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Column: What do we do about gangs?
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After six days of hearing testimony during a murder trial, I have many questions.
A man convicted of murdering a local preacher was behind bars when the man was killed, shot in his sleep in a home located in a quiet, peaceful Statesboro neighborhood.
Tarell Momon walked into the courtroom each day in shackles and handcuffs, flanked by three armed guards in addition to the regular courthouse security. Every time he stood, those guards stood between him and others, blocking every direction he could possibly take if he tried to flee.
Already serving a life sentence for aggravated sodomy, aggravated assault, armed robbery, kidnapping and other crimes, he now has a second life sentence tacked onto the end of the first. But are we safe?
Momon has been in prison since he was a teenager. According to evidence presented in the trial of Michael Anthony Riley’s murder, we learned Momon is a member of the Gangster Disciples, that he possesses contraband in prison at times, including drugs and cellphones, and that he is capable of ordering a hit to be conducted by suspected gang members outside in the free world.
An imprisoned gang leader somehow became involved with a prison guard who was later fired for smuggling contraband into prison — a woman who pleaded guilty, along with her mother, of murdering Michael Riley. During Momon’s trial, Katrina Ledford was obviously afraid to testify in Momon’s presence, an observation pointed out by an assistant district attorney. Most likely, both she and her mother, Antoinette Riley, fear Momon’s long reach and do not feel safe from him, even in prison.
It struck me just how powerful — and dangerous — gangs can be.
Why can’t they be stopped? What will it take to eradicate gangs? They’re everywhere — even here in our own county. Those gang signs we see tagged on buildings and stop signs may be made by “kids” who want to be in a gang, but guess what? Wannabes become gang members. Gangs recruit children at early ages, and those kids can’t see beyond the drama, perceived glamour and excitement.
They most likely are bored, they might be poor, and they may not have strong family ties. Research shows people join gangs for protection, for attention, for money and for what they view as prestige and notoriety.
They never think beyond that. They don’t seem to understand what it means to kill someone except that it means a promotion in the gang world. They apparently either don’t think about their victims, their families and innocent bystanders, or they just don’t care.
Some blame poverty and poor education. Others blame the family units themselves for failing to teach children values, ethics and morals. It doesn’t seem politically correct to blame the gang members themselves. Adults, unless mentally challenged, should know right from wrong, yet there are those who seek to blame someone else besides the ones actually committing crimes.
Children aren’t mentally or emotionally mature enough to see beyond the glitz of what they think is the real gang world. They see their big brothers’ sagging pants, they see fear of those gangsters they misinterpret as respect, and they see the excitement of “being bad.”
They don’t think about the years in prison they could face if they commit those crimes themselves. They don’t think about the pain suffered, the fear, the blood spilled in the streets.
Last week, two innocent little girls were killed in Savannah by stray bullets most likely fired by gang members. One was only 2, a victim of a drive-by shooting in which bullets peppered a home. I can’t help but wonder how the gunmen feel. Do they have children? Little brothers or sisters? Do they lie awake at night thinking about the toddler who won’t ever grow up or the beautiful 6-year-old who will never dance at her own wedding?
Are they monsters without hearts or conscience?
Thugs from Augusta traveled to Statesboro to kill Michael Riley. Although a murder weapon was never found and police are unsure of who actually pulled the trigger, one suspect died of suicide during arrest; three are serving life in prison and one was acquitted.
It’s not the first time crime has occurred in Statesboro at the hands of criminals from other cities. Savannah is only an hour away; Augusta, not much farther. Is Statesboro going to be caught in the crossfire?
What can be done about gangs? Harsher punishment? The fact that a man with a record like Momon can run the business of drugs, smuggling, murder and who knows what from a maximum-security prison tells us that something is badly wrong.
Why is he not kept segregated from other prisoners who might be gang members? Why is he not searched daily or more often to prevent him from obtaining cellphones and other contraband? How is he able to send hundreds of dollars to women via prepaid debit cards? Where does he get the money?
Another question is, why don’t families teach children values and morals? Why don’t fathers teach their sons to work hard, try harder and respect themselves and others? Why don’t mothers explain to their daughters that a life of doorstep children, partying and irresponsibility is never going to be satisfying?
Gangs come in all colors; there are white gangs, Latino gangs, black gangs. Gangster life isn’t a race problem, but it is a societal problem. So, what are we going to do about it?
Rallies and protests are fine, but who do  they  reach? What good do they do? We need to find a way to reach young folks and instill in them the right values. We need to drive it home that killing is not the answer. We need to make them understand the finality of death and how it affects entire families, and we must teach our children compassion and respect for life.
But how do we do this when their parents, and possibly even their grandparents, never learned about morals and integrity; about solid work ethics and fighting to better their lives. How do we give hope to the hopeless? How do we make people listen when they don’t hear the message at home?
Momon went back to Dooly State Prison Friday with a murder conviction under his belt. Will he be honored by brainless thugs who consider Michael Riley’s killing a feather in his hat? Riley never met Momon. He was killed because Momon listened to Riley’s estranged wife complain about alleged marital abuse, and decided to put a hit out on the husband of a woman he called “Mom,” whose daughter he was “dating,” if you can call prison visits and text messages a real dating relationship.
Gangsters have their own world, and it is encroaching on ours. I don’t know how to stop it, but somehow we must find a way before it is too late.

Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at 489-9414.