Latrell Latham, 17, was acquitted Friday by a Wake County, N.C., jury in the killing of Richard Gus Brown, a church deacon shot to death while walking out to collect his mail. Raleigh News & Observer columnist Ruth Sheehan said prosecutors failed to convince the jury that Latham shot Brown, an innocent stranger, to gain higher rank in his set of the Bloods gang. Their case centered on the testimony of more than a half-dozen youngsters who described gang hierarchies, gun buys and street talk linking Latham to the crime. What was truly disturbing, Sheehan says, was that several of the witnesses in this murder trial were in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades when the crime occurred. One middle schooler was offered the chance to buy a gun — but declined when he learned it might have been used in the murder.
Police no longer look for gang bangers just in the high schools. They go to middle schools. Soon enough, they’ll be going to grade schools. The kids who testified against Latham described cutting deals with middle school resource officers — a turn in the witness stand in exchange for some help on outstanding charges. Sheehan says the only true vaccination against gangs is good parenting. That’s something a lot of these kids did not, and do not, have. Without that inoculation, there are no easy cures — especially in these economic times when the after-school programs needed most are seeing their contributions wither away.