Charlotte gang member wants to leave gang, but called back to streets

A 16-year old born and raised in Charlotte says he first started hearing about gangs in elementary school.  He finally joined SUR-13 by middle school.  Now that he's high-school age, he says he wants to leave the gang banging lifestyle behind.

Problem is, as Anchor Molly Grantham found while following him for weeks, the streets keep calling him back.

"Phantom" wanted us to use his gang name for privacy purposes.  He also said he wasn't worried if his former SUR-13 gang members could tell it was him on TV.  "I'm leaving it behind," he said.  "You don't have to believe me, but the gang life ain't gonna get you nowhere but locked up or dead."

Another reason he says he wants to leave the gang life behind?  He now has a son.  Phantom told us he wants to start living a different life so his child won't make the same mistakes he made.

Phantom is one of 2,000 documented gang members in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.  CMPD says it has 50 documented gangs... with another 100-or-so subsets or cliques. 

Phantom's specific clique was 704-Surenos.  That's a smaller gang which fell under the SUR-13 umbrella.  Phantom said the 704-Surenos disbanded.  Too many members, he said, ended up in jail or deported. 

As a juvenile, Phantom spent time in jail.  He was caught breaking into a Charlotte home and stealing.  He said it was to get money to pay his gang dues.  

It isn't hard to tell Phantom is in a gang.  20-plus tattoos cover his body.  Many are about Charlotte's gang life.  "QC" for Queen City.  "Phantom" on his arm.  A SUR-13 crown on his shoulder above his old gang name, "Guero".  

He also has a pretty blatant billboard on his leg to police.  "F*** CMPD". 

That last one is the one that hits Ray Wilson the hardest.  Wilson is an Intervention Specialist with CMPD's Gang of One program.  He has been assigned to keep Phantom in check.

"First time I met him I think he wanted to knock me out, and I wanted to knock him out," Wilson says.  "We've come a long way since.  We go out on Saturdays sometime and work and cut the grass together. He calls me all the time.  His mom calls me.  He comes to the Gang of One classes and is getting his GED.  He wants to someday be a real tattoo artist and have a job."

Phantom says he wants to get his current gang tattoos removed so he can get a real job and be taken seriously.  Gang of One has a partnership with certified laser specialist Mick Biddy at Vanish-Ink on East Boulevard, so Wilson set up an appointment for Phantom.

But on the day of the appointment, Phantom didn't show.

"It's a day-to-day battle," says Wilson, as he sits on the couch in the shop, hopefully waiting for Phantom to walk in the door.  "It's that call of the wild.  When these guys are in jail and in the court system, they want to stay straight.  But when they get back home the streets start calling them. Their friends are calling them.  And those guys got better PR skills than we do."

Gang of One is funded primarily through grant money. 

For more information on Gang of One, go to:

Click the attached video to see the story which ran Wednesday, May 23rd.

Click the attached "web extras" to see lots more conversation between Phantom, Ray, Mick and Molly.