The Macon Monitor met this week with two Macon-Bibb citizens who acknowledge gang affiliations, but who dispute the perception by many public officials and members of the public that gangs and gang affiliations are themselves the major cause of violent crime in Macon-Bibb. G-Rell, 30, is affiliated with the Crips, and wore blue clothing to our meeting at a Unity-N-Community office. Johntellis Mathis, 27, is affiliated with the Blacc Team, and wore black clothing. Both are affiliations common in their respective neighborhoods. Mathis joined the conversation later.
Monitor: How long have you been affiliated with a gang?
G-Rell: Since I was about 10. But it’s not what you think, all fighting and shooting and such. It’s a brotherhood. And it’s also about being supportive to our community. Like if somebody needs their grass cut and can’t do it themselves, we help make sure the grass gets cut. And if there’s a grandmother in the neighborhood who’s walking, and needs a ride to Walmart, so we give her a ride, help her.
Monitor: But it’s not all about helping old ladies cross the street.
G-Rell: It’s also about protection. Gangs go way back to the Black Panthers. If you can’t count on the police or others to protect you, you look out for protecting yourself and your brothers and community.
Monitor: And it’s also about selling illegal drugs.
G-Rell: That’s not true for everybody. I have a full-time job. I’ve been working steady for years, since I was a teenager. I work for a major local employer. I have my own car and place and life.
Monitor: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about gangs?
G-Rell: About violence. The gangs are responsible for keeping violence down, not the other way around. You’d be surprised. As for people with different gangs getting along, it’s usually no problem. We go to things where there’s one Blood, one Crip, side by side. No problem. People come for the good time, like to the Macon Peace events, or music events, or wherever.
Monitor: What’s the attraction of the gang affiliation?
G-Rell: There’s so little else that young people are doing. When I was growing up, seemed like we had more activities, and then I got work. Nowadays there ain’t much for young people to do. The places to go, and the jobs, just ain’t the same. Westgate Mall, Macon Mall, they’re nothing like they used to be. What’s left? The clubs? Alcohol and drugs? As for kids, where can they go besides the rec centers and Chuck-E-Cheese?
Monitor: Did you get a high school diploma or GED?
G-Rell: No. I just got jobs and worked. That was easier for me, though. Brothers with felony records have a hard time finding work. Guys like my own brother who went to college, he left. He moved out of town. He says we don’t have no opportunity here for him.
Monitor: Do you have complaints about treatment of people affiliated with gangs?
G-Rell: We have our affiliations, but other people do too. It’s just that our affiliations seen as bad. Police is a gang. Church is a gang. Mercer is a gang. Now, sometimes people in gangs commit crimes, but that’s not usually because of gangs. It’s maybe because a couple of guys don’t like each other, or maybe want money and don’t have jobs and don’t want to hit up mama for money. They want to be men, to provide for their kids.
Monitor: Do you have children?
Monitor: A lot of young women and girls involved with guys in these neighborhoods are getting pregnant young and having babies. Why is that?
G-Rell: You have to ask them. They get money from government for help, and they get child support from the dads too. They seem to do all right compared to the guys.
Monitor: And a lot of these unemployed guys go to prison.
G-Rell: Some of that is bullshit. You look around and see some bad sex offenders and rapists, you see them walking the streets. Why they not locked up and made examples of? And then because some guy gets in a fight for something, or commit a small crime, they get charged for participating in a gang activity when that was not the real crime that they committed. And you can get many years for something that you didn’t do? But you can destroy a child’s life by raping the child, get small time and be back on the streets? Some of these probation officers have no trouble finding gang members after they’re released, but the officers seem to have lots of trouble finding sex offenders who don’t register. Why is that?
[At this point, Mathis entered the room and, after introductions, joined the conversation.]
Mathis: We friends. I can depend on him [G-Rell] even though we be with different gangs.
Monitor: We’ve been talking about the way people view gangs.
Mathis: Some people think gang connections are all bad. But look at some of the top NBA stars. Some of them have gang connections, and they’re still held up as role models. Zack Randolph and Derrick Rose said to be with the GDs [Gangster Disciples]. John Wall said to be with the Bloods. Jason Terry and Shawn Marion said to be with the Crips. Around here in Macon, though, you be with a gang, you looked down on automatically.
Monitor: Some gang members locally have done some pretty bad crimes.
Mathis: Right, and that’s not good. But just because KKK members were Christians, nobody blame all Christians for being bad guys.
Monitor: So what is causing violent crime?
Mathis: A lot of it is bad parenting, but they blame the streets. But the people who be blaming the streets aren’t raising their children. The gangs are really stepping up in the absence of families.
Monitor: When did you get affiliated with the Blacc Team?
Mathis: When I was maybe 12 or 13. And it actually helped me grow and develop, which is what I mean by the “GD” gang, which I’m also affiliated with. Kind of like a fraternity or sorority at college, only I didn’t get to go to college. “Blacc” to me stands for “bettering lives and creating community.”
Monitor: You have a brother who was arrested in the Wings Café shooting.
Mathis: That was a bar fight but they’re making it out to be some big gang thing. My brother really isn’t involved with the gangs. But you get some officer swearing on the stand that my brother’s a gangster, and everybody just assumes that he is, and that what went on at Wings was some big gang thing. It was not. It was a bar fight that got out of hand because some people had guns. The guns was the real problem, not the gangs.
Monitor: What is the state of the gang community in Macon today?
Mathis: The gangs in Macon are more unified now than they ever been. Gangs are making efforts to stop violence, get rid of gun violence. You can see some of these stop-the-violence messages in videos like Racks Up, Mac-Town Down. We do what the police don’t do. We be getting people to stand down.
Monitor: What could the police be doing better?
Mathis: One thing would be a drive, no questions asked, to collect guns from people. Give them incentives to give the guns up. We tried that a few years ago. We should make that permanent. Get the guns off the street.
As for selling drugs, some guys do that, but you know, it’s a mixed message. Even Allen Peake is basically saying let’s legalize marijuana.
I say let’s focus on the guns and the violence. The gangs can get together on that. And the gangs would be willing to get together on that with the police if the police would change their approach to gangs. That’s not possible, though, if the police be targeting gangs just because it sounds good to target gangs.