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Thread: VA Pilot - Armed and dangerous: The new reality of teen crime

  1. #1
    Regular Member vbnative73's Avatar
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    Apr 2008
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    This was in today's Virginian Pilot. Feel free to hit up the comments section and make it clear that criminals are the problem and not the guns. The Pilot goes out of there way not to make that clear.

    I commented before anyone else and my comment is STILL waiting for approval while several others have been cleared by the moderator already.

    A recent spate of gun violence involving teenagers led The Virginian-Pilot to take a closer look at the problem. This is the first of an occasional series.

    Botched robberies across South Hampton Roads ended in the fatal shootings of a boy responding to his mother's cries, a fleeing pizza delivery man and a father of two who'd just ended a call with his mother.

    Each time, teens barely old enough to vote pulled the trigger. Their accomplices were younger: 17, 15, 14 and 13.

    Some local law enforcement officials point to an unmistakable shift: Teenagers are more likely to carry guns and quicker to draw them.

    The results are sometimes fatal and always frightening.

    Robbery seems to be the crime of choice.

    In Virginia, youth arrests on robbery charges spiked in fiscal year 2006 and remains near its highest levels in close to a decade. The same happened with charges of committing felonies with guns.

    Norfolk's count of juvenile arrests for robbery more than doubled from 2004 to 2006, its peak year. Most other South Hampton Roads cities experienced similar jumps, and national estimates trend in the same direction.

    A Virginian-Pilot analysis of dozens of local court cases revealed two distinct types of offender: those who act capriciously and those who carry out the calculated business of street gangs.

    Two young men serve as examples - Dontrae Thorpe, a small-framed 18-year-old who helped a friend rob a stranger one summer night in Suffolk, and Robert Harrell, a Norfolk teenager who sought a gang at age 12 and began a deliberate rash of robberies that went on for years.

    Dontrae Thorpe did not belong to a gang - never saw the need to - but he was dangerous.

    In many ways, he was typical of the young robber: 15 or 16 years old, impulsive and shortsighted. He worked with like-minded friends and expressed little empathy for his victims.

    Life was hard early on, Thorpe says. His parents didn't live together and weren't always around. Home got so bad at 10 that he moved in with an aunt.

    Thorpe was 8 the first time he held a gun. He plucked it from the seat of his father's truck and stared into the barrel. He got a bad feeling about it and put it down.

    But guns were commonplace. You could buy them on the streets and borrow them from your friends.

    Thorpe wasn't even a teenager when he first fired one. He didn't like the way the gun made his arm jerk and never got one for himself, he says.

    He had multiple brushes with the law for fighting.

    Then in January 2006, a dispute between a friend and an acquaintance ended with a 17-year-old dead and a 15-year-old facing a 37-year prison sentence.

    Thorpe said he watched his friend die. It was gruesome.

    "I never saw anybody get shot before."

    Death didn't change him. He dealt with his grief by getting drunk. He kept hanging out with his old buddies - boys who pulled guns on people over girls and football games and disrespect.

    Mikel Whitley was his best friend, slightly older.

    It was June 29, 2007, a year and a half after Thorpe witnessed the shooting.

    They were walking down Greenfield Crescent in Suffolk. Whitley needed money, and he wanted to rob somebody to get it, Thorpe said.

    Find a way, he told the older boy, and I'll help you.

    Thorpe, 16, was nervous. But he was ready to go through with it.

    Around 10 p.m., a woman parked her car in front of a townhouse. She got out, collected a purse, a diaper bag and her infant son. She paused at the darkened doorway and chatted with a neighbor, then turned to go inside.

    There was a tap on one arm and a tug on the other. When she looked up, she saw a gun pointed toward her head.

    Thorpe would tell police they made off with $600 in cash. The victim would say it was closer to $800. They'd swiped her purse and the diaper bag and knocked the baby in its carrier from the woman's grip.

    Thorpe said he saw his friend snatch the woman's purse but took off after that. A pearl earring made him identifiable, he said in a statement to police, and he wasn't dumb enough to let that happen. Later, he met up with Whitley, sorted through the diaper bag and tossed it.

    Thorpe told police there was never a gun - just a cell phone they used to look like one.

    His trial judge didn't believe that version of events and found Thorpe guilty of robbery, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 16 suspended.

    He never thought he'd end up in a state penitentiary, Thorpe said recently inside a tiny interview room at Brunswick Correctional Center.

    He is 18 now, soft-spoken and respectful. He wears dark jeans and brown shoes and a prison-issued button-up shirt, with a string of orange and white beads that peak from the collar.

    He picked those colors because they don't have anything to do with gangs. A cross that once dangled down the middle was torn off during a basketball game.

    It is easy to talk to God in here, he said, and he does it a lot. He works in the kitchen and reads James Patterson in his free time. He sings, and he considers using his voice for something good once he gets out.

    Thorpe thinks about his friend who died, dreams about him sometimes. He tries not to think about the lady he robbed, but he is sorry for what he put her through.

    At his sentencing a year after the crime, Thorpe's victim talked about lingering fear, how she still looked over her shoulder, how she'd moved away. But she said she wished only the best for Thorpe, because he was still a child.

    Thorpe misses his family. He misses his aunt's spaghetti and the little sister who depended on him.

    But he is glad he is here, believes God wanted it that way.

    "If I'd stayed on the streets," he said, "I would have ended up dying."

    Young criminals have seen violence on television, in music videos and on the streets, and they think it's acceptable.

    "Not only is it desensitized, it's glamorized," said James A. Cervera, deputy police chief in Virginia Beach.

    Acting on a criminal impulse is as easy as pulling a gun, and getting one is easy.

    Teens buy weapons or borrow them. They steal them. They find one in a drain where the last person tossed it.

    "It's teenage behavior that has gotten out of control because weapons are now involved," said Chesapeake Commonwealth's Attorney Nancy Parr.

    Trouble-bound teens feel entitled to what they want, including the latest and greatest electronic gadget. More people are carrying iPods and pricey cell phones - items that are easy to take and lucrative to sell.

    "It's a mentality," said Claudette R. Overton, director of the court services unit in Norfolk Juvenile and Domestic Relations court. " 'You have it. I need it. It's mine.' "

    Cervera said the nation saw a similar surge in robberies in the late 1980s and into the 1990s, when juvenile crime hit extreme highs in the state and the nation. Then, teens were taking sneakers and sports jackets.

    Today, the number of youth arrests is much lower. For most crimes, it's trending down, with two notable exceptions: robbery and use of a firearm to commit a felony. African Americans account for about 80 percent of Virginia's juvenile robbery arrests.

    If youth robbery arrests continue to increase at the current rate, the nation's annual number could return to its 1995 peak in four years, experts say.

    Juveniles accused of gun crimes offer a host of reasons at sentencing. They needed money to pay court fines from other, more petty charges. They needed money for drugs. The drugs made them do it.

    They'd failed at everything else and needed to make a living.

    Others are more frivolous, committing what Cervera calls "crime for sport."

    A group of kids will take a bicycle only to discard it a few minutes later, he said. In Norfolk last summer, a 17-year-old demanded money from a woman at gunpoint only to throw the wallet and all of its contents back at her.

    "You give them a gun," Overton said, "it provides power for them."

    A robbery happens quickly

    and witnesses are scared. More often than not, police fail to make an arrest.

    The violence and the money have made holdups attractive for local street gangs. In recent years, robbery has replaced property crime as an initiation rite for some.

    "It shows your fierceness to gang members," said Gregg Smith, a Norfolk probation field supervisor who specializes in gangs. "It shows your ability to get merchandise to sell."

    Law enforcement officials vary on whether gang activity is increasing in South Hampton Roads. However, they agree that street gangs have higher profiles now, with hundreds of members identified in dozens of local organizations.

    Teens join gangs for different reasons. They may bend to peer pressure, lack a strong male role model or yearn for a family-like support system.

    "They want to belong to something," Parr said.

    Not all gang members commit violent crimes, but some are encouraged to do so in "missions" to achieve status and to acquire money. The "missions" must be witnessed by another gang member. Promotions are based on the number of crimes and the amount of money.

    Older gang members with "rank" - sometimes known as "superiors" - direct younger members. The organizations keep an assortment of weapons in readily accessible places and often pass them among members.

    In one incident, a Blood "superior" handed two juvenile gang members a sawed-off shotgun and a rifle and went with them to rob four people in Chesapeake's Camelot neighborhood, according to court testimony.

    "They've created their own subculture," said Overton, of Norfolk's court services unit, "and this is the way they're going to live."

    "Give me the money or I'm going to kill one of them."

    The 16-year-old with a black bandanna over his face held a Luger to the head of one of the Quick Shop's customers.

    The clerk hurried to the register, and Robert Harrell ran to his getaway car, a stolen gold Toyota, with $800 in cash.

    That robbery, in August 2007, was one of many crimes he committed after becoming a Blood at age 13.

    He'd started looking for a gang to join a year earlier. He wanted to escape family problems. He had four sisters but wanted brothers. He wanted to be a thug.

    By 13, Harrell already had been charged with possession of a weapon on school grounds - carrying a knife, his mother said.

    That year, he became a Blood in an initiation that included "fights with older dudes," he says.

    Blood members presented Harrell with a gun. They told him to "put the work in." He went on a robbery spree.

    "I got to do whatever I'm told," he says. "Rob, shoot, whatever."

    Before long, Harrell brought a weapon everywhere, didn't feel right without it. Known on the street as "Smurf" and "Ra-Ra," he got away with at least four robberies, he said. He also was into drugs.

    As a young teen, he thought holdups were funny. He would laugh about it.

    That changed as he got older. Family members didn't want him in their homes, Harrell said, and a cousin threw him out of an apartment they shared.

    Harrell started committing robberies to buy food.

    And at least twice in the summer of 2007, Harrell stole at the suggestion of "Pawpaw," a ranking member of the Bloods, according to his police confession.

    That June, he snatched a bank deposit bag from the 75-year-old owner of Overton's Market, a well-known convenience store in his Berkley neighborhood. The man shot at Harrell as he ran away.

    Of the $19,000 that police say was in the bag, Harrell said he gave Pawpaw $300. With his share, Harrell bought clothing, shoes, a television, and a tan and burgundy Oldsmobile Cutlass.

    Two months later, Harrell held up another convenience store on Pawpaw's order. But Harrell couldn't get the cash register open and made off with only a bag containing several boxes of BC Powder, an aspirin pain reliever.

    "I did it for nothing," he bitterly told police. "Send me on a dummy mission."

    Once during that summer robbery spree, Harrell felt ashamed.

    After placing a black 9 mm on the counter of a Church Street Shop 'N Go and demanding money, he realized he knew one of the clerks.

    She usually worked at the Shop 'N Go in Berkley, a woman who complimented him on his clothes and joked around with him.

    Despite the black bandanna over his face, she recognized him. She said nothing. She just looked shocked.

    "I know she was disappointed," Harrell said.

    He stole about $100. He later scoffed at the small amount to police.

    Soon after, Harrell was shot when a gun went off during a scuffle with a fellow Blood. He claimed the argument was over his refusal to kill someone. The bone in Harrell's left ring finger was shattered.

    By the end of August 2007, police had arrested him on a tip from his accomplice in the gold Toyota.

    A year ago, a judge sentenced Harrell to serve 25 years in prison, with 10 years suspended, on multiple charges of robbery, weapons violations, grand larceny and assaulting a police officer.

    A clerk from the Quick Shop wrote to the judge, "Keep these people off the street before someone is killed."

    In an interview from Sussex I State Prison, Harrell recently said the older gang members were the only ones who could have persuaded him to choose a different lifestyle.

    "I would have listened if they would have told me," he said, "because I felt like they knew what was best for me."

    He wants to pursue a positive path, he said, perhaps own a barbershop someday and give back to the Berkley community.

    But Harrell, now 18, stops short of leaving his gang.

    "Blood is a religion," he said. "I'd never say I'm not a Blood. It won't happen."

    Amy Jeter, (757) 446-2730,

    Kristin Davis, (757) 222-5555,

  2. #2
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    Aug 2007
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    This article illustrates my experience from working in a local ER for 5 years. These thugs fear very little. Convincing evidence to carry all the time.

  3. #3
    Regular Member KansasMustang's Avatar
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    Just another of the many reasons that an armed OC'ing citizenry is necessary.
    ‘‘Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.’’ Thomas Jefferson

  4. #4
    Regular Member sccrref's Avatar
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    May 2007
    Virginia Beach, VA, , USA

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    I would be happier with an armed society. OC or CC it does not matter to me as long as you carry.

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