LITTLE ROCK, Ark – A group of former gang members from the most violent years in Little Rock are taking a stand against the growing violence in the city.
The numbers for 2022 are adding up, with each week seeing an increasing number of homicides. Now the total for the year is nearing the city’s record of 70 set in 1993.
For some of those deeply involved in the gang scene during that era, the violent images in the news now is a stark reminder of those bloody days.
“We’ve seen too much violence, we’ve seen too many young people die,” former gang leader Leifel Jackson said.
“This is groundbreaking for real,” former gang member Keyon Neely said.
These two and others recently gathered to meet and discuss the current situation in Little Rock, and while they used to wear different colors, now they share one common goal – stopping the violence.
“We started [the violence] so it’s like, it’s your baby,” Neely said.
Growing up on the west side of Little Rock, Neely got involved in gangs at an early age and said he was in prison by the time he was 16 years old.
After a decade behind bars, Neely says he came back as a changed man. The city he called home, though, was stuck in the past.
“To see that happening right now, we are moving backward,” he said.
Former gang member Michael Cooper was admired by many on the streets at the height of Little Rock’s deadliest years and sees sobering reminders of those times in today’s streets.
“It takes me back to ’93,” he said. “It takes me back to really seeing these youngsters that’s committing these crimes. It’s like we’re looking in a mirror.”
Having been in and out of prison, Cooper has seen life on the other side. His message to kids in the capital city is simple – the fighting isn’t worth it.
“We have to go out there amongst them, physically and verbally, and we have to give them some information, some education to get them to see life different,” he proposed.
Antoine Jones says there was a massive turning point when he said the violence wasn’t worth it.
“When I lost my daughter,” Jones said, recalling the death of his 6-year-old. “My daughter was shot seven times, four times in the back of the head, three times in the spine.”
“All those years, all of the pain, all of the murders, you can’t take that away,” Jackson agreed.
Parenthood has impacted many of these men and has made them look for new paths for their children to take.
“It changed me. It made me grow up,” former gang member Derrick Galvin said. “I started thinking about my future and my kids, and I didn’t want my sons to go through the same thing I went through.”
To finally try to achieve victory over violence, these men who used to wear red and blue are now telling others to wave the white flag.
“Let’s put the guns down, let’s not kill no more,” Jackson said.