Andrew Dys

July 23, 2014

Chester gang summit to stem youth violence set for Thursday night

A 17-year-old alleged gang member is charged with murder in last week’s shooting death of another teen in Chester.

As Chester reels from its latest violent crime – the shooting death of a teen by an alleged gang member in the middle of a busy street – police, clergy, and public officials have scheduled a gang summit to try to stem the cycle of violence, death, and the inevitable jails and prisons for those committing the crimes.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Chester County Sheriff's Office Training Room, 2740 Dawson Drive, Chester. It is open to anyone interested in addressing youth violence.

Without change, more young people will end up in caskets at King’s Funeral Home, where the Rev. Bill Stringfellow, a longtime community activist and the father of Chester’s mayor, works.

“We have a duty to our young people to reach out to them now and stop what is going on,” said Stringfellow, who also is president of the Chester branch of the NAACP. “It is not a black problem, or a white problem.

“It is a Chester problem, and the solution lies with all of working together to reach these young people before they get into gangs.”

The older men who run the funeral home all talked Wednesday about how the solution should be teaching young people how to live – not serving their families when they die far too early.

Late on July 16, police found Shyheim Kennedy, 16, dead on Pinckney Street near downtown Chester. Kennedy was shot in the chest after a street confrontation. Late Friday, police arrested Robert Isaiah Graham, 17, and charged him with murder after police say he confessed.

Kennedy, who was not a gang member, had moved out of state to avoid contact with gangs and was only in Chester last week to visit family for the summer, his family and police say.

Graham is a member of the Roundtree Circle gang, police say, which is one of four gangs that roam the streets of this small city of 5,500 people. The other gangs are the 135 Pirus (the 135 Piru gang started in South Central Los Angeles and is known for violence and crime); the 10-4 gang in Chester’s Brooklyn southside neighborhood; and the E-Block gang from East Chester.

Police are still gathering intelligence to figure out who is in these gangs, how they recruit and why young people are seeking companionship from them, said Chester Police spokeswoman Keshia Tobias.

Along with local pastors, city officials and the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, Chester police called the gang summit as a way for the community to deal with the problem head on, Tobias said.

“We want this to be part of the solution to the problems gangs have brought to Chester,” Tobias said.

The Roundtree Circle gang is named for a street of the same name between Chester’s downtown and its northern boundary. The gang was even mentioned in a recent A&E Beyond Scared Straight special filmed at the Chester County jail, featuring members as young as 15. Young people from all the neighborhoods that police say are part of the gang culture await trials on charges that range from assault to drug possession and sales to murder.

Roundtree Circle is home to several families, older residents and retirees who live in established brick homes with tended lawns and gardens. Graham, the accused killer from July 16, lived about two blocks away in cinder block apartments called Chester Homes.

“That’s part of the problem,” said longtime Roundtree Circle resident Ken Carr. “The people who cause the trouble don’t live on Roundtree Circle, but they use the name.”

Some neighbors already are working on a back-to-school event that will include free school supplies and a block party.

“That’s the real Roundtree Circle,” Carr said.

Still, Carr acknowledged that at times, the evenings and nights that should be calm and quiet are peppered with the sounds of gunshots. The same night Kennedy was killed a few blocks away, neighbors on Roundtree Circle heard several gunshots from another incident.

But no matter where the young people who are flocking to gangs live, Chester is small enough that its trouble spills from street to street and neighborhood to neighborhood.

Chester’s elected officials are working with police to try to make the gang summit a step toward eradicating the problem, said City Councilwoman Annie Reid. The fact that another young man was killed in recent days – and a second is in jail looking at up to life in prison – is unacceptable, Reid said.

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