Indianapolis grasps for answers in a violent year


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two men in bright yellow safety vests
stroll through a rundown neighborhood where boarded-up houses and
padlocked storefronts stand as silent witnesses to a wave of street
violence that threatens to taint the reputation of Indiana’s capital
As they trade small talk with women and children sitting on
their porches, the men from the Ten Point Coalition aren’t just being
friendly. They’re trying to keep people from killing each other — part
of a broad effort to tamp down the bloodshed using methods old and new,
proven and unproven.
The number of homicides in Indianapolis is
increasing at an alarming rate, putting the city on pace to have its
deadliest year in at least eight years. Already ranked 22nd on the FBI’s
list of deadliest cities, the city could move up and rival its 162
killings in 1998, the worst year on record, if the hot summer months
accelerate the violence as expected.
The number of homicides hit
62 Friday following a shooting on the city’s east side. The trend is
especially perplexing because slayings in large cities such as Chicago
and New York have been declining.
"We have a threat, and it’s
clear to me that we just don’t quite get it yet," Police Chief Rick Hite
told reporters Friday, minutes before joining a circle of prayer for
the violence to stop.
The statistics are a blemish on a city
better known for its hospitality, business-friendly environment and
well-received hosting of the 2012 Super Bowl. Leaders desperate to stop
the bloodshed are struggling to find a solution.
Mayor Greg
Ballard has met with gang leaders, and city officials have proposed
about $29 million a year in tax increases to add nearly 300 officers to
the police force by 2018. Police have beefed up street patrols, hosted
neighborhood meetings and expanded the presence of McGruff the Crime Dog
in classrooms to reach kids before they drift into deep trouble.
of the Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group of ministers and
community leaders, have targeted two of the most troubled ZIP codes with
regular visits in hopes of steering young people down a better path.
But the numbers keep climbing.
officials have repeatedly said that the roots of the city’s violence
run back through decades of poverty and broken homes and that the
problem is too big for police to handle alone.
"I think sometimes
everybody wants some magic approach that’s going to do away with it in
six months," said Public Safety Director Troy Riggs. But, he added,
"this didn’t happen overnight or over the last decade."
has spent decades reinventing itself from a sleepy place derisively
nicknamed "Naptown" into an urban mecca that has world-class museums and
hosts large conventions and national sporting events. Its unemployment
rate ranks among the bottom third among U.S. metropolitan areas, and the
city’s suburbs are some of the fastest-growing communities in the
That makes the rising number of homicides even more startling.
Ohio, a Midwestern city of similar size, had 92 slayings in 2013,
compared with 125 in Indianapolis, and has had 40 so far this year.
Chicago, with a population more than three times that of Indianapolis,
had 414 killings last year and 115 through May 18.
Most of the
Indianapolis slayings have involved criminals killing other criminals.
That prompted members of the Ten Point Coalition to host a recent church
dinner for gang members, who talked about what their lives are like.
of these young men talked about basically having to raise themselves.
One said his father was a drug addict and his mother was an alcoholic,
so all he knew was street life," said the Rev. Charles Harrison,
president of the coalition. It’s a familiar story. One gang member spoke
of having to take care of his mother and baby brother since he was 13
years old.
Besides Ballard’s proposed tax increase, authorities
have discussed adopting a strict curfew to keep young people off the
streets late at night and creating programs for community policing,
summer jobs and after-school athletics. Other proposals include offering
parenting classes and making a $75,000 investment in the city’s 211
hotline to connect families with social services.
But those who work the streets say those ideas are just part of the puzzle.
Jefferson, a city pastor who lost two close relatives to shootings this
year, believes police need to become part of the neighborhood hot
"Police are so stuck in their cars. They are so stuck in
their offices … they need to get out of their cars and walk the
streets," he said.
For others, the solution is jobs.
would be major incentive to keep these young men from hanging out on the
street," said Harrison, of the Ten Point Coalition. "They need jobs
with livable wages."
The Rev. Horatio Luster, another member of
the Ten Point Coalition, said police, community centers and churches are
doing their part. What hasn’t been tried enough, he said, is working
with individuals instead of groups.
"We need to change the way these kids are thinking," he said.

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