Officials discuss gang presence in Coweta
by Wes Mayer - firstname.lastname@example.org
What is a gang?
In the Georgia Code of Law, 16-15-3, a street gang is defined as “any organization, association, or group of three or more persons associated in fact, whether formal or informal, which engages in a pattern of criminal gang activity.”
The statute continues to define what exactly a "pattern of criminal gang activity" is, but two phrases stand out – "formal or informal" and "criminal." By definition, any group, even a group like the Freemasons, could be considered a gang. The question is, is the group involved in criminal activity?
On Friday, law enforcement leaders with the Coweta County Sheriff’s Office and Newnan Police Department met with reporters with The Newnan Times-Herald to discuss recent shootings and whether or not the violence means there are gangs in the county.
In short – yes. Just like everywhere else, there are gangs in Coweta County.
“It’s all here, it’s all everywhere,” said Captain John Lewis with the sheriff’s office. “I don’t know if there’s a town in America that doesn’t have some type of street gang.”
There may not be “formal” gangs waging a violent turf war in Coweta County, but there are multiple known groups of people who associate themselves by names, tattoos, symbols and graffiti that local law enforcement have identified. With the help of agencies in neighboring counties, Coweta area law enforcement departments are actively learning and gathering information every day about these gangs.
“You have got to call it what it is,” said Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager. “You have got to get your head out of the sand.”
Most of these groups are centered around music, especially rap. According to Lewis, gangs used to be influenced by drugs, money and women, but a fourth influence can now be added – music. And the music is nothing but gang talk, Lewis said.
One of the men who lost his life in recent Newnan shootings, Gregory Marquel Anderson, was a rapper. His videos, under the name G.Keezy and Marquel Fargo, can be found on Youtube, and they are filled with expletives and gang references. (So are the comments.)
One song, “Hard in the Paint,” was shown by Coweta County Investigator Ryan Foles – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKsyLAaZgcA – along with other videos by rappers such as Mazerat Ru, Bloody Jay and Young Thug, who have ties to gangs and ties to Georgia and even Newnan.
These groups or rappers may not consider themselves gangs or gang members, and may say they are just artists, but that is just a ruse, authorities said. An entertainment group is, by the aforementioned statute, a gang, Foles said.
“If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck,” said Newnan Police Chief Douglas “Buster” Meadows.
In the last two weeks, three shootings have occurred in Newnan, and three men have been killed. There were two shootings on March 25 – one man was injured in the first, but two, Darian Person and Anderson, lost their lives in the second. The third man, Reggie Lamont Sinkfield, was killed early Wednesday on Mary Ann Street, one street away from where Person and Anderson were found.
So far in the investigations, these three shootings do not appear to be connected, said Newnan Deputy Police Chief Rodney Riggs. They were three separate incidents that all happened to occur in a week, but they are still very new and very unusual in the community, Meadows said.
Another shooting on Howard Hughes Road in unincorporated Coweta, however, may be a different scenario, authorities said. Although they can’t say whether the violence – Walter Lee Ponder Jr. allegedly shooting Vantorious Krishad Dixon multiple times then running him over – is gang related. It was most likely fueled by alcohol, violent rap, an attitude and the desire to take it out on somebody.
“They have this mindset,” Yeager said, “and it’s like babies raising babies. They have no respect for human life or property.”
Authorities said that, these days, gang activity is generational. Growing up, kids either have parents or relatives who are gang members, or they have no authority figures in their life – their parents are in prison or deceased – so they look to gangs for acceptance. This usually begins in middle school, and school resource officers are often finding gang-related symbols or paraphernalia on students.
Because of this, it is important for families to watch their kids and their neighborhoods, authorities said. Parents should know who their kids’ friends are and know their friends’ families. Many times, families carelessly let their children hang out with unknown people, and kids are introduced to gang activity, the local law enforcement leaders said.
Gangs are also merging and evolving, authorities said. It may be because Georgia is a no-war zone, Foles said. But there are situations where members of different gangs, like the infamous Crips and Bloods, will be around each other, on the street or in clubs, without violence. The gangs are not based on race, either, authorities said. Gangs will often have members who are both black and white.
“Police don’t racially profile,” Yeager said. “We profile criminal activity.”
Although there may be gang activity in Coweta County, it does not mean the entire county is unsafe, authorities reassured. While there is a potential of innocent people being hurt, it is the same as it would be anywhere else.
Also, while law enforcement can’t openly say all the information they have about local gangs, they want to assure the public that they are not walking around scratching their heads either, Yeager said.