Atlanta kids become random victims of street violence through rash of shootings

When Jason Presha came home Nov. 27 to find police combing his apartment complex and yellow tape around the home of a neighbor, he shuddered — like any father would.

By the time he made it to his house, where he was greeted by his wife and three kids — ages 3, 7 and 9 — he had learned why his neighborhood was on lockdown.

According to police, someone tried to rob a man in front of his apartment at the Villas at Lakewood Apartment Homes on Amal Drive. The man escaped and made it into his apartment, but someone fired a shotgun through the door, hitting an 11-year-old girl in the leg.

“I am not gonna say I feel unsafe here, but I do feel uncomfortable,” said Presha, who owns his own plumbing business. “To come home at night to see that is disturbing.”

The wounded girl, whose name was not released, was the fourth child shot on the Southside in the past month. The shootings appear to have been random, as each child was inside their home when they were stuck by bullets from outside. Three of the shootings happened in Atlanta and one was in Fairburn in south Fulton County. All of the victims were black.

Yet, there has been little to no attention paid to the shootings outside the communities where they happened. And even there things were back to normal after a few days.

“What happens is that we in the black community see so much of the violence that it doesn’t mean anything,” said community activist Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta City Council member. “Even when it comes to your front door and the victims are real, we still just go on as business as usual. And that is wrong.”

No one has been arrested in the Atlanta shootings, but Police Chief George Turner said his department has been actively investigating the cases. A spokeswoman for the Fulton County Police Department, which is investigating the Fairburn shooting, said no arrests have been made, but the investigation continues.

“Any acts of violence against citizens of our city are unacceptable,” Turner said. “But violent acts against children are particularly disturbing, and we will aggressively pursue justice for those innocent victims.”

Boazman recently announced a $6,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the people behind the shootings of the three children who lived in southwest Atlanta.

“If you would take a shotgun and shoot it through a door — knowing that there is a family on the other side — you’re too dangerous to be on the streets,” Boazman said. “We can’t afford to go to another funeral. We shouldn’t have to go to another funeral of a child. Three babies were shot in the same community in less than two or three weeks of each other.”

The spate of shootings has been staggering for its violence and seeming randomness.

Nov. 27: The Atlanta Police Department says the father of the 11-year-old was outside at the Villas at Lakewood Apartment Homes when approached by a man who was wearing a black ski mask and toting a shotgun. After running into the apartment and ordering his family upstairs, the father told police he heard a loud bang. The next thing he saw was blood gushing out of his daughter’s leg. She was treated and released at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Nov. 13: Ahijah Geffard, 8, was asleep in an upstairs bedroom of a Hassana Lane home in Fairburn when at least six shots were fired through a door shortly before midnight. One of those bullets hit Ahijah in the back, fracturing his ribs. He survived.

Nov 3: At 1:40 a.m. someone fired shots through the bottom of the door of a red brick house on Polar Rock Place, striking 2-year-old Ty-Teyanna Motley and her infant brother, Isaiah Motley, who were sleeping with their grandmother in a sofa bed. Ty-Teyanna was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her brother was taken to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, where he was treated for a bullet wound near his spine.

In the Atlanta cases “the children were not the target,” said Carlos Campos, a spokesman for the APD. “Rather, adults in the home were.”

While the Nov. 27 shooting appears to be a botched robbery, Campos would not comment further on the Nov. 3 shooting, which is being investigated as a homicide.

Boazman attributes the recent violence to Atlanta’s growing gang problem, saying roving bandits of neighborhood toughs are terrorizing communities.

“I try to do everything I can to keep my kids safe,” Presha said, “but this generation is out of control.”

However, APD crime numbers for the areas where the shootings took place aren’t particularly high. In the Amal Heights neighborhood there have been 13 burglaries and one reported robbery in 2012. There has been one rape reported since 2009 and no murders.

In the Polar Rock neighborhood, the only homicide reported in 2012 is the Motley child’s slaying. There have been 37 burglaries and two reported robberies.

Citywide, there have been 72 homicides in Atlanta this year and 1,990 robberies.

But last month a quartet of alleged gang members were indicted by a Fulton County grand jury in connection with the August shooting death of a west Atlanta lounge owner. The four are allegedly members of the criminal gang called CRG or Campbellton Road Gangsters.

Boazman said he had never even heard of CRG before the four were indicted, an indication gangs can spring up out of nowhere.

Marcel Copley, a mechanic who lives in the Cleveland Avenue area, said gang activity in Atlanta stems from problems rooted in education, poverty and a lack of strong family structure.

“The community is not letting the black man work,” Copley said. “So they have no skills. They can’t get a job, so they are set up for failure from the jump. They start off at the bottom and have nowhere to go.”

“While there does not appear to be a common thread in these horrible acts, we know at the Atlanta Police Department that we are in a unique position to shape and enrich children’s lives in a positive manner,” Turner said. “Through programs such as our Police Athletic League and GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), we hope to influence children to make better decisions as adults and turn away from such senseless violence.”

Boazman said he was bothered that the recent shootings appeared to be “no priority” in the city.

“All we heard is a baby died and we kept moving,” Boazman said. “There was a time in Atlanta when if something like this happened everything would stop. But we are more concerned about if Arthur Blank can deliver a stadium than whether a child is safe.”

“The primary responsibility of any civil society is to protect their children,” state Sen. Vincent Fort said. “If we cannot protect our children, we are not civilized.”

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