They asked me to come to the location where it happened. When I arrived, there he was; the rope was taped around and he was laying face down in the street," Woods said.
Demond died on Martin Luther King Jr. Day; A day most Americans celebrate a man who stood for non-violence; A day that now carries more meaning for Woods.
"It carries a very strong meaning. We need to get out and try to march and tell people it's not right. It's not right," Woods said.
The shooting death of her son was the result of an earlier altercation with Alex Smith whom police later arrested and charged with murder. Current Gang Task Force coordinator Boyd Patterson prosecuted Smith.
"That particular case ended with a plea guilty to manslaughter and a sentencing hearing. And that's what happened. He could have faced between six and 10 years but after the sentencing hearing, he was given six years," Patterson said.
Authorities say much of the violence playing out on the streets is gang related and a recent study by the Gang Task Force
backs up those claims.
According to that report, blacks make up 89-percent of the gangs in Chattanooga followed by whites at 10.5 percent. And the number of gang related crimes rose from 127 in 2007 to 500 in 2011.
"The overwhelming majority of the types of homicides that we have are gang on gang. Drug dealer on drug dealer or some combination," Patterson said.
Gang Task Force community outreach coordinator Fred Houser said the level of black on black violence in Chattanooga is at an epidemic level.
"We're seeing so many black children and mid-age black males and older ones that are being murdered as a result of gang violence and other kind of violence," Houser said.
"It affects one of our precious resources; the black male," Houser said when asked about how this type of violence is impacting the African American community.
"My heart bleeds for both sides. Not only the victim but the person doing the shooting," Woods said.
News 12 wanted to why so many African Americans are killing each other and the best way to find out was by talking to a man who is affiliated with the Crips gang. He agreed to talk with News 12 as long as his identity was not revealed for safety reasons.
"Now days you have to go through more to prove yourself as a man and stand your ground as a man. A lot of the times it gets carried away real quick and that's how a lot of this violence and the gun play come about," he said.
He says some neighborhoods in Chattanooga are war zones and during a time of war people get killed.
"I lost friends and I've seen it all. I saw man get shot in the face. So it's crucial out here," he said.
Houser believes the problems unfolding on the streets don't start on the streets. He said it usually starts at home where offenders come from broken families with little or no parental guidance.
"People often point back to the family where when I was coming up it was a primary family; the mother and father but it was also everybody in the neighborhood who represented the family. That structure has broken down," Houser said.
Houser also believes offenders are imitating a culture of violence on TV, the internet and video games.
"You can't change the culture but you can change the behavior of those that are in the culture and it will require a village to be able to do that."
Gang Task Force program specialist, Nina Ventra said many offenders have no idea how bad their decisions are impacting their own family.
"They're making decisions that impact themselves, their families and their children who have no say in the matter and that's the most painful. It's also impacting their parents and grand parents who when their elderly don't have the same power they use to have. When you're seeing those two ends of the spectrum meaning the older and the younger impacted by young adults to mid-level adults it's heart breaking," Ventra said.
The gang affiliated person man who talked to News 12 confirmed how age plays a role on the street.
"It's a myth that the older you get and being in a gang the more power and respect you got. It not about that. It's about the n#@$%r who's out here putting in the most work. The n#@$%r who pistol play heavy. The n#@$%r who got a name for himself. So these young n#@&%rs are 16 and 17 years old and tell 30 and 40 year old grown ass men what to do," he said.
Ventra says that at some point, the roller coaster ride of being in and out of jail and going to court must eventually break down at some point.
"You hit 30. You hit 35 and your old and tired with nothing and your hustling faster and harder just to survive. That's when people start to break down and realize I have to change, Ventra said.
Both the Gang affiliated man and the people at the Gang Task Force said education is the possible solution to the problem playing out in the streets, especially when it comes to the younger black generation who may think there violence is the way of life.
"Get as much education as you possibly can man by any means necessary. Soak up every thing that this world is willing to give you to learn and keep a positive and productive attitude toward life. Gang banging is not cool," said the gang affiliated man.
Another solution is jobs. Much of the violence on the streets is about money and how to get it. The situation is much worst when offenders are released from prison and can't get hired because of multiple felonies on their record so they revert back to a life of violent crimes.
"If you have a history of criminal offenses, particularly violent crimes, employers are afraid to talk to you and they're afraid you're going to re-offend. You need to prove yourself even more so," Ventra said.