If You are in a Gang, and you are in Macon-Bibb, Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke has a Message. We’re coming for you.
If you’re in a gang, and you’re in Macon-Bibb, Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke has a message for you. “We’re coming.” Cooke suspected even before he took office in January, 2013 that gangs were the number one problem with crime in Macon and since taking office they have been his number one priority. Contrary to what a former Mayor said about Macon, Cooke realized that there was indeed a gang problem and has developed a long term strategy to rid Macon-Bibb of them once and for all.
From the beginning, Cooke brought in Michael Carlson from the Atlanta Metro area as a consultant, who literally wrote the book on how the Georgia evidence codes work, to help guide him and his staff. Carlson has used his techniques to reduce homicides by 40% in DeKalb County and is currently prosecuting cases in Cobb County. With roughly half of all felony crimes in Bibb County being gang motivated, Cooke has a lot of chances to rid the community of gangs, that’s for sure. Since taking office, Cooke has yet to lose a conviction of a gang related incident.
At the crux of Cooke’s strategy is to prosecute more and more offenders under Georgia statute 16:15:1, commonly known as “The Georgia Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Law”, which allows Cooke to not only enhance penalties for certain crimes but more importantly allows Cooke to tie anything gang related to the criminal in open court and virtually bring out in court anything and everything a gang does. Cooke told me in our interview that when someone is now arrested, the new mantra around town is “Don’t gang me!”; meaning please don’t associate me with a gang and prosecute me under this law. I promise you that you will be hearing more and more in the media about gang members getting life without parole thanks to Cooke and his team invoking 16:15:1 at every opportunity.
One way that Cooke is going after them is to re-indict old cases and add gang charges on them like he did in getting a conviction on Cedric Sherrod Newton, Jr. for the 2012 slaying of Udondra Hargrove, a former member of the Crips who was trying to get his life straight. Newton was a member of a rival gang called the “Mafia”. Cooke told me that, “Every gang member that is actively engaged in a criminal enterprise should expect to be indicted.” In a separate interview, Cooke was quoted as saying, “I can’t speak for the court, but I think they’re as tired of (gang activity) as the community is.” The courts’ sentiment was very evident at the sentencing of Newton; at least as Judge Howard Simms goes. Simms, the presiding Judge of the Newton case, gave him life-without-parole plus an additional 20 years. There is no question that Cooke has taken this very personal and each of his prosecutors has been trained chapter and verse in how to go after the gangs. The Newton case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Neil Halvorson.
DeShala Dixon, another Bibb County ADA, was the main prosecutor in the case of gang member Bernard Bullard, a member of the “East Side Mafia” who was convicted for killing John Johnson III, a rival gang member of the Crips. It took a jury 2 hours to find him guilty of the murder along with possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, another add on thanks to the Gang Act. Once again, Judge Howard Simms gave the maximum sentence of life without parole plus 20 years. This time Simms before sentencing told Bullard that the people of Bibb County are tired of “the shooting and the killing…They’re tired of it and so am I.” Cooke went on to say, “I hope every young person takes note of what the judge had to say.”
Just this past week, Cooke’s efforts paid huge dividends to our community, as his office has filed indictments that include several gang related charges in connection to a prostitution ring headed by Sidney Raymond Sapp, the alleged leader of a local gang called “M.O.E.” or “Money Over Everything.” Cooke also indicted Sapp’s mother Jerryetta, his sisters Justeene and Asialeena, as well as his baby’s mother Jacquelyn Charmain Johnson. Sidney, along with another M.O.E. gang member Navon Christine Johnson are being charged with rape, child molestation, statutory rape, pimping for a person under the age of 18, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude as well as two counts of violation of the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. Everyone else was indicted for keeping a place of prostitution for a person under 18, pandering as well as prostitution.
On February 22, in another gang related case, 16 year old Damion Clayton was killed at the Macon Little League field on Anthony Road. Indicted this week for the murder are gang members Jeddarius Treonta Meadows, Trayvon Xavier Sparks and Roland Watson. Meadows and Watson are reportedly members of the “Fuck Life” gang and Starks is reportedly a Crip. Clayton, the victim, was targeted 3 months before his murder in another shooting on Cedar Avenue which killed 16 year old Alyssa Jackson instead. Both murders are the result of a turf war over the Bloomfield area.
According to a 2012 report given by the Macon Police Department to Macon City Council, and according to both David Cooke and Macon-Bibb Sheriff David Davis there are 3 main youth gangs that inhabit Macon called “The Bloods”, “The Crips” and “The Mafia” with over 400 sub-gangs, or “hybrids”. The hybrids have names like “Alley Boys” and the above mentioned “Money Over Everything” gang as well as the “3400 Gang” of Pendleton Homes, a housing project on Houston Ave and “The Fort Hill Bloods”, obviously located in Fort Hill. The gangs leave no area in Macon alone and can be found in Unionville, Village Green and East Macon among every other section of Macon-Bibb. Davis states that there has been a definite shift of activity as the East Macon/Fort Hill area used to be the location of the most gang activity. The ‘hot bed’ has now moved to the Bloomfield area and East Macon has ‘calmed down’ a good bit. (Oh yeah, don’t think that these gangs are contained to only Macon-Bibb, but they bleed into Crawford and Peach Counties as well.)
There is an interesting thread of articles on a website called TheHoodUp.com in which a poster named “Growth and Development” from Macon is refuting the fact that gangs are new to Macon and the South. (He also associates himself as a member of the Gangster Disciples gang.) In a 2010 post, “Growth and Development” gives a very long history of gangs in Macon in which he says that gangs actually started in Macon in the 70’s with the “20/20 Boyz” and the “Pleasant Hill Posse” that came out of “the racial prejudice of the civil rights movement that had gave a major change to a cite (sic) that had been a haven for rich whites. But by the end of the 70’s whites begin (sic) to leave the city for surrounding subber (suburbs) and blacks started to fill the city on all sides. The only thing wrong with this is as the whites left, so did the jobs, which put 75% of Macon’s black population rite (sic) at or below the poverty line.” G&D continues to tell the history of gangs in Macon and how so much of what we have here migrated down from Chicago during the 80’s.
Later in a post from 2011, G&D goes on to say, “Well I can’t speak for the whole south but in my city (Macon, Georgia) the first Crips showed up in ‘87 and the first GD (Gangster Disciples) set around ‘89 and Bloods and Vice Lords followed, so this shit about gangs being new in the south is very misleading. There have always been rapper(s) in the south that were from gangs, but it wasn’t something the(y) based their music on. You would have just have (Sic) to listen to some old south shit and read between the lines.” A little later in the thread, another Macon gang member throws in that he’s never seen a Vice Lord in Macon and that the original poster must be from Fort Hill, which gets the original poster’s response of, “I’m from the Eastside, but to see a Vice Lord you would have to look real hard on the Southside. But if you do see them the first thing gone to your mind is that he’s a Blood cause to be honest (it) is hard to tell the difference between the 2 (sic) sometimes.”
The thread then goes on to question the original poster many times, basically questioning his accuracy, which then prompts a gang history lesson by him:
“Truly enough I can’t speak on my whole state but I can speak for me and my area (The 478). The first Crips showed up around ‘86 or ‘87. They were Rolling 20’s from Long Beach (California). The first GD’s on the street showed up in ‘89. I say on the street because King Earl Porter himself state the first GD deck in the Georgia prison system in ‘84. When I came home, and when I say home I mean back to Georgia, the first Bloods and Vice Lords showed up sometime between late ‘89 and ‘91. We also have home grown gangs. The biggest one is called the Black Gangster Mafia. It has a few set and those set are the Eastside 20/20 Mafia, The Outlaw Gangster Mafia and the Westside 931 Mafia. So it has been gang in GA. But for some reason when people think of Georgia, people think of Atlanta and that’s it. Georgia is a lot bigger than the A-town and if you need me to prove it I will give you more info, but not on here.” (Several corrections made for easier clarification.)
Apparently this person knows what they are talking about, because I found another site that in fact states that Earl Porter was sent from Chicago to the Deep South around 1987 as he was involved in a murder in Chicago, to get “away from gang violence.” It goes on to state that Georgia is one of the “biggest (Gangster) Disciple houses” in the United States and that Porter, one of the “most important folk members who ever lived” was then (2010) in a Georgia jail, and though Chicago gangs tried to get him to return, the last anyone had heard of him was that he was serving a four year sentence for drug trafficking in Atlanta. Apparently he was one of the early gang pioneers of Macon.
In my interview with Sheriff Davis, he and I reminisced about times when we used to go down Capitol Avenue, a street near Houston Avenue, during Christmas time because the whole street was decorated. Unfortunately, Davis says that now the “Christmas lights have given way to blue lights,” as another neighborhood was lost to the violence of the gangs. We both remembered when Christmas wasn’t complete until you took a ride down Capitol Avenue to see the bright lights. There was even a very kind Santa who used to stand in the middle of the street and give out candy.
Davis agrees with Cooke that Macon is definitely heading in the right direction but still has a great distance to go, and says that Cooke’s’ policies of trying to get as many crimes classified as gang related certainly is helping and that gangs can be classified as “2 or more people in a criminal enterprise.” I also asked Davis what he thought about how Judge Howard Simms was affecting the gangs. Davis chuckled a little and said, “Simms is lighting em up, isn’t he?” Indeed he is as he has had zero toleration for gang members and no patience with them at all.
Both Cooke and Davis also agree that the key to getting the gang situation under control starts at home. Davis says that “Mom and Daddy and the local churches have to do some things. It starts with the family. There are second and third generations of people in gangs now and the mentality as to change. It may take two more generations to get it right.”
There is no question that Cooke has a passion to rid the area of gangs. In his office, Cooke proudly showed me a complete hierarchy chart of every known gang and gang member in the area, which he has on seven huge posters. As he showed me the posters, Cooke told me with a very determined look, “If they’re in a gang, we know who they are; and we WILL get them.” Cooke’s fervor and intensity isn’t limited to fighting gangs, however. Most people don’t know that our District Attorney is also the reigning Georgia State Champion of lifting kettlebells in the long-cycle clean and jerk. For those of you who are not aware of what this is, a kettlebell is a weight that resembles a bowling ball with a big handle welded to the top of it. For competition the weight is 53 pounds per weight….One per hand…The cycle is lift, let the weights down between your legs in a standing position, lift them to chest level against your body, and jerk them over your head. Cooke’s personal best is 97 times in a row. In the words of one of his closest friends, “The man is a beast!”
Cooke told me that he gets the gang members too late to do anything other than prosecute them to the fullest extent that the law allows him to do and agrees with Sheriff Davis that a great deal of the gang activity could be thwarted with a sounder home environment for the kids when they’re younger and that education at an early age is one of the biggest factors on how that child will turn out. Cooke said, “The best investment that I can think of to stop gangs long term, is investing in our Pre-K through 3rd grades to make sure that every 3rd grader should be able to read at or above their grade level.”
Author Neal Shusterman wrote in “Red Rider’s Hood”, a twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story, that, “We’re in this big melting pot, but somebody turned up the heat too high, and the stew started to burn. Gangs, crime, fights and fear are now a part of our local stew.” With the determination and efforts of leaders like District Attorney Cooke, Sheriff Davis and Judge Simms the “local stew” that has been forced on the citizens of Macon-Bibb won’t be burning anymore but instead will be simmering behind prison bars.