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#3 Gang Violence Hits Home

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Over the past couple of years there has been mountlng evldence of gang actlvity In Washtenaw County. This summer gang vlolence clalmed its first llfe wlthin Ann Arbor city llmits. On July 29, Támara Stewart, a 16-year-old Huron High student, was caught in an exchange of gun - flre between members of two rival gangs. An innocent bystander at a party on the city's southeast side, Stewart died of a single gunshot wound to the head. Most people in Ann Arbor are only aware of the presence of gangs from the graffiti, which has gone up and been blasted off walls all over town. A closer inspectlon reveáis that Ann Arbor's near northeast side is home to a group calling itself the North Side Gang, the far west side has the West Side Gang, and the West Willow Crips are active in Ypsilanti Township. The shootout in which Stewart died was allegedly between members of the West Side Gang and the West Willow Crips. According to Ann Arbor Pólice Department StaffSgt. Phil Scheel, it is not known whether these gangs opérate independently or are connected to larger gangs, such as the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles. Sheel also told AGENDA that pólice have intensified their efforts in the parts of Ann Arbor known to have gang activity, and that pólice have recently begun tracking gangs by coding crime reports to denote if an incident was gangrelated. The July 29 shooting took place in the Arbor Oaks subdivisión - an area just northeast of Stone School and Ellsworth Roads. Problems were first reported in that area in early July. Residents complained that young people were dealing drugs, playing loud music, playing dice, drinking, and threateningpassersby. They asked pólice for assistance in combatting these problems. Pólice then started a "zerotolerance" operation in the neighborhood - issulng citations, making arrests, and impounding abandoned vehicles. This continued until the nlght of the shooting and resumed a day after the shooting. There are varying accounts of what happened immediately foUowing the shooting. There is no disagreement that an innocent bystander, Támara Stewart, lay dead; that there was a very large , agltated crowd in the street; that more than 30 pólice offlcers (from Ann Arbor, U-M , State of Mich. , WashtenawCounty, and Pittsfleld Township) entered the crowd to reach Stewart; that people in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at pólice; and that pólice used pepper gas and mace on members of the crowd. What is in dispute is the sequence of events and the conduct of the pólice and individuáis in the street. According to a report in The Ann Arbor News, pólice said they were met by a large, hostile crowd throwlng rocks and bottles at them. Pólice claim they were forced to use gas and mace to disperse the crowd, which was preventing them from reaching Stewart Once they had secured the crime scène, they say an unidentifled man tried to force his way through, and they maced and tackled him. That man was Stewart's father. Several witnesses that night give a different account of the melee. They claim the pólice entered the crowd as if responding to a riot. They say that Stewart's father, brother and cousin were huddled over her when pólice arrived. The family members say they identifled themselves to pólice but pólice still tackled and maced them. Itwas atthatpoint, crowd members say, that some individuals began to throw rocks and bottles at the pólice. The slain girl's father spoke at a community meeting held the following night. "Why did the pólice gas me, and throw me down in the street when it was my child who was lying there shot?" asked Verlie Stewart. "Why did the pólice mace my son when he was trying to help his sister?" Stewart insisted he identifled himself to offlcers and called the pólice version " 1 00% lies." In the weeks following the shooting, neighborhood residents have met with pólice to air grievances. Pólice have resumed their zero-tolerance approach to crime in the subdivisión and residents are discussing ways to stop the violence and improve their quality of life. Six suspects charged in the murder of Stewart are in custody . They are residents of Ann Arbor, YpsilanüandYpsilantlTownship, and range in age from 1 6 to 22 years old. Although the trigger man has not been identifled, all have been charged with open murder and use of a firearm while committing a felony. Jerene Calhoun, an Arbor Oaks resident of nearly 1 1 years, is quick to point out that gang members do not live in her subdivisión. In an interview with AGENDA, Calhoun, a neighborhood activist and member of the Bryant Community Council (a southeast Ann Arbor community organization), said that residents have looked closely at their young people and have found no signs of gang involvement - such as wearing gang colors or spray pa int ing grafllü. Calhoun claims that most of the problems in her neighborhood have been caused by people who do not live there. She notes that most of the citations issued by pólice have been to individuals living elsewhere, and that the young men arrested for the shooting of Stewart were also outsiders. The neighborhood has been "pretty calm slnce the shooting," Calhoun said. She describes a neighborhood coming together to solve its problems. Residents have formed a group called Unity in the Community, to deal wlth the aftermath of the shooting. There have been a series of meetings to discuss the situation, to plan activities and for people to get to know their neighbors. Residents, according to Calhoun, are particularly concemed wlth keeping the neighborhood's young people out of trouble. With this goal in mind, they have formulated plans to restore the basketball hoops in the neighborhood park (removed due to past problems wlth noise and drinking) , to créate a new park on Ellsworth Rd . that wlll be named for Támara Stewart, and to hold activities for youth at the nearby Bryant Community Center. Uniry In the Community recently held a block party on Hemlock St. (at the site of the shooting) after school on the flrst day of school wlth pizza and speakers from the community. T-shirts were distributed which on the front listed southeast Ann Arbor subdlvlsions, and on the back sald "No Gangs, No Violence." Unlty in the Community is also workIng to get more people involved In the Neighborhood Watch program and to encourage landlords and renters to clean up rental properties. "People are ready to do what they have to do," sald Calhoun. "People had closed their doors and turned their backs. Now we're gettlng people talklng and to not be afrald to cali the [pólice] anonymous tip Unes." Calhoun added that most people In the community feel they do need the pólice there, and are willing to work with them. "Our neighborhood will come back," said Calhoun. "It's not going to happen overnight. If we don't turn the community around, everybody wlll lose."


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