Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Miami-Dade child killed when virtual lives of gangbangers collided with reality

It was the banality behind this awful shooting that struck me as so stupefying. A 6-year-old gunned down . . . over what? A Facebook feud?

Miami-Dade Police said that the two young men arrested in connection with death of little King Carter last weekend had come to the Blue Lake Village apartment complex in northwest Miami-Dade County to avenge disparaging posts on social media. Such an insubstantial explanation for the killing of a first grader.

Police said Irwen Pressley, 17, and Leonard Adams, 18, drove into the complex parking lot to confront someone identified as Ju Ju. There was gunplay. The child was caught in the crossfire.

This was too much, even for a community that has suffered dozens of drive-by murders. Twice last week, angry residents marched through the neighborhood to protest the mindless violence.

The arrests on Wednesday brought some relief. But the motive — something said over social media — seemed beyond belief. At least to the naive among us.

Not to Eddie Bocanegra, who runs the Chicago YMCA Youth and Safety Violence Prevention program. “Absolutely not,” he said.

Bocanegra, formerly a “violence interrupter” with the Chicago Violence Prevention Project, said social media has become integral in youth gang recruiting, drug sales, gun sales and boasts about illegal exploits. And — of particular interest to Bocanegra, intent on heading off violence — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been used to instigate bloody gang confrontations.

“Facebook has often become a hot match allowing insults and threats to erupt into a blaze of violence and death. . . This is particularly true of drug gang members,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told me via email Thursday. “Years ago, one gang would deface another gang’s graffiti in order to show disrespect. Today, the message or the video goes directly to the intended target and gunfire is often the response.”

Desmond Patton, of the Columbia University School of Social Work, talked about how gang members use social media to express power, expressions that often lead to actual violence. So often, he said, that the phenomenon should be classified as a public health problem.

Cops, Professor Patton said, are already using information posted on social media to solve gang crimes. But Patton, working with Columbia data crunchers, has been studying patterns in social media exchanges trying to create a template that police, social workers and violence interrupters could use to head off confrontations beforehand. The trick, he said, is to design an algorithm that can discern between empty online posturing and real threats.

I guess I shouldn’t be so shocked. Inner city kids, just like youngsters of wealthier communities, have been raised with technology. Like the rest of our children, cellphones have become nearly an extension of their physical selves. Patton said that they, too, have trouble distinguishing between their virtual and their real lives. Of course, real life, for young gangbangers, can include crimes, threats, violence.

King Carter was only caught in the collision, when the virtual lives of these young gunmen intersected with a tragic reality.

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