The video that was evidence in a Fulton County criminal case is disturbing in a world-gone-to-hell way.
A slight, shirtless boy waves his seemingly massive handgun and enthusiastically recounts robbing and shooting a pizza delivery man in July 2017.
De’Quandre Weaver, age 14 at the time and seemingly without a shred of remorse or even comprehension of his grave misdeed, gleefully narrates the details of his escapade to gales of off-screen laughter. Weaver uses sound effects to mimic the crack of the gun and the squeal of the tires, and he employs facial expressions to show his victim’s shock and terror as the man realized he’d been shot.
The wounded deliveryman, 19-year-old King Melton, sped away, leaving the robbing crew with two pizzas, cheesy bread and cans of Orange Crush.
Melton was hit in the arm, thigh and penis. Yes, there. He’s OK now and is a cheerful and wise young man who we’ll hear from later.
Weaver’s accomplices were 13-year-old Anthony Cleveland, who tried to commandeer Melton’s car, and Tyyneefah Wells, 16, who called in the delivery to set up the crime.
They struck in a neighborhood just south of College Park. The scope of their violence didn’t sink in, however. A day later, they were at it again just a few blocks away: There was another pizza order and another robbery, with Weaver again as gunman and young Cleveland punching a 29-year-old woman in the face before stealing her car.
Thankfully, the three budding criminals (only Weaver appears to have a blemish on his record before this) gave their scheme perhaps two minutes of planning and were almost immediately caught after the second robbery. They are now headed to Big Boy (and Big Girl) Prison after pleading guilty last week.
Weaver, now 16, was sentenced to 20 years. Wells, now 18, got eight years. And Cleveland, now 15 and the one who has shown the most remorse, got four years.
These episodes speak of a societal breakdown in which young teens lack empathy or basic civic awareness, leading them to talk about a near-homicide as giddily as chit-chatting about a harmless prank. Is it a breakdown in the family? Is it the digital generation blurring fantasy with reality? Is it insensitive kids whose brains haven’t matured?
I’d go with all three, but Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who’s been in that job for 23 years, says these crimes indicate increasing gang activity. He said there are about twice as many gangs in Atlanta as there were in 2007. The three teens featured in this column belonged to a street gang. (Incidentally, however, crime is down about a third in the past decade in Atlanta.)
“The question we ask ourselves is, but for gang activity, would these kids get involved with something like this?” Howard said, noting that Wells got accepted to technical college while she was out on bond awaiting trial on the robberies.
“This is someone who could have gone to college,” he said. Now, she’s prison bound.
Howard said he sees an increase in juvenile recidivists. It’s common for 16-year-olds to be arrested for felonies and have long juvie rap sheets. His office is starting a new program to try to reduce such recidivism.
Such crimes are nothing new.
Back in 1997, a 13-year-old nicknamed Little B killed a young father in front of his kids for basically no reason.
Ten years ago, an active street gang called 30 Deep, manned largely by teens, wreaked havoc on Atlanta.
In 2014, future Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ nephew was murdered by three gang members, one barely old enough to drive, because of mistaken identity.
Also in 2014 in Cobb County, a 14-year-old described by a witness as looking like “Urkel” killed two pot dealers to fulfill fantasies about being a gangster.
And recently in Cobb, five teens, four of them 16 and two of them girls, were allegedly involved in a home invasion.
I called the two pizza delivery drivers attacked in the 2017 robberies to get their feelings. Here they were, two young people trying to make an honest living when their very existence was threatened by the willy-nilly of underdeveloped youthful brains.
Melton, the shooting victim, now works in security and has mended from the attack. He’s OK with the sentences but still carries feelings of, “I want to put my hands on them.”
Melton was shot after trying to stop the teens from stealing his car. Fourteen-year-old Weaver had him at gunpoint near the porch of a house when Melton saw 13-year-old Cleveland jump into his car.
“It made me very, very mad. I had worked very hard for my car,” said Melton, who was 19 at the time, not that much older than his assailants. “I’m like, ‘You’re not going to rob me!’”
He struggled in the car with Cleveland, who yelled to Weaver, “Shoot him!” The young gunman immediately obliged.
Felicia Evans, the delivery driver who was robbed the next day, told me, “I thought my job was safe because I was out in the middle of the day. This wasn’t night.” The very surreal incident still leaves her with anxiety. “In the moment, I didn’t think he’d shoot me because he was so young.”
“The kid was 13 and had a gun. Where were his parents?” she asked. “How do parents not know what their children are doing?”
During the court sentencing hearing, Evans said, “The moms were there. No dads.”
She’s heard all the explanations about why youngsters go wrong.
“I call them excuses,” said Evans, who came up hard herself. “My mother did drugs. I’ve seen dead bodies. I’ve seen robberies. But I never made those decisions. We all know right from wrong.”
Evans, however, is not hard-hearted about troubled kids.
“Ironically, I work at a children’s home that works with (the Department of Juvenile Justice),” she said with a laugh. “Some of them may have done the same thing. I just have to put my trauma aside.”
Likewise, Melton said he grew up in Washington, D.C., in a rough area and has had a gun aimed at him before the 2017 incident. He could have made those bad decisions, he said, but he didn’t.
I sent Melton the tape of Weaver bragging. “That’s crazy. They’re all proud of it,” Melton said. What got him was his attacker mimicking his facial expression after he was shot. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ I could have died and he thought it was funny. There’s no sense of remorse.”
Then he laughed, adding, “But I’ve never seen anyone indict themselves better than that.”
Ah, the beauty of youth.
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