HOUSTON - With dominating headlines of crime and deadly shootings in the Greater Houston area and Harris County, especially with the death of rap superstar Takeoff from the group Migos, it's almost unfathomable to see exactly how bad things have gotten and if it was always this way.
Was crime always this bad?
Crime victim advocates like Andy Kahan with Crime Stoppers of Houston, certainly argue there has been a trend in violent crime that in his decades-long career has seen a lot, but nothing like the myriad of homicides Harris County has been experiencing.
"I've been doing this for 30 some odd years and frankly, I've not seen what I'm seeing," Kahan said. "We started seeing was a lot of defendants who had been released on bond, who were then charged with additional crimes, kept getting released. And so the numbers that we looked at to show the amount of offenders released on bond who were then charged with additional crimes doubled since 2018."
It certainly then would be easy to surmise that crime was never this out of control but Kahan noted in an interview with FOX 26 that we might be seeing history repeat itself.
"The only thing I can compare to what I'm seeing right now regarding particularly the rising homicide rates in the late 80s, early 90s," he explained. "We had a severe prison overcrowding problem and that led to a crisis where offenders were only serving one month for every year that they were getting sentenced to - so if you got 20 years, you were getting out of prison in two years, and it was wreaking havoc in Harris County and the crime rates zoomed up."
"We built more prisons to handle the overcrowding - crime dropped," Kahan continued. "30 some odd years later, we're seeing similar effects."
The effect has resulted in criminals seemingly becoming more and more bold.
"I've talked with a lot of law enforcement friends of mine that I've worked with for years, and they'll tell you, they'll take somebody into custody, put them in the backseat of a patrol car, and they'll just start laughing because they'll say, 'hey, I'll be out in a few hours,'" Kahan said. "And they were right, so it's extremely frustrating for law enforcement, who are already demoralized as it is, when you keep arresting the same offender time and time again, knowing that they're going to be put right back out again."
New generation of criminals and mindsets
Even more concerning, however, is the ages of both violent offenders and their victims.
"What's really concerning to us (Crime Stoppers) is the defendants, particularly defendants that are young defendants 17 through 25 or even younger than 17, that are being charged at an alarming rate of committing some extremely violent offenses. And then on the other side, we're seeing so many victims, people that are paying the price when they get murdered, and also those that are being victimized by being robbed and assaulted with deadly weapons and so forth that are also young," Kahan said. "So it's just it's an alarming number that we're seeing right now. "
Kahan lamented how frightening the senselessness the criminal mindset has become where a robbery can almost easily escalate into a homicide.
"It's disturbing," he said. "It's troubling. And I just don't know how to get the pulse on this, but it just seems to be some sort of lack of sensitivity or regard for human life. There used to be, you know, back when I was a parole and probation agent and people that I dealt with that were on parole, probation for robbery or burglary, they would flat out tell me, you know, we would just rob and run. Now you're robbing and shooting. It's a different type of mode, and it's a different type of mindset that you have now."
Religious leaders like Imam Jihad Muhammad with Fifth Ward Islamic Center for Human Development, argue the apathetic mindset is cultural.
"We glamorize and romanticize gangster life and gangsterism, and we can't continue to survive doing so," he explained. "Just to be point-blank about it: we're at a point right now, where everything we do, every song that is written, every book that is written, every movie we produce, has to promote life; has to promote peace we can't afford otherwise."
As a certified Anger Management Counselor, Imam Muhammad added that he often tries to instill awareness in the people he works with and understand that there are in fact consequences for impulsive actions.
"The first thing you want them to do is, first of all, try to manage the physiological aspect of it, and that is to help control their breathing, help control their heart rate, exercises that help to slow the flow of adrenaline, adrenaline, and oxygenation of the blood into the muscles and all of these other things," he said. "The other aspect of it really, is trying to educate people on how precious life is and what a gift life is, right? And that we can't put a price on it, we can't put a price on our lives, we can't put a price on family life, you know, and at some point, man, we just have to pull the plug on this, and we have to stand up for what's right."
Rapper Takeoff's murder and violent crime's impact on Houston
If the recent murder of rap superstar Takeoff, from the hip-hop group Migos, has taught us anything, it's that violent crime can literally happen to anyone.
And while investigators have not released a motive behind the tragic shooting, it didn't stop people like Jackson State coach Deion Sanders from issuing a heartfelt message to his team to refrain from going out days before a scheduled game against Texas Southern University.
HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 02: A memorial for rapper Takeoff is seen at 810 Billiards & Bowling on November 02, 2022 in Houston, Texas. Takeoff of Migos was fatally shot at the bowling alley in the early hours of November 1, 2022. (Photo by Marcus
FOX News reports Sanders told his team they were to remain in the hotel until he said otherwise.
"I don’t know how true it is, I hope it’s not true, but Takeoff was murdered in a dice game in Houston, where we’re going," he said firmly. "So that eliminates all of y’all leaving that hotel, ’cause it ain’t happening until I give you(expletive) notice. Whatever her name is, whoever she is, parents, everybody, they gonna come to the hotel to visit you because y’all ain’t leaving. Because I can’t lose one of y’all."
Houston has an abundant number of reasons why people should visit, but what does it mean for those visiting?
"Houston is like the Mecca of sports right now," Kahan said. "We've got a World Series here. You have people coming from all over the world that are descending upon Houston. And this is not the message that you want to have, that if you come to Houston, you know, really look over your shoulder. But, you know, when you have people that are here, you also give opportunities for us that want to prey upon them."
Last August, Everett Briscoe, an off-duty officer with the New Orleans Police Department was killed while dining with friends at a restaurant in the Galleria. The area is known for being an upscale and popular place for tourists and Houston residents, but the 13-year veteran with New Orleans PD, along with his friends, was robbed before he was shot to death.
It was later revealed both shooters were previously out on bond.
And while a myopic view of robberies could result in more people being wary of what they have in their possession to not attract unwanted attention. However, Kahan claims it shouldn't have to be that way.
"I think everybody wants to be successful," he explained. "Everybody wants to go out and earn a living. And you shouldn't feel bad about going out and, you know, wearing clothes that you bought or jewelry that you bought or driving in a car that you purchased or going out to dinner and not wondering if something is somebody is looking at you."
On the other hand, religious leaders like Imam Muhammad question if certain "material" goods are worth the risk to begin with.
"I believe that we have to stop looking to be validated by material trappings and material wealth," Imam Muhammad said. "Stop looking to be validated by the wad of money you have in your pocket, or the chain that you have around your neck, or the car that you're driving, or the house that you're living in. At the end of the day, what matters is your character."
Finding justice for murder victims, their loved ones
Motives and crime statistics mean nothing to victim's families however, which is why Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston PD Chief Troy Finner were adamant in their call for anyone with information on Takeoff's murder to come forward.
Kahan noted Crime Stoppers has seen a "steady stream" of tips coming into their hotline but more than a few days after the shooting, no arrests have been made.
Part of this could be out of fear of sharing information with law enforcement due to the mentality of "no snitching." Something which Imam Muhammad says needs to change drastically.
"I don't care about your feelings about not sharing information to law enforcement, or whatever this has to stop," he exclaimed. "This has to stop. So is your silence worth our young people? Is your silence worth our future? And I just, my stance may not be popular. But I believe and I'm convicted in it. You know, my loyalty is not to the streets, for some people, their loyalty is to the streets. My loyalty is to families, and community members and individuals core trying to do the best for their community and for society as a whole."
However, Kahan said the whole "snitching" concept would not apply for Crime Stoppers, as every tip is submitted anonymously.
"That's the beauty of Crime Stoppers; we have no idea who you are," he said. "Either you call in or you submit a tip online, or you use our mobile app as well. You're given a code, and then you can check on your code if there is an arrest made and see if that your tip was the one that actually led to the arrest, and then you end up getting your money. That's how it works. And for every felony right now, you're up to eligible for an up to $5,000 reward. And then in certain cases, family members or businesses will enhance the reward. And it gets larger for that.
Is Takeoff's murder a tragic but teachable moment?
Despite this seemingly dark tunnel, there has to be a sliver of light somewhere. For Kahan, Harris County residents can find that glimmer through becoming active in community efforts.
"You've got to get involved," Kahan said. "We do talks all over the county, and I'm always amazed how little people actually know about how things are actually done or how little people know who their elected officials are or who represents them at the Capitol, who their state representatives or who their state senators are, whose council people are, who their commissioners are."
Simultaneously, folks like Imam Muhammad say Takeoff's murder, while tragic, as well as the recent spike in homicides, shouldn't take away from the kind of city Houston is known for.
"This is still a fantastic city, an absolute great place to visit and a great place to live," he said.
If anything, the Imam says Takeoff's murder should be, at least ideally, the final wakeup call for change.
"As tragic as his death was, what would be even more tragic, is if we didn't learn anything," Imam Muhammad concluded. "What would be even more tragic is if we didn't change, you know, so let's not let this tragedy be in vain. Let it be a moment when we say enough is enough. And we turn our backs on everything that promotes death, everything that promotes crime, everything that promotes immorality, let's turn our backs. And let's save ourselves and save our families."