Innercity West Virginia by maclaren1

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Street violence and kids on Charleston's West Side (part 1 of a series)
By Anna Sale
556-4910
asale@wvpubcast.org


In 2004, lawmakers passed a sweeping resolution condemning the disparities between black and
white residents in West Virginia. When it comes to kids, the resolution pointed to the
overrepresentation of African American youth in the juvenile justice system, and the test score
gap between black and white students.

It called for action and answers.

Activists on Charleston’s West Side were among those pushing for the measure. There, in one of
Charleston’s most predominantly black neighborhoods, the crisis wasn’t about numbers. It was
about their kids.

Now, three years later, some of the legislative recommendations have been followed up on.
Some have not. But the community-driven efforts to keep kids out of the streets and engaged in
school continues. There’s urgency behind their efforts. They’re fighting for their kids.

It’s happening in the midst of a historical vacuum around race in West Virginia. African Americans
make up 3 percent of West Virginia’s population, and we don’t hear about black residents in West
Virginia very often. The stories about Charleston’s West Side that do hit the news are often quick
headlines about crime, and residents are sensitive about the neighborhood’s negative reputation.

But African American leaders in the neighborhood are also acknowledging the problems in their
neighborhood, and they’re working to address them.

For the next three days, Anna Sale takes an in-depth look at the challenges facing the most at
risk African American youth. We wanted to tell the stories from the voices of the people who live
and work there- from teachers in the schools, preachers in the churches, and kids themselves.

We start today with a look at youth and street crime on the West Side, and how kids like Billy
Carter find themselves in handcuffs before their 18th birthdays.

Anna Sale: Billy Carter was 16 years old on January 26, 2004. But he wasn’t a
high school student. He’d already dropped out.

Billy Carter: I was in a bad mood. My family was in a tough struggle. I was on, I
was high, I had been drinking. It was early in the morning, I mean, I didn’t
really….(fade out)

AS: It was early, but he was out on the streets. Someone owed him some
money, and Billy was out to pick it up.

That’s when he ran into Jimmy Nichols – at a school bus stop on the steps of a
West Side church.

BC: I didn’t even, I mean I knew I had the gun on me, but I wasn’t, I didn’t walk to
him, you know what I’m saying. He walked up to me and started talking stupid.
So we got into a little argument, and I thought he was going to pull out something
or hit me or something, so I pulled it out, and whatever happened, happened.

Jimmy Nichols: We started arguing, and he took a gun out, and there was no
fear in my heart. There should have been, but there wasn’t. So I took my book
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bag off, and was like I know you did not just pull a – and he shot me in the middle
of my sentence.

AS: Billy shot 16 year-old Jimmy in the stomach.

JN: the bullet went through my liver, nicked my kidney, and now it’s like four
inches from my spine. It’s still in me.

AS: Jimmy was taken to the hospital. He’s fully recovered.

Billy served about two years in juvenile detention. He’s now out on probation, working toward his
GED.

Billy isn’t the typical kid on the West Side. It’s much too diverse a neighborhood
for easy descriptions.

But for years, state officials have recognized that stories like Billy’s are too
common in West Virginia. He’s black, and
minority youth make up about 20% of the offenders committed to the state’s
juvenile corrections, when they make up only about six percent of the juvenile
population.

Five years ago, the Supreme Court started studying why minority youth are
overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. It formed the carefully-worded
Task Force to Study Perceived Racial Disparity in the Juvenile Justice System,
but the Supreme Court has failed to follow through.

Researchers at Marshall University completed a study for the Task Force in
2004. The study concluded that blacks and other minority youth received harsher
treatment than white youth.

Stephen Haas wrote the study.

Stephen Haas: Even after we control for the age, gender, seriousness of the current offense for
the juveniles, as well as their prior record, minority youth were treated more harshly at three out
of the stages of the process.

AS: Minority youth fared worse than whites during three phases of the justice process. They were
more likely to be formally charged. They were twice as likely to be detained before a trial. And
they were two times as likely to be sentenced to a juvenile detention center. This was true, again,
even after the researchers controlled for seriousness of crime and criminal history.

The one phase where minority youth fared better than whites was at trial. They
were much more likely than whites to have their cases simply dismissed.

SH: so we see sort of a, for lack of a better term, a correction, where the disparity
had taken place at the earlier stages, you get to the adjudication stage, and
minorities are actually having their cases thrown out.

AS: The study was sent to the Supreme Court Task Force three years ago, but
the Task Force still hasn’t finished its report and recommendations. The Task
Force hasn’t even met since 2005.

<sound from street on West Side>
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AS: But back on the West Side, there’s still the question of how African American
kids get pulled into the system to begin with.

It’s a subject that gets debated in inner cities across America. On the West Side,
residents point to a number of root causes, including poverty, the proximity of the
drug trade, the breakdown of the family, and high incarceration rates.

The Marshall study found that among young minorities in the juvenile system,
Billy’s background is common.

Minority kids were more likely to be from single parent homes than white kids.

Billy’s home life was rarely stable. His father’s been in prison most of his life. He shuffled between
different relatives as his mom went in and out of jail on drug charges and probation violations.

The study also found that minority offenders were less likely than white offenders to be enrolled in
traditional public school.

By the time Billy shot Jimmy Nichols, he had been expelled from Capital High, and then dropped
out of the alternative night school altogether.

BC: “I got suspended from every school. Elementary, junior, every
school I done been suspended. Usually for cussing, or skipping class, or
not doing my work, or not going to after-school detention and fighting.
Just different things. Just being bad. Just being ignorant.

AS: Minority youth were also younger than white kids at the time of their offense, and more likely
to have gone through the system before.

The study suggests that minority kids may be at higher risk and have greater needs than white
youth in West Virginia.

The way Billy describes it, all these forces added up in his life, and the streets
were a way to ignore the problems.

BC: Just hanging with the wrong people, forgetting about what was important,
just forgetting about everything. Just not dealing with family problems, nobody to
talk to, abuse, dealing with abuse, and just went toward the streets and just been
with it ever since then. I messed up a big part of my life.

AS: By junior high, Billy had started selling drugs – crack and marijuana. And he
got a gun.

Ex-offender: You get involved in the streets first starts out small. Just hanging
out, drinking beer, and stuff. And then it escalates, and ummm…(fade out)

AS: This African American man followed a similar path as Billy on the streets of
Charleston in the early 1990s.

Ex-offender: Then you work up to drug dealing, you know, a little 20 dollars
here, 50 dollars here trying to make a little side money. And then it escalates,
and before you know it, you’re just flat-out selling drugs, and with that, you know,
you always carry a pistol that’s the downside of that.

AS: He served 10 years in prison for killing a man. He’s out now, but doesn’t
want his name used for rear of retribution in his work.
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These days, he refers to his old criminal mindset as “the monster” – a way of
thinking nurtured by guns, drugs, and the need to earn respect on the streets.

Ex-offender: You know, when you deal out there, there’s other people that deal
too, and they want your money just as well as theirs, plus when you’re out there
dealing and you’re getting away with stuff, you just, you get this ego trip and you
get this power thing, and when you have a gun in your possession, it makes you
feel like you’re the king of the world.

AS: He says in his days, most of the dealers on the streets were black. The
buyers of the drugs, though, were much more diverse.

Ex-offender: People were coming in. I mean, it was all walks of life. I mean, it
didn’t, it was exempt from color, race, income, I mean, people of all, people
would pull up in limos.

AS: On the West Side streets today, Charleston police have stepped up their
patrols, and the city’s overall crime rate has declined.

But police say that hasn’t stemmed the demand for drugs.       Lieutenant Chuck
Carpenter leads the Charleston-area Metro Drug unit.

Chuck Carpenter: The money’s still there, the want is still there, the addiction of
the crack heads in Charleston, and the people that’s hooked on crack and the
powder cocaine, for that matter, or all drugs, it hasn’t gone down at all.

AS: That demand means quick money for neighborhood dealers. Charleston
Police Detective Errol Randle has sold drugs as part of undercover operations,
and has seen firsthand what a powerful draw it can be.

Errol Randle: from the time that I got out of my undercover vehicle, and stood on
the corner, it took a matter of twenty seconds for me to make a $100 sale.” :08

AS: Detective Randle lives in Orchard Manor, a public housing project on the
West Side. He’s the cop in residence. He’s also on the FBI’s anti-gang task force
in the Charleston area.

ER: The kids will go and get in the streets, what they don’t get at home. If they do
things that are good out there in the streets, they gonna be rewarded for it. If they
do things that are bad, they’re going to have repercussions for that. They have a
sense of belonging, which they consider to be their family, and they feel loved.

AS: Unstable or absent parents get fingered a lot in the discussions about at-risk
youth on the West Side. Tammy Coles has heard the criticisms. She’s the mother
of six kids. Three of them live with her now on the West Side. Her oldest son,
Michael, lives with relatives in North Carolina now. He moved with them after he
got entangled in the streets in Charleston as a young teenager.

Tammy Coles: When I found out that Michael was selling drugs, I went to the
police and asked them what could I do? I went to the juvenile courts and asked
them what could I do? But for the simple fact that Michael wasn’t breaking into
people’s houses, he hadn’t jumped on anybody, they said he hadn’t been caught
selling drugs, they said there wasn’t anything that he could do. So the law
enforcement basically told me, until your son becomes a menace to society,
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there’s nothing we could do them, and I’m looking at them, thinking, can’t we do
something before it gets to that point?

AS: Tammy Coles isn’t the only one frustrated.

Detective Randall says he routinely sees the same kids cycle through the system
again and again. Something’s not working.

ER: Unfortunately, sometimes when, the way our juvenile system works, it works
against us, because you’re dealing with two different mindsets. Our mindset, if a
juvenile is arrested, well, we’ll give them probation or we’ll give them an
improvement period and we’ll hold that above their head, and that will keep them
from getting in trouble, but their mindset is, well, nothing happened to me, so I
beat the charge.

AS: And out on the streets, kids are less afraid of the system than they are of
each other.

Again, Lieutenant Chuck Carpenter.

CC: They’re some hard kids out there that really want to make a name for
themselves amongst their peer group. And you know, they’re quick to pull a
trigger. I mean, we see that all the time. And honestly we’re seeing a lot of
shootings now a days that’s not drug related. Like, he disrespected me so I had
to do what I had to do. There’s no fist fights among these kids anymore. It’s like
they’re scared to death of each other. So the easiest thing to do is pull out a gun,
you know, and start firing off caps.

AS: That’s what happened on the steps of that church in 2004.

Billy sensed a threat, and he pulled out his gun.

BC: I mean, people use, take guns the wrong way. I mean, people don’t really
buy guns and just shoot people to shoot them, you know what I’m saying? It’s
different than other things why people use them. I mean, cause it ain’t like you
can just go to your mom, your dad, or your auntie, and say I got this problem and
this person about to kill me. It ain’t, you know what I’m saying? There’s really
nothing you can do. You know what I’m saying? Because people really don’t
care. It’s either their life or yours, you know what I’m saying. They don’t care. So,
I got me one knowing just to protect myself, knowing that the life I was living,
would be problems with other people, that’s everyday. You know what I’m
saying? People really don’t care how the other person feels.

AS: Jimmy was shot in the stomach. An employee at the nearby funeral home
drove him to the hospital.

Billy was arrested later that day. The shooting hit the local papers.

But Jimmy says the public outcry missed the point.

JN: Billy’s black, and he sells drugs, and he lives on the West Side. That’s what
made it look so bad. People thought, like even the mayor thought, said it was
over drugs, and my mom had to say no it wasn’t. And then they tried to say it was
a hate crime. No. Just because he’s black and I’m white don’t got nothing to do
with it. we never looked at color. We looked at each other and said we don’t like
you.
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AS: It was a stupid teenage scuffle. But Billy had a gun.

He ended up serving about 2 years in juvenile detention centers.

BC: It was hard that first year, because I was still in that negative stage, but after
talking to a lot of people, and actually helping myself, it got better.”

With the help of counselors, Billy tried to lay a plan for how his life could be
different when he got out.

BC: Just what I’m going to do next, what I’m going to do next in my life, how am I
going to change, from negative to positive. Just how am I going to do it. Just
trying to put a plan in place, trying to set goals.

AS: While Billy was serving time, Jimmy was also doing some thinking.

BC: I realized that one, I needed forgiveness from Billy, I picked on Billy, just as
much as he picked on me. So if it wasn’t for that, I would have never got shot that
morning. And I remember, I felt bad I hope he doesn’t think I’m mad at him, and
everybody’s like, why don’t you shoot him back? I was still in high school, he was
in jail. I don’t want to end up in jail and waste my life away.

AS: When Billy got out, he didn’t know what to make of Jimmy’s turn of heart. His
old wariness of others was still there.

BC: I thought there was still going to be problems, you know what I’m saying?
Somebody shoot me, I’m not going to come up and just thank you. And you
know, what I’m saying, I just, it was weird at first. I thought it was a set-up,
honestly, I thought I was getting set up. But he was really, he was really, I don’t
know. He was really into the Bible. He was just like, man don’t even, I was wrong
for what I said to you that day, so I apologize, I mean he was just like, shook
hands, and don’t worry about it. And I’m saying let’s move on.

AS: Now, Jimmy’s finishing his first semester at West Virginia State
University. He’s also part of a group called Chainbreakers that speaks to
kids about the perils of gangs and drugs. He says targeting youth is the
way to attack the problems on the West Side.

JN: This is my analogy. You know how when you have a blank tape,
when you record it, there’s a tab you break? The kids have the tab on
there. You can still, you can still, get to the kids. Once you get passed a
certain age, that tab gets broken, and you’re going to believe what you
want to believe because you’re an adult now. You know what I’m saying?
You know what you know.

AS: Billy Carter is also working to move on. He is scheduled to take his GED test
next month.

For WV Public Broadcasting, I’m Anna Sale in Charleston.

You can find a copy of the Marshall University study on racial disparities in the
juvenile justice system on our website at wvpubcast.org.

Our series on African American kids on Charleston’s West Side continues
through Friday.
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Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at West Side schools, and how community members
and school officials are trying to close the test score gap between black and
white students.

And on Friday, we’ll hear more about Billy Carter's efforts to turn his life around,
and look at two community groups on the West Side targeting at-risk kids.

								
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