Gang Violence in Jacksonville
By Ray Tuenge, Jr.
22-month old Aiden McClendon was sitting in the car with his mother and grandmother when bullets rattled off from a nearby car and tore into his body. Aiden was rushed to the hospital, but he died several hours later. Law enforcement determined that Aiden’s death was a result of a dispute between two rival gangs. Aiden was an innocent victim; the bullets were intended for his uncle.
Aiden’s smiling face has made its way back in to the news recently as his trial began on Monday, June 25. The start of the trial coincides with a series of other gang-related shootings that have been occurring in and around Jacksonville this June. The recent shootings underscore the disappointing fact that nearly two-and-a-half years after Aiden was killed, gang violence is still taking innocent lives in Jacksonville. It begs the question: why does gang violence continue to be a problem in Jacksonville?
Violence between gang members is certainly awful enough in itself, but when innocent victims are caught in the crossfire, there’s no excuse. For these victims, there’s no eye for an eye. They were simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time—collateral damage at the hands of senseless violence. How can any of these criminals justify their actions?
In 2015, News4Jax’s Jennifer Waugh interviewed former Assistant State Attorney Rich Mantei on gang violence in Jacksonville. Mantei said, “gangs here tend to be generational. A child grows up to be a gang member after [his] parent was arrested and imprisoned for gang crimes.” He continued, “Gangs are geographical; people living in one part of town will create a gang. They will protect anyone in that neighborhood and attack any rival gang members who try to move in.”
Growing up with an imprisoned parent is a difficult environment for any young person to find themselves in. But even so, it doesn’t account for the lack of empathy that leads some of these teens to fire high-powered rifles into public places with no regard for anyone or anything around them. These kids either lack awareness or a conscience—maybe both. How can anyone be so inhumane as to kill anyone who gets in the path of their intended target? How can the nature of these crimes simply be attributed to a lack of principled, law-abiding role models?
What’s even more shocking are the motivations that lead some of these gang shootings to be carried out in the first place. Social media posts and music videos on YouTube have become an increasingly popular way for gangs to flex their muscle, to send rival gangs a message and show who’s top dog.
It’s also a convenient way for kids to hide their gang status from law enforcement. Mantei says that, “because ‘gang’ designation results in stiffer penalties for crimes, these groups omit that label from their titles.” He continues, “Many call themselves a rap group or a production company in an attempt to not be called a gang, but that’s what they are. There’s this trading of insults, belligerence back and forth, and it’s fed through music.”
It’s hard to imagine how a family of an innocent victim can come to terms with losing their loved one over something as seemingly innocuous as a rap song diss track or a threat on social media. Police say that a rap music video is what started the conflict that led to Aiden’s death. I wonder if these young gang members ever take a step back and think to themselves: “That toddler was killed over a music video?” Anyone with a normal sense of right and wrong should be able to recognize that an innocent life is worth more than that.
For Aiden’s family there is no retaliation. There’s no “getting back” at a rival gang. There’s only a trial and a lost loved one. “We are just looking forward to it being over, living through this trial and getting our convictions,” said Rhonda McDowell, Aiden’s grandmother in an interview with News4Jax. “We are just taking it one day at a time with the love and support of the community.”
It’s important that we all work together to stem the violence. Diverting the errant youth in our city would go a long way towards making the community safer as a whole. Saving innocent lives starts with addressing the problem at its core. There is no panacea for eradicating gang violence. But we can start with teaching empathy. It could save innocent lives.
PTSD Part 2
By Michael J. Liles
I worked for a man named Robert Clock*. We were in the temporary labor business and our days started at 4:30 a.m. Robert was in Minneapolis, Minnesota and had just walked into his office when an armed robber stepped in the door right behind him. He pulled a shotgun from beneath his trench coat. “Open the safe,” barked the robber. He walked with Robert to the back. Robert was a flesh and blood human being. He was a veteran and had seen action. He was by all counts a man’s man. But of course, he was terrified in this situation.
His fumbling fingers missed the combination on the first attempt. The safe didn’t open. The shotgun pushed into his back. “Don’t MESS with me! You’ve got one more chance,” said the robber.
Robert stood up and told the robber, “I’m not messing with you. I am scared. I can do this.” Robert got down on one knee and really focused on turning the dial. Three times he turned the dial and stopped at the first number. He turned the dial to the left twice and rested the line on the second number. He started turning the dial back to the right when he felt both barrels of the shotgun resting on the back of his neck. He jumped at first. He realized if the robber sneezed it would probably blow his head off. He had to get this right. He turned the dial and stopped on the third and final number and he felt relief as the little click told him that he had gotten it right. As he turned the handle the door opened and the robber pushed Robert out of the way. He grabbed a bank bag that had approximately $750.00 in one dollar bills for petty cash. He grabbed a check that was made out to the company for invoicing that totaled around $12,000 for reasons that only the robber understood. Robert said he would have loved to see what would have happened if the robber presented it to his bank. The robber took his loot and left.
Robert never saw the robber’s face. No one else had seen anything as the workers looking for an assignment didn’t start showing up until approximately 5:30am. The first workers to arrive did see a guy in a trench coat running down the street as they were first showing up. Of course, no one could identify him. Robert immediately called 911 and then called his boss and his wife in that order. His boss came over to the branch immediately and told Robert to go home and take a few days off. Robert told him, “Not a chance! Boss I am fine. Nothing was hurt other than my pride.” As I said, Robert was a man’s man.
Two weeks go by and the dispatcher comes in and notices that the front office lights are still off. Robert usually arrived to work early and turned everything on. The Dispatcher had noticed Robert’s car was parked out front so he was naturally cautious. As he went in the back he found Robert laying on the floor, eyes wide open and shaking violently. He spoke to Robert to ask what was wrong but Robert just stared at him. Robert didn’t say a word. The dispatcher called 911 and they came immediately. Robert was still conscious, still staring, and seemingly alert but was completely unable to communicate whatsoever. They rushed him to the hospital.
Later on, Robert would explain that morning he had come in as he had done a thousand other days and as he came to the back he shut the alarm off and bent down to open the safe. As he was turning the numbers he would describe a sensation similar to the morning the robber had pressed the barrels of his shotgun on his neck. Robert actually remembered that the shaking had started in his right hand that was turning the dial of the safe. It went up his arm, through his shoulder. He had tried to push himself up from the safe and simply couldn’t get up. He remembered his dispatcher coming in and talking to him but he couldn’t hear him. He remembered the Emergency Technicians coming in and talking to him but he could NOT grasp what they were saying. He remembered them lifting him onto a stretcher and wheeling him to the ambulance and on his way to the hospital he lost consciousness. He was discharged two weeks later.
Robert had never heard of PTSD. His never hearing of it was not a requirement for him to have experienced it.
Some of the symptoms Robert should have paid attention to:
- Having difficulty talking about his experience or his feelings about his experience.
- Free floating anger and/or irritation
- Suddenly feeling jumpy/ startle effect
- Over or Under-eating. The net effect is changes in appetite or dietary requirements.
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Unusual worrying about loved ones or close friends
- Dreams about their experience
- Loss of interest in things that have always brought pleasure before
- Diminished feelings of satisfaction or personal accomplishment
- Sudden aggressiveness – especially NEW irritations…Driving or Road Rage as an example
If any of these symptoms are severe and immediately recognizable it is a good idea to discuss them with your doctor. If you have a spouse or truly good friend ask them if any of these sound familiar SINCE your traumatic experience.
At the very least you could be saving yourself an ambulance ride to the nearest medical facility.
*The name of this individual has been changed to protect his identity.
By Jay Howell
Florida first established rules against parental kidnapping in the mid 70’s. Florida’s criminal law on this issue is called “interference with custody”. It is §787.03 of the Florida Statutes. Recent appellate court decisions in Florida have attempted to explain the meaning of the Statute and describe exactly what conduct is prohibited.
In a recent Pinellas County case, the jury convicted the defendant of concealing the location of a minor contrary to a court order in violation of the Statute. The defendant had a turbulent two year marriage to her spouse, during which she gave birth to their son. In 2007 she repeatedly made claims that her husband was abusing her daughter from a prior marriage and their infant son. Investigations did not confirm these allegations but she continued to believe that she and her children were victims of abuse. The defendant left Florida with the children and settled in Maryland, assisted by an organization dedicated to protecting victims of violence. She did not inform her estranged husband of her whereabouts, but she did register her new address with the Florida Attorney General through an address confidentiality program.
The husband filed a dissolution or divorce proceeding in December 2007. In January 2008, the circuit court judge awarded him primary responsibility for the son on a temporary basis. A Subsequent court order authorized law enforcement officers to assist the husband in taking physical possession of the child. That order did not require the defendant to disclose the location of her son. The trial court entered a third order requiring the defendant to return the child to the husband, but once again the court did not order her to disclose the current location of the child.
The defendant was charged with concealing the location of a minor contrary to a court order. At the end of the state’s case, the defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, maintaining that there could be no conviction for concealing a minor in violation of a court order, if the court had never specifically ordered her to inform her spouse about the location of the child. The appeal court sided with the defendant and ruled that the state had not proven its case. The court identified the problem being that there was no court order expressly telling her that she was required to disclose the location of this child to the court. Her conviction was reversed.
Recently, a different court of appeal in Florida was called upon to rule on the same issue and the second court took a different approach under similar circumstances. The more recent decision rejected the previous appellate court’s determination and instead, ruled that the “concealment” in the Statute means concealing a child from a person entitled to its custody. Further, the court ruled that it was not necessary for the trial court to have issued an order specifically directing the parent to reveal the location of the child to the spouse or former spouse. It was sufficient for the conviction that the offending spouse concealed the child from the other parent.
When two lower appellate courts in Florida disagree about the interpretation of the Statute, the case is certified to the Florida Supreme Court to resolve the dispute. That is what has happened in these two cases and the courts await the decision of the Florida Supreme Court. The cases discussed are Merkel v. State, decided by the Second District Court of Appeal in May 2012, and Flynn v. State decided by the Fourth District Court of Appeal on May 3, 2017.
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Editorial and Advertising: Ray Tuenge, Jr. / Editor