Caught In The Crossfire
“The community is hurting and there is fear because no one wants to take a stray bullet.”
– Chief James Jermon
An innocent citizen and the Vidalia Police Department have been caught in the crossfire of gang violence this past week.
Vidalia Police Chief James Jermon has issued a plea to gang members in the area after responding to the instances of suspected gang warfare. “Drop your guns and let’s find some common ground. Everything was not always solved with a gun and a bullet. You are hurting a community, but you are hurting your own family because eventually, you will be caught. The person that lost their life or got seriously injured – their family has to suffer as well.”
He added, “We are tired of the bloodshed – I know I am. You don’t want to see anyone shot, not even the gang members, because that gang member is attached to a family – a family that cares deeply about them.”
On Thursday, July 13, the Vidalia continued from page
Police responded to a call of shots fired on Madison Street between 3:00 and 3:30 p.m. At this time, a Vidalia businessman was traveling along Winona Street, near Madison Street, when he was caught in the crossfire of an attack. “I was getting in front of the Boys and Girls Club when I heard something that sounded like firecrackers being lit. It was just in a rapid succession,” he recalled.
The man said he looked behind him for the source of the sound and saw a car speeding in his direction. “I didn’t know where the shots were coming from. I didn’t know if it was coming from the woods, the car, or wherever,” he said.
After safely reaching his destination, the man surveyed the damage to the truck and discovered a hole caused by an assault rifle. “We took the vehicle to a dealership and they opened up the tailgate [where the bullet hole was] and found it was a rifle bullet that had been shot.”
Although he often travels throughout the community, he has never experienced anything like this. “It was surreal – I’m like ‘This is Vidalia. What am I doing hearing gunshots fired around me, just one road off of [GA HWY] 280?’ This is unheard of as far as I’m concerned,” he emphasized.
The Department immediately began investigating the incident, and was able to determine that the car that the businessman saw was not related to the attack, but was another innocent motorist attempting to escape the gunfire.
The police responded to another report of shots fired just two days later, between 10 and 11 p.m. on July 15, near the area of Peacock Street and 5th Avenue. Upon arrival, officers discovered that a home had been repeatedly fired at with guns. This incident is suspected to be in retaliation for the attack on Thursday, and left one victim hospitalized with non-lifethreatening injuries.
“[These gangs] are disputing over money and drugs,” Chief Chief Jermon informed. “We’ll call it what it is: it’s a gang issue – a gang issue that will be addressed.”
Jermon assured that not only are the investigators at the Vidalia Police Department working on the cases, but the Department is also seeking help from outside agencies. He said that he hopes to have a gang task force unit to come in the area soon, and has been in contact with authorities to make that happen.
“Everybody pretty much is intertwined with the task force, but they’re shorthanded like everyone else,” he remarked. “I would like to get one (task force) full-time here for us, but we would have to pay another agency for their services because he or she would not only be working here [at the Vidalia Police Department] but also for that agency. Right now, I can call in resources because that is what we are going to need. We are going to need a group of people to come in here and thin it out because you’re not going to get rid of it. It’s not going to be like you go to bed one night and wake up the next morning and it’s all gone, because when one steps down, another one takes over.”
One issue which the police have found in their investigations is the lack of eyewitnesses and victims willing to speak up on these situations. “I don’t think it has anything to do with not trusting the police. I think it has to do with the code of the street: ‘I don’t want to be labeled as a snitch.’” Jermon shared. “It’s all about retribution, too. [People fear] if [they] say something, [the gang] may go after [their families]. Even on Saturday night ( July 15) – I don’t know if the victim was the actual target. When they began to shoot up the house, everybody in the house became a victim.”
Jermon said that further retaliation between the groups is possible. “When people don’t want to say anything, you can’t stop retaliation,” he explained. “It’s just like a jigsaw puzzle we have to put together. We want a perfect puzzle and a perfect case to give over to the district attorney’s office.”
This issue of gang violence is not something which Jermon, who grew up in Compton, California, expected to see in Vidalia. “I remember growing up in south central Los Angeles with the gangs. That’s how it started – fighting. Then, guns and knives got introduced,” he recalled. “It hurts me. I love my community and I’m tired of seeing bloodshed. Why does our community have to look in the face of evil every single day? No one should be afraid to go down a street in the City of Vidalia – actually anywhere in America.”
He continued, “There is too much love, kindness, and forgiveness in this city for this. Do not put your family through that misery and pain of having to come visit you in prison or at a cemetery – it’s not worth it. It’s hurtful to watch these guys lying in the street bleeding. It’s hurtful to go to the ER and see them bleeding like that. A lot of these guys have battlefield wounds from bullets designed for mass casualties of war – that’s why when they get to the hospital, we have to fly them out to Savannah to the trauma unit. Because a lot of these doctors aren’t used to seeing these kind of wounds around here.”
When asked if the gang members were currently vying for leadership positions, Jermon said he was unsure. “I don’t know if they are jockeying for position right now, but I do know it seems like their loyalty is in the wrong place,” he commented. “What is the reason behind it all? Is it disrespect? We can come up with a better solution than a gun and a bullet because it is destroying families. Not only victims’ families, but also you who is pulling the trigger, because eventually, you will be caught.”
He concluded, “To the gang members: put down your guns. Don’t put your family through the misery of having to see you in the cemetery or prison. That’s where the road of destruction ends: prison or the cemetery. To our community: pray for our community. The community is hurting and there is fear because no one wants to take a stray bullet.”