MACON, Ga. -- Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office says much of Macon's violent crime is tied to gangs. WGXA looked into this issue, seeing how law enforcement is working to fight and lessen this problem.
“This is her and my niece -- her and her brothers, they loved each other so much," Tonora Jones says.
Fourteen-year-old Ta’shuntis Roberts had a beautiful smile. It shines through in pictures Jones, her mother, has hanging on the wall.
“She really was full of life,” Jones said. “She always had a smile on her face. She showed love no matter where she went.”
However, a gang-motivated drive-by shooting in 2015 changed everything Jones and her daughter.
“For my daughter just laying on the sofa -- just watching a movie," she said. "And for somebody to just drive by and shoot my house up 24 times -- an innocent person got killed.
"It’s just hard enough for me to bury one of my kids. That is the worst feeling and pain that a parent has to go through.”
Roberts is just one of many caught in the crossfire of Macon's gang violence. Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke knows this all too well.
“A general rule of thumb is that half of our violent crime -- at least for our jurisdiction and jurisdictions similar -- is that half is going to be gang-motivated,” he said.
According to Cooke, when he took office in 2013, prosecutors were not using the Gang Act to the fullest extent.
“Essentially we were not using best practices to effectively combat criminal street gangs here in the Macon Judicial Circuit,” Cooke said.
The Gang Act does two things:
Once he became Macon's top cop, however, Cooke says they started utilizing this law and better training.
“It was an immediate success," he said. "We got a number of convictions against the gang leadership in Macon -- and these are for serious crimes, many, many murders and violent crimes.”
Since Cooke took office, the number of people convicted for the Gang Act goes up dramatically.
“For the most part, we’ve taken out the biggest leaders in town and we’ve sent them off and they’re not coming back,” Cooke said.
But those victories came with unintended consequences.
“If you decimate an organization, there’s going to be a power vacuum that follows," Cooke said. "And that appeared to follow after we took out a lot of the leadership and our homicide rate began to go up. They’re fighting it out to see who’s on top.”
Cooke says even after all their arrests and convictions, they estimate at least 12 gangs are still operating in Macon.
The problem is even as law enforcement has taken out high-level members of Macon gangs, Cooke says there’s always younger gang members to take their place. So by reducing the amount of youth that turn to gangs, Cooke is hoping to take out their foundation and topple them for good.
That’s why Cooke says his agency is focusing on bringing the school justice partnership to life -- to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system.
“We’ll have less kids joining gangs," he said. "It's about raising strong children so that we don’t have to fix broken adults.”
Jones couldn’t agree more.
“You don’t want to see your child dead or in prison," she said. "When there’s other routes to go in life, there’s so much potential out here for these kids. It’s just they need, sometimes they need a little guidance.”
But until the school justice partnership gets off the ground, violent crime still runs high.
According to stats from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Macon saw more homicides in 2018 than in any of the past five years. Jones says she’s taken notice.
“It’s a sad situation because it seems like the gang violence is getting worse," she said.
Despite the growing violence, she holds out hope for justice for her daughter.
“I have faith they will solve my daughter’s case,” Jones said.
Authorities have filed hundreds of gang charges that are still pending. The case against the only person arrested for Roberts' murder is still pending three years later and has not gone to trial.