Former gang leader offers insights on fatal shootings

Former gang leader offers insights on fatal shootings
Jesse Payton

Jesse Payton sees the three fatal shootings in the span of 22 days as an indicator of change in the level of street violence in Madison.

“These guys are very serious about staying alive and very serious about making their point, getting their point across,” Payton said.

When Payton speaks about street violence it is from a position of experience. He joined a gang when he was 13 years old and became one of the gang’s leaders. He was arrested and convicted of burglary and served 12 years and 6 months in prison. Since his release Payton has worked with programs to try to stop the cycle of violence.

He’s seen the culture of violence that exists in gangs.

“It’s going to always be about money and power,” Payton said. “They are very serious, there’s no doubt about that. They are very serious. Some call themselves shottas, another term for someone who will take you out immediately.”

Madison police investigators have said the three shooting deaths are connected, but Payton believes it would be premature to link them to gangs.

“I think it is way too early to even speculate if it was gangs. You know a lot of these guys aren’t clicking, just involved in friendships,” Payton said.

He believes what is needed to break this cycle of street violence is greater ownership of the problem and empowerment by the community.

“We’re not going to get a handle on this as long as our reaction is going to be, ‘Let’s just lock them up. Let’s find them, hunt them down, lock them up and move on and make the community safe.’ No, that does not make the community safe. What makes a community safe is when you empower a community,” Payton said.

He also believes that poverty and poor housing conditions are a pathway to street violence.

“We have to invest in these children. We’re not really investing our time. We’re investing our money but we need to reinvest our time back into these children and give them a different vision, a different image than what we’re leaving them out here to.”