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Gangs may to be blame for downtown murders, but is hip-hop the root of the problem?


On April 18, Terry Lee Wilson was driving his cab down the 300 block of Pikes Peak Avenue when a stray bullet from a gun battle killed him.

On May 28, Anthony Michael Grimaldo was shot and killed in a liquor store parking lot near Memorial Park following a Memorial Day hip-hop concert marked by gang-related tensions.

On July 9, Diontea Jackson-Forrest was driving down Printers Parkway near Memorial Park when he was fatally shot in the neck.

The murders aren't connected, and only Grimaldo's murder has been linked to gang violence. But police are suspicious that all three downtown murders might be linked to possible gang tensions at local hip-hop events.

No one has been arrested in Wilson's murder, so it's hard to say whether the killer was a gang member. But Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Skip Arms says police think there may be a link between the murder and an incident during a hip-hop night at downtown's Eden Nite Club.

"We see that the cab driver shootout appears to be a spill-out from something that happened at Eden," Arms said.

Proximity an issue

The night of Jackson-Forrest's death, Arms said, there was also a disturbance at an Eden hip-hop night that left the club. Shortly afterward, a disturbance was reported at Memorial Park. Then Jackson-Forrest, who is not suspected of having any gang affiliation, was killed on a nearby street.

Arms says the police haven't determined that the three incidents are related, but he adds that the close proximity in the time and area of the events suggests they could be. Arms couldn't say whether the suspect in the Jackson-Forrest slaying, Tyrief Ahmad Reynolds, 17, was a gang member.

Grimaldo died after a hip-hop concert at Memorial Park, where police noticed gang tensions. Arms confirmed that murder was gang-related.

While the connection between hip-hop music and gang-connected violence in at least two of these three cases is still shaky at best, the police department has issued a statement warning parents of a possible link between hip-hop and gang violence.

A portion of that statement reads:

"A number of downtown establishments within Colorado Springs have "Hip Hop' nights at least one night per week. Within this genre of music, there are artists that glorify criminal behaviors with a style of music commonly called "Gangsta Rap'. This style of music has the tendency to attract gang members which often results in criminal activity requiring a police response. We urge parents to be aware of these concerns and do some screening as they see appropriate in terms of where their children are allowed to go as it relates to teen nights and concerts."

Eden was singled out in the release as having an event that "exemplifies this type of behavior that causes concern." Eden owner Marie Beers declined to comment for this story.

The police department's tough stance is sure to offend many music fans in the Springs.

James Baldrick, owner of local promotions company Dirty Limelight, says it's not fair to blame the music.

"There's negative aspects to every culture including rock and country," he says. "Gangsta rap music doesn't kill people; people kill people."

Baldrick says the hip-hop culture is generally positive, and promoters and club owners can't help it if a few event-goers decide to become violent elsewhere.

But some residents of the Memorial Park area say the police's statements about hip-hop are true.

Doug Anderson lives on Prospect Lake Drive, which borders Memorial Park. Anderson, a pastor, says he sees gang members daily and hears shots about every two weeks.

"Hip-hop seems to be a calling card," he says, noting the music seems to be used to draw gang members to spots where illegal activity is taking place.

Anderson thinks Memorial Park would see a lot less crime if laws against loud music, open containers and parking were enforced.

"The gang activity has gone nuts," he says. "We don't see any more police activity that I can tell maybe a little more on Sunday."

Another Prospect Lake Drive resident, Howard Johnston, says the weekdays are usually calmer.

"It's usually pretty quiet until the weekend," Johnston says, "and then the weekend is hell."

Not everyone has noticed a change. Geoff Brent, manager of Platte Avenue venue The Black Sheep, said he hasn't noticed any spike in violence either at his business or at his home, also near Memorial Park.

"We always have a fight or two (at The Black Sheep) but I definitely haven't noticed any gang activity," he said. "I think it mostly stays downtown."

All downtowns have their problems, Brent added.

Police strategy

Arms said police are making an effort to address crime in the downtown area. In April, a Community Impact Team was formed to address crime related to guns, drugs and gangs. Police have been looking closely at clubs like Eden, seeking ways to cut back on crime. Arms said the club recently added more security.

Another part of the new program has been patrolling on Prospect Lake Drive on Sundays, which is why some residents have noticed an increased police presence once a week.

Colorado Springs has officially had 15 homicides so far in 2007. That number likely will rise by at least one shortly, with the July 17 shooting death of Jamil Salaam. Police are also investigating the suspicious disappearance of Jaclyn Funderburg, and the discovery of a body in a car on Rampart Range Road.

Colorado Springs averages 20 murders per year, and the city does better than similar-sized cities with a 2006 average of 5.4 violent crimes per 1,000 people compared to 10.2 per 1,000 for the average mid-sized city.

While Arms says the police department is concerned about gang violence and what effect hip-hop music has on it, he says the good news is that gangs rarely choose random victims, adding:

"Stranger-stranger type violent crime in Colorado Springs is still very low."

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