Ex-Dover drug dealer plans basketball tourney this weekend

DOVER – Growing up, Tony Jackson was part of the “Bang Gang.”

It was 20 years ago in Capital Green and “in our neighborhood back in the day our gang was fighting anyone who wasn’t from the area. We’d jump anyone who didn’t live here.”

According to Mr. Jackson, his gang avoided carrying firearms because “we knew if we were caught we were going to jail.”

Some firearms were on the streets though – Mr. Jackson suffered a graze wound from a bullet once and did shoot at others as well.

Fast forward two decades, though, and “gangs have arsenals that could give the National Guard a run for its money,” said Dover resident La Mar Gunn, raised in dangerous areas of Los Angeles and Wilmington where violence was a given.

“When they suit up it can get ugly fast.”

More of the younger generation has taken to crime – the Dover Police Department said gang members and gang-related juvenile arrests are up 9 percent so far in 2016 compared to last year.

Mr. Gunn maintains that “the kids out hustling many years ago had some level of respect for elders and people not involved in what they were doing. Now, they have no care whatsoever for anyone because they’re committed to the life that’s feeding them.”

Violence escalates

Sometime during an eight year prison stint after a drug dealing conviction, Mr. Jackson realized he’d outgrown the gang life.

Soon after release in late 2011, the 36-year-old returned to home and found weapon and drug activity had only escalated in the streets.

He also didn’t see enough positive activities for kids and they frequently had no parental guidance; Mr. Jackson was sympathetic to their plight, since he turned to drug dealing at 15 years old and his mom and dad were into serious drug activity.

Also, Dover became connected to the drug trade in Philadelphia and other urban areas, Mr. Jackson said.

Former gang member and drug dealer Tony Jackson is trying to positively impact youths in Dover. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Former gang member and drug dealer Tony Jackson is trying to positively impact youths in Dover. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

“Heroin took over the streets,” he said. “The guns just came down with the drugs. I always read about it elsewhere but it trickled down here.

“The kids see it and want to be it, but they don’t know the outcome.”

Spurred by the deaths of his sister, her boyfriend and his best friend to gunshots as well, the former Dover High basketball player dedicated himself to connecting with youth before it was too late.

A natural organizer, Mr. Jackson created the 302 Ballers program in 2012 to steer members of a younger generation away from the cycle of gangs, drugs, guns, arrest, incarceration and death; since then, he’s hosted several tournaments involving kids and adults.

“I’m coming home and seeing all this and I feel like the kids have nothing to do,” he recalled about his days after release.

“I put together the basketball program – like I had in prison – to pull the kids together and tell them that there’s a right way to be instead of a wrong way to be.”

Event on Saturday

Saturday on his home Capital Green neighborhood basketball courts, Mr. Jackson is hosting an event for kids to shoot hoops from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and receive advice about avoiding the thug life.

A big turnout is expected since “they keep asking me Mr. Jackson when are you having the next one,” he said. “When I do it they always come.”

During what he described as “halftime” he and Amillion “The Poet” Mayfield will speak to attendees regarding the downfalls of joining a gang and criminal enterprises.

During rainy conditions on April 23, Mr. Jackson estimated a crowd of several hundred attended a basketball and counsel event on North Kirkwood Street.

With 13- and 16-year-old sons and an 8-month-old daughter, Mr. Jackson says he’s more committed than ever to make a difference for the youngsters they’re growing up with.

“That’s what has motivated me to keep pushing,” he said.

Officials weigh in

On Wednesday National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Central Delaware President Gunn pledged to support Mr. Jackson’s efforts and described participation as “all in.”

Mr. Gunn said many youngsters in Dover are “left to do the only job that doesn’t require an interview. You will get hired on the spot and when you can’t be choosy you do what you do.”

Last week, a crowd packed City Hall to speak out on rising gang violence that plagues their lives; Dover PD reported that its Gang Intelligence Unit had identified four groups in 2016- 48, the Bloods, Three Block and the West Side Gang.

Mayor Robin Christiansen acknowledged a significant gang presence within city limits, and pledged that the Dover Police Department will continue working with the Delaware State Police and other law enforcement agencies to bring a “cessation” of their illegal efforts.

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