The Meridian Star
In an informal poll on The Meridian Star website we asked readers, "Do you believe there are gangs in Meridian?"
An overwhelming majority of the 235 people who participated in the poll — 97 percent — voted in the affirmative.
The subject appears to be of interest to readers given that in the two months since we first began the polls only one other question — about the presidential debates — garnered more participation.
Marie Collins, grandmother of Terrianda Collins, 21, who died Nov. 10 from multiple gunshot wounds after he was shot outside a home in the 2100 block of 15th Avenue, believes gang members are responsible for her grandson's death.
"I'm tired of it," Marie Collins said the day after her grandson was fatally shot. "They know there are gang members here in Meridian but they pretend they don't exist."
Meridian Police Department Chief James Reed said at a press conference that there was no evidence the shooting was gang related.
Collins' death was one of seven homicides in Meridian this year, up from two last year, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program compiled by the FBI.
Suspects in two of those murders have identified themselves as gang members.
According to Lauderdale County Adult Detention Facility records, Jeremy Powe, 22, claimed affiliation with the Vice Lords gang. Powe is charged with murder in the May 21 shooting death of Johnny S. Neely, 23, who was gunned down in the 4300 block of 23rd Street.
Paul Raphael Brown Jr., 17, who is one of two people charged in the Aug. 21 shooting death of Meridian resident Jadarrian Jimerson, 23, indicated he is a member of the Crips gang, according to detention facility records.
We don't know if the shootings were gang related, or even if Powe and Brown are actual members of gangs as they have claimed to be.
We also don't know if the 200 people booked into the Lauderdale County Detention Facility since 2010 who claimed gang membership are actually members of those gangs or not.
We do know that of those 200, 87 said they were members of the Gangsta Disciples; 47 said they were members of the Vice Lords; 45 cited membership in the Simon City Royals; 19 said they were affiliated with the Arian Nation; one said he was a member of the Hells Angels; and one claimed membership in the Crips.
Our feeling is that it doesn't matter if those involved in acts of violence in Meridian are members of notorious gangs or not. As the old saying goes, "If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, chances are it is probably a duck."
Youths and young adults emulating gangs are more predisposed to commit gang-related acts. In addition to the murders this year, there have been multiple instances recently of guns being fired into unoccupied homes and cars, as well as a couple of shootings that were not fatal.
Mississippi statutes offer the following definition: "'Street gang' or 'gang' or 'organized gang' or 'criminal street gang' means any combination, confederation, alliance, network, conspiracy, understanding, or other similar conjoining, in law or in fact, of three (3) or more persons with an established hierarchy that, through its membership or through the agency of any member, engages in felonious criminal activity."
Basically that means any group with established leaders and followers who are working together to commit felony crimes are legally considered gangs.
Based on that definition, we suspect Meridian does indeed have a gang problem.