BATTLE LINES: GANGS OF TOLEDO

More than 100 march to stem gang violence

Former members speak out against lifestyle

8/26/2013
BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A crowd of more than 100 people march over the bridge on North Detroit Avenue during the 2 Miles 2 Stop Gang Violence march. Organizers say the march on Sunday could pay off in the future.
A crowd of more than 100 people march over the bridge on North Detroit Avenue during the 2 Miles 2 Stop Gang Violence march. Organizers say the march on Sunday could pay off in the future.

Two miles to march to stop gang violence.

More than 100 people shouted it again and again — loud enough for cars stopped at red lights to hear, loud enough to stir people from their homes, loud enough to entice a few others to join the 2 Miles 2 Stop Gang Violence march along North Detroit Avenue — starting at Central Avenue and ending just beyond Dorr Street, passing through numerous gang territories on Sunday.

“The time for action is now,” said Ray Wood, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the pre-march rally. “It's not about saying, it's about doing. And look at all of these beautiful minds out here. There's a whole lot of beautiful minds being lost, being shot and killed … [people who] don't make it to their 20th birthdays because of gang violence.”

PHOTO GALLERY: 2 Miles 2 Stop Gang Violence march

Willie Knighten, a former gang member whose life sentence for murder was commuted in 2009, told the crowd that, coming up, he was told two things happen to gang members: you go to prison or you end up dead.

Now he knows there's a third choice: Change.

Paul Parker, 28, who had the idea for the march and rally — which is in its third year — knows that too.

Parker spent years representing X Blocc, a Crips gang, until he was sent to prison on a drug charge. Now he and the friends he came through the gang with — like the Rev. Chris McBrayer, 26, and Justin Coffey, 28 — are pushing back against the very things they stood for.

Paul Parker, a former member of X Blocc, a Crips affiliated gang, holds his twins Payyon, left, and Paylin as he marches. Parker changed his life after going to prison on a drug charge.
Paul Parker, a former member of X Blocc, a Crips affiliated gang, holds his twins Payyon, left, and Paylin as he marches. Parker changed his life after going to prison on a drug charge.

Two shots to the head and a 98 percent chance of dying started Coffey on a different path.

Coffey joined X Blocc when he was 13 — nothing serious happened until guns were introduced when he was about 18. That's when his friends started to die, he said.

Thanksgiving, 2005, Coffey got into a fight with some Bloods at a gas station. He left, came back with his “right-hand man,” and threw up gang signs at the Bloods.

“All you heard was shooting,” Coffey said.

There was screaming; someone shouting, “Somebody gonna die tonight, somebody gonna die tonight.”

Doctors told police Coffey would be another homicide victim; hours later they told Coffey's father he was, somehow, still breathing.

Waking up in the hospital, in a diaper, with no friends around, slowly started to change Coffey's thinking.

“I really banged hard for X Blocc,” Coffey said. “I wanted to make it the best in the city. When I got shot and only a couple people visit, you think, ‘Really? All I did for that gang?’ ”

Eventually he left the block and met people who were successful without the dangerous side effects of gang banging.

“They showed me my purpose,” Coffey said. “I thought it was on Cherry Street watching these guys sell crack and trying to break into a dice game.”

The Rev. Chris McBrayer, left, inspires the crowd as they walk down North Detroit during the march to end gang violence. Mr. McBrayer is a former gang member.
The Rev. Chris McBrayer, left, inspires the crowd as they walk down North Detroit during the march to end gang violence. Mr. McBrayer is a former gang member.

Others like Coffey, Parker, and Mr. McBrayer joined the ranks of the march — like their friend and former 12-year member of X Blocc Richard Perry, 31.

“I'm tired of all the killings and random shootings,” he said during the march. “You can't go out and have a good time without worrying about gang violence.”

Being there was personal for LaSonya Holman.

Her 19-year-old niece, Summer Ware, was shot six times Thursday in the 2800 block of Nebraska Avenue.

“Shot six times — that's a miracle child,” Mrs. Holman said about her niece surviving the attack.

Whether he meant it when he said it, a member of the Lawrence Blood Villains, LBV, joined the march at Delaware Avenue.

“Gotta walk to end gang violence,” the 20-year-old, who would only identify himself as “Rob da god,” told a friend on the phone.

Later he said, “This ain't gonna stop nothing. I like this though.”

Parker, during an interview Friday, said the impact of the march might not be felt for 5 or 10 years — not until the children of gang members grow up and have to decide whether they'll follow in their parents' footsteps.

“I personally think it's going to get worse,” Parker said about gang violence in Toledo. “I think it's going to get better, but it's going to get worse before it gets better.”

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.