Community leaders still seek answers to downtown violence

Rev. Charles Harrison leads a meeting of the Ten Point Coalition.
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While Indianapolis police detectives look for the gunman who killed a teenager downtown Thursday night, police commanders and community leaders are looking for explanations and solutions to downtown violence.

The reasons appear numerous and answers are too few and too elusive.

While 50,000 people watched the July 4th fireworks, Reverend Charles Harrison and his family were in the crowd. The inner city minister saw some familiar faces and worried, telling his wife, "We are not going to be able to tell the difference between gunshots and fireworks."

Harrison and the peace-keeping Ten Point Coalition is already mapping out their plans for Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration and other downtown events.

"We hear stuff when we are on the streets," Harrison said. "We try to go to the kids who are having problems with one another and we try to address it."

Harrison's group has been applauded for reducing violence among inner city youth.

This year, however, is different.

The city's murder rate is up. The coalition's funding is down more than 60 percent. Sixteen workers are trying to do the work of 60, while an estimated 25 percent of inner city teens are unemployed.

"These kids don't have jobs. They don't have nothing to do," Harrison said, shaking his head. "They are not finishing school, so it's a recipe for what we see happening out there, all of this violence."

Employment programs appear overwhelmed. One on the far east side gives teenagers breakfast and lunch. They get all of $25 to pick up trash for half a day. Hundreds call into the community center trying to get one of the 25 jobs available.

IMPD said it had 165 police officers watching over the downtown July 4th crowd.

"99.9% of them had a great time. One with a weapon didn't get it and we're sending a message - one can't control over all," said IMPD Chief Rick Hite.

IMPD is already targeting the city's five most crime-plagued neighborhoods, intending to catch troublemakers closer to home, and further from downtown. As the department prepares for Black Expo crowds, it's focusing on cliques and gangs.

"Even gang leaders and make it very clear, you don't come downtown and do that. We've been very successful with that," Hite said.

There are numerous reasons for the gun violence. Authorities say they range from drugs and money to retaliation for an earlier confrontation, or even perceived acts of disrespect. Chief Hite mentioned one shooting between young adults, that began with an argument over an iPod between two children.

Frustrated members of the Ten Point Coalition are encountering young people who simply aren't afraid of using a gun, killing someone, or going to jail.

Harrison said solemnly, "They don't think they'll live that long."