Commentary: Gang violence leaving deep marks on community

This editorial appeared in The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Latrell Latham was acquitted Friday by a Wake County jury in the October 2007 murder of a 74-year-old church deacon who was just collecting his mail at a northeast Raleigh apartment complex. This was the news from the courthouse. But the story around it was more complex and disturbing, a tale of the gang subculture that police say is at the root of an increase in murders and robberies in this Capital City.

Latham's nickname was "Murder," and prosecutors said the shooting of Richard Gus Brown was all about an attempt by a member of a gang called the Westside Bounty Hunters, part of the Bloods, to move up in the gang's hierarchy. But there was a lack of physical evidence, which meant that the prosecution had to focus on testimony from teenagers who the defense said were declared gang members. One 14-year-old said Latham had boasted of the killing, but that he (the witness) didn't believe him. Others said they'd seen Latham with a gun. But no murder weapon was ever recovered.

Latham was admonished by Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway to take advantage of "a second chance at life." The young man had entered the trial with a presumption of innocence due all defendants and walked out thanks to a defense that said Latham did not do the crime, and had denied being the shooter.

But the frustration for prosecutors is the fear that the crime now may never be solved. And there is an ongoing frustration as well that goes beyond this case. It is about the gang culture that both encourages the commission of crime and then covers those who commit the crime in a blanket of silence. This culture is too prevalent in Raleigh and other cities, and it seems to be getting worse. Teenagers are looking for somewhere to belong. Or, they're simply afraid of what will happen to them if they don't join the gang world. Once in, it's hard to get out without putting themselves in danger.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.