Cub Reporter Damon Weaver Asks President for Help

Florida boy reports on his hometown, a community torn by violence.

April 07, 2009, 10:30 AM

April 8, 2009— -- Viewers first met Damon Weaver on the night of the presidential inauguration in January.

His school had sent the 10-year-old cub reporter to Washington, D.C., to interview President Obama. He never met the president. But he captured the attention of ABC News, when he visited the studio.

Diane Sawyer asked Damon of Pahokee, Fla., what questions he planned to ask Obama. Damon agreed to whisper his questions in Sawyer's ear, fearing that another reporter might steal them.

After Damon's appearance, ABC News gave him a camera and a producer to help him report about his hometown and pose the question he had wanted to ask Obama.


"My name is Damon Weaver," he said on camera. "And I live in Pahokee, Fla. It's a tiny town: 6,000 people and only three stoplights."

"We grow sugar cane and football players. This county's sent ... players to the NFL," he said. "There's a lot of love in this town. A lot of pride. But something bad has moved in here. Kids learn from the street and copy what they see."

The unemployment rate in Pahokee, which is in Palm Beach County, is almost 24 percent. More than a third of the families live below the poverty line and Damon's community is slowly being torn apart by violent crime.

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"By day, it's safe for me to play outside, just as long as my friends and I stick together," Damon said. "But at night, it's a different story. Sometimes it's like the Wild West out here."

"A bullet's got no name and can find you anytime. So I know how to take off at the sound of gunfire."

"A lot of kids at my school know someone who's been shot or killed," he said.

Jertavius, Damon's friend since kindergarten, has a first-hand understanding of the impact of violence. His father was shot and killed in a robbery two years ago. Damon interviewed him and his grandmother about the murder.

In an interview with Jertavius and his grandmother, he asked, "How did it affect your life, J?"

"Half my heart goes ever since he died," Jertavius, 11, said. "Like your heart is gone."

Jertavius, whose last name is being withheld because of his age, was too emotional to continue with the interview.

Damon Speaks With the Police

No one has been arrested in connection with the death of Jertavius' father, even though his grandmother offered a $2,000 reward.

Damon decided to investigate the case further by interviewing Mike Wallace, a police lieutenant with the violent crimes unit in West Palm Beach.

"Most of our shootings are like this, semi-automatic handguns," the lieutenant told him. "These are kind of cheap. You can buy it for a couple hundred bucks at a gun show."

"What kind of gun was Jertavius' dad shot with?" Damon asked.

"The person who shot Jertavius' dad used a shotgun," Wallace said. "He got shot a couple of times. He saw it at the last second and he kind of tried to defend himself."

"Why did it happen?" Damon asked.

"Whoever was going to shoot him was going to rob him," Wallace said. "They thought he had a lot of money on him and that's why they shot him."

"How did you guys find out who killed his father?" Damon asked.

Wallace said that although police have an idea of who killed Jertavius' father, witnesses refuse to come forward.

"People saw who shot him but they won't tell us who did it," Wallace said. "What we need are people who will go to court, people who will hold up their hand and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. I saw this guy shoot that guy."

"Why are they afraid?" Damon asked.

"They were afraid of him," Wallace said. "They knew who he was and they were afraid of him.

"There's a lot of different reasons why people are afraid to talk," he said. "The gang members scare people. Happens in your neighborhood. There's gangs in Pahokee. There's probably gang members that go to your school."

Wallace said 60 percent to 80 percent of all violent crime in the area is related to gangs. "We've had gang members in fifth grade selling drugs at the elementary school," he said.

Most of the shootings in Damon's town are perpetrated by teenage gangs fighting over turf, respect and drugs, authorities say, and they settle their arguments with guns.

"In Palm Beach County, I've seen 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds shoot people," Wallace said. "They're not old enough to buy a gun but some kids steal guns. Some kids have a dad, mom, brother and take their guns. Sometimes they just find guns. Just a few weeks go, we had an 11-year-old kid get shot by a 9-year-old."

In Pahokee, Damon and his friends hear gunfire all the time. "We hear it so much we get used to it," one of his friends said. "Sometimes you can name the gun, just name the gun. Like what type of gun it might sound like."

Buying Guns From 'Jitterbugs'

In an interview on the city's main street, Commissioner Henry Crawford talked to Damon about crime.

"Have you ever seen shootings?" Damon asked Crawford.

"Yes, of course I have," he said. "I was born and raised in this city. We have some of our young men who get shot and lose their lives at a very young age. Young kids who get accidentally shot."

One man on the street showed Damon where he had been shot.

"Did it hurt?" Damon asked.

"Begged for my life," the man said.

"Did you tell the police?" Damon asked.

"No," he said.

"Did you report the shooting to the police?"

"No," he said.

The people Damon interviewed said they had never reported a shooting to the police, although they admitted it was easy to procure guns in the town.

One man told him that anyone with $50 can buy a gun off the street. When asked who's selling them, he said, "Jitterbugs," which is street slang for kids.

"Guys my age, they'll tell me, 'I don't have no gun.' If I go down with some jitterbugs, kids 15 or 16 years old and say, 'Here's $60. I need a piece' and then they'll bring it back to me. It's the younger people from ages 12 to 21 years old. They're trying to hold that bad reputation: 'I've got a gun. I got power.'"

Damon worries about his 14-year-old brother, Marcus, who is under pressure to join a gang.

"It's like peer pressure because they want me to help them fight," Marcus said. "They say it's cool. They'll help you fight, got your back when you're in trouble. But I don't like being around trouble, so I just don't hang with them."

Marcus said he wants to be a football player and if that doesn't work out, a lawyer or a doctor.

As for Damon, he plans to be "a journalist, football player and pilot, person who trains whales, president and a senator." He added, "And a commissioner and a Democrat."

"We are three brothers living in this little room," Damon said. "It's not that big, but it keeps us close."

Damon said, "I worry about Marcus. I worry about me and my family. I worry about what's happening to my community. That's why I'm telling you this story. My story. My town's story. So more people don't die."


The Pahokee Parks and Recreation Department: The Parks and Recreation Department offers after-school programs for kids from kindergarten to high school to give them a safe place to play after school.

And, finally, as Damon looked in the camera, he revealed the question he had earlier whispered into Sawyer's ear: "President Obama, what can you do to help Pahokee?"

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