They said it’s time for a truce.
Locking arms and swaying in unison, the diverse group including a nun and a man with tattoos covering his face, chanted “Please stop the violence. We want unity. We gonna get unity. Cobb County is on alert.”
The rally came 10 days after a reported armed robbery in Acworth on Doubletree Drive, near Hamby Road, that ended with five men, between ages 17 and 21, in jail facing felony charges.
Although the Anti-Gang Enforcement unit of Cobb Police hasn’t finished its investigation and no gang-related criminal charges have been brought forth, according to the Cobb District Attorney’s office, Alex Guma believes the attack was gang related. Guma is the brother of the victim, who reported five men entered her Acworth home just after she let her dog outside and left the front door unlocked.
The men who entered the home were carrying duffle bags with zip ties and were armed with baseball bats, Guma said. One of the residents who was inside during the break-in was tied up, he said, and another had a gun pointed at his head.
Guma doesn’t know the motive for the crime but has been going door-to-door in the usually quiet neighborhood seeking answers.
“They have many, many years to think about what they did,” Guma said.
Arrested and charged with armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary were Ricky Carrasquillo, 17, of Kennesaw; Imanuel Tyler, 20, of College Park; Victor Lopez, 19, of Lithia Springs; Devante Brown, 21, of College Park; and Terrone Mays, 17, of Riverdale.
Possible to start anew
Guma said it’s possible to leave a gang and start a new life.
“Anybody can turn their life around,” he said. “They just have to want to.”
A tattoo artist, Guma was mistaken for a gang member about five years ago because of his face tattoos, which are sometimes a symbol of gang affiliation.
Six men approached him in a Marietta club, Guma said, and asked what gang he was “claiming.”
He told the group he was not a member of a gang, and a week later one of the men visited his Marietta tattoo shop. Months went by, Guma said, and the two became friends.
“I could see that he had a good heart. He was just doing the wrong things at the time,” Guma said.
The pair lost touch, but earlier this year, Guma said, he received a call from the former gang member thanking him for his influence. He had left the gang, Guma said, and moved to Texas where he worked on an oil rig making $36 an hour.
Gang violence isn’t just an inner city problem, it exists in the suburbs, too, said Gerald Rose, founder of New Order National Human Rights Organization and coordinator of Friday’s rally.
“We might be putting our life on the line, but if we don’t do something, who will? Bottom line. Period,” Rose said.
Rich Pellegrino, of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, said ignoring the problem only worsens it.
“We can run away. We can deny it. We can hide it, but it’s here,” Pellegrino said.
Parents share responsibility
Craig Powell, owner of Epic Apparel on South Avenue, knows what it’s like to leave the gang life behind.
“Been there, done that, lost a lot of homeboys,” Powell said.
Now, he mentors teenagers and young adults through his program, The Real Urban Exposure.
One of his mentees, Macrus Cothran, 23, attended Friday’s rally and was recently shot in the foot. He did not go into detail about the incident that led to the shooting, but Powell said Cothran was “trying to do the right thing.”
“Gang-related issues are really more vast than that because not everybody is in a gang,” said Cothran, who was donning a cast at the rally.
He says it’s a generational issue and that youths are fighting to find a sense of belonging.
“We just have to learn to come together,” Cothran said.
But there’s other ways, he said.
“Just because you might not graduate from high school or go to college doesn’t mean your life is over,” Cothran said. “There are a lot of avenues out there.”
Sister Dana Marie traveled from College Park, where two of those arrested in the Acworth incident live, to attend Friday’s event.
She asked parents to take responsibility for their children, watch over them and work to prevent their children from entering a cycle of violence.
“It’s up to us as adults to take this very serious problem to heart,” Marie said.