Police, clergy seek answers to teen violence

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Teenager violence is, in some cases, the big elephant in the room that people are starting to talk about. Had it not been for the police finding two handguns after a fight in the Castleton Square area Saturday night, we might not be talking about it now

A group of teens were escorted off mall property after a scuffle. Police found alcohol at the scene and a small handgun in the possession of a 17-year-old male. A second gun was also found at the scene.

More than 20 teenagers had a hand in the fight and more than a few were arrested for the fight that started inside the mall and ended in the lawn of the McDonald's restaurant on 82nd Street.

"Well, you do have a couple of problems, you do have a lot of kids who were unsupervised and, mixed into that, you have the kids that are part of the cliques and the gangs and they intermingle with those kids," said Reverend Charles Harrison of the Ten Point Coalition.

The teenagers who were not arrested were placed on an IndyGo bus to take them back to their neighborhoods. It is in those neighborhoods, specifically the parents of the kids causing trouble, that Harrison says need the most attention.

"We have to do a couple of things. We have to hold parents accountable and we have to have leadership that is going to hold these parents accountable," Harrison said.

What happened Saturday night came as no surprise to Reverend Harrison.

"We are in the neighborhood with the kids and we hear a lot of stuff," he said.

In January, a 17-year-old was arrested outside of Circle Centre Mall after firing a handgun into the air. One bullet hit the glass at Artsgarden. The following weekend, police stepped up patrols.

"We predicted that it was going to be Castleton, because of what we were hearing in the community," Harrison said.

The troublemakers didn't show, Harrison says they had moved north. But the real problem, he says, is how the kids deal with conflict. Teen arguments and fights often start on Facebook or Twitter and when they meet face-to-face, the fight has reached the tipping point, like it did Saturday night.

Harrison says there are around 500 teenagers that are at the center of the trouble. Every Saturday night, they are looking for something to do and many of them end up at the mall. After police cracked down on Circle Centre Mall a few weeks ago, Harrison said the kids would go north.

Saturday night proved him right and he says the violence will only spread out further.

"So if you have got Castleton and downtown full of police officers and the faith community, they are going to find a new location and for the cities outside of Indianapolis and the donut counties, they will be coming to your neighborhood next," said Harrison.

Police have worked with malls and the clergy have worked with police. Both say parents need to be held accountable for the actions of their children.

"These are your children, they're your responsibility and even if it means fining these parents, I know this is not popular for me to say - and particularly in the African-American community - but parents ought to be responsible for their children. The second thing, we've got to create safe havens in these communities for these kids," Harrison said.

After a string of violence, Mayor Greg Ballard said the same thing. But so far, according to Harrison, that has not happened.

"There is a community outcry, particularly from the black community, that 'You know, a white mayor is picking on black families," Harrison said.

Holding parents accountable for the actions of their children on paper sounds good, but getting police, judges and the prosecutor's office to make it happen will take some work.