Indianapolis mayor announces anti-violence plan

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Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has a new plan to control crime in the city.

It is an anti-violence plan that gives young people someone to turn to, and the parents of troubled children someone to call.

"There are people who care about you and your child," Mayor Ballard said at a press conference Wednesday. "That call could determine whether you attend your child's graduation, sentencing hearing or their funeral."

The plan focuses on so-called "black-on-black" violence and includes mentorship and youth employment programs to help young people make positive choices, along with counseling services to help parents in difficult situations.

To work, the plan will depend on community involvement.

As an illustration, Mayor Ballard invited a young black man who has already benefited from a mentor. Johnnie Willis of Indianapolis brought the crowd to its feet after telling them how he went from a troubled life to a life worth living.

"For all those in my position, you have to want more for yourself," Willis said. "You have to believe in yourself."

Willis told Eyewitness News his troubles all started when he began doing poorly in school and hanging out with the wrong crowd. He continued until he was involved in gang fights and shoot-outs, eventually landing in juvenile detention. He also lived on the streets for a time.

"When you're broke and you got no one to talk to or hear and understand your situation and no one to turn to, what can you do?"

And then something changed. He knew a dozen people who had died and Willis realized he wanted to do something more with his life.

After a friend was shot in the stomach, Willis met Diana Creaser with Prescription for Hope, a program that works mostly with young black men affected by violence.

"She played a very - I can't say enough, VERY important role in my life. She's like a mama figure; She'd help me thru anything."

There was a genuine affection between Willis and Creaser. Willis said it's so important to have someone who cares about you and shows you the way.

It wasn't easy, but five years later, Willis plans to go to college. For now, he's working a full-time job and says that he wants to help others the way Creaser helped him.

That is the message Mayor Ballard wanted to convey Wednesday - it's going to take the community working together to stem the stream of violence in the city.

Indianapolis experienced more than 25 homicides before the end of February. The city of 885,000 residents is on track to break last year's count - 125 homicides, the most in seven years. This year's current count includes an alleged drug robbery in which four people were slain.

While some of the programs in Mayor Ballard's plan will focus on prevention, like the anti-violence program and more funds for parenting help, there will also be harsher penalties for gun crimes and an emphasis on re-entry for ex-offenders.

A pastor who spoke at Wednesday's news conference said "F" as in felon is a scarlet letter when it comes to seeking a job. He asked businesses to give ex-offenders a chance.

Pastor Charles Ellis said the city must work to stop "black-on-black violence," but that the problem is society wide.

Mayor Greg Ballard said help is available, but many in need don't know about it. The new push is aimed largely at bringing attention to those social services.

You can find help by calling 211.