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COMMUNITY NEWSMAKER

'We are moving to free people from this bondage' of drugs.

December 04, 1986|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

Less than a month ago, the Rev. Gregory K. Tatum's brother was gunned down on a Compton street after scoring some cocaine.

For Tatum, a minister in Lynwood's Truevine Baptist Church, the shooting would escalate his gutter fight with drugs.

The brother, who was seriously injured, had gotten into dope as a dealer, then started to use. He almost certainly will have part of his left leg amputated, he said in an interview from his hospital bed.

"I was trying to get me a little hit. I got a little 'rock' cocaine from a guy" for helping him sell some cocaine and "I was just hanging out," he said.

"I didn't know the guys in the car. They just drove by and one of them shot me," said the younger Tatum, 24.

Gregory Tatum, who asked that his brother's name not be used, said his brother "had gone (out) to get cocaine at 2 a.m. He was talking to a young lady, when three guys in a car drove by. One of the three guys shot my brother in the leg with a 12-gauge shotgun. He lost 10 pints of blood. Surgery took six hours."

Paramedics "got to him in time but damage was so severe to the major arteries and ligaments, gangrene set in," said Tatum, 27, the associate minister at Truevine.

Though the street shooting of his brother is just the latest in a series of tragedies that have befallen friends and acquaintances of the young minister, it was the catalyst that led him to help organize parishioners at Truevine Baptist Church into "A Christian Street March Against Coke" two weeks ago.

Early this year, a high school friend was shot to death in an alley in what he believes was a drug-related incident.

Another friend, with whom he had attended junior high school, was stabbed to death more than a year ago while buying drugs.

His wife, Annette, 25, had a cousin addicted to drugs who lost everything.

The cousin had a good income and a stable family--four children and a supportive husband.

"Somehow she got involved with cocaine. It took about a year for her to disintegrate and the drugs to destroy her family. There was a separation and divorce. The county took the kids because of neglect," Annette Tatum said.

"Today, the kids are living with relatives and friends. The younger child is with the father. He tried to do what he could. But the coke, the drugs, just ripped them apart," she said.

"It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, how much money you make. No one is safe." She said her sons Jeremy, 4, and Corey, 7, "are not safe."

"It's everywhere," said Annette, who married Gregory, her high school sweetheart, in 1978.

Drugs are everywhere, agreed Lt. William C. Sieber, who is in charge of operations at the Lynwood sheriff's substation.

Without a doubt, Sieber said, drug trafficking, to the surprise of no one, is up.

As an example, Sieber said, in 1980-81 there were 1,119 narcotic-related arrests by the station, compared to 2,531 for 84-85, a 126% increase.

"This situation goes beyond law-enforcement capabilities. We have upped our enforcement but the enforcement is not going to stop people from using (and selling) narcotics," said Sieber, whose station covers eastern Compton, the county area of Willowbrook, and Lynwood. The combined population is about 100,000. There are 160 sworn officers working out of the station.

However, Sieber said, he is encouraged by the community people who are getting involved--trying to fight back.

Sieber said he applauds efforts like the Christians' march against cocaine.

"We support this. God is on their side and so are we. Ministers like (the) Rev. (John) Hopkins (pastor of Truevine) and the Lynwood Ministerial Assn. have decided to take the bull by the horn. God bless them."

Tatum agrees that it will take an combined effort of the community and law enforcement to stop the spread of drugs.

The march, though it drew fewer than 100 people, was nevertheless encouraging to Tatum, a minister since 1982.

"My first attempt (to march against drugs) back in 1985, which was held in the city of Compton, drew only 30 people," Tatum said.

Tatum has moved against drugs in other arenas. Earlier this year, with the support of Hopkins of Truevine church, Tatum produced and directed a show on the local cable TV system, Rogers Cablesystems, about the hazards of drugs.

The show, which included two former drug users, was hosted by Inez Hopkins, the pastor's wife.

Tatum said the marches and television shows are done with the hope "of bringing an awareness to the community that there is a problem that cannot be ignored."

"With our prayers and the power of God," Tatum said, "We hope to reach the users, stop them from using drugs. As they stop using, the dealers' sales will drop.

"We are moving to free people from this bondage. We are even discussing putting in a church hot line and holding seminars.

"We are moving into another phase in this fight against cocaine," said Tatum, a low-key individual who speaks barely above a whisper but has a granite-like resolve and wants to use his faith to chip away at the drug problem.

He will also have help.

His brother says that once he is out of the hospital, he will join in the fight against drugs.

"I'm going to turn my life around. I'm going to give it to the Lord," the younger Tatum said.

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