Rev. Charles Harrison brings calm to city's violent chaos
Since founding the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition in 1999, Reverend Charles Harrison has answered the call to save lives.
When there's a homicide, his phone rings.
Where there's danger, he goes.
Eyewitness News got a rare look at the man behind the mission - and why he's so dedicated to stopping violence in our city.
Most people know Rev. Charles Harrison from what they see in a clip on the news. He's the pastor wearing a neon vest, often with a hand on the back of an emotional family member. He's surrounded by grief and gunfire, death and danger.
In all seasons and all sides of the city, Rev. Harrison is there, calming chaos at homicide scenes.
He's been to more than 400 of them. 53, in just in the past year.
But there is a side to the pastor most of us don't see.
It's in a place free of crime tape and full of life, where Charles Harrison is simply a husband and father.
On a recent Friday night, we went to his home - the parsonage for Barnes United Methodist Church.
The Harrisons prayed at the dinner table, ate Subway sandwiches and talked about 7-year-old Jaylyn's reward for getting on the Honor Roll at school.
Later, Harrison's wife, Fawn, played with their dog outside and watched 8-year-old Jeremyon cartwheel across the lawn. Charles helped Jaylyn learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. She's not quite ready to ride without dad's hand there to guide her.
It's the kind of night he cherishes, but one Rev. Harrison knows, simply doesn't happen for too many families in Indianapolis.
"I do cherish this," Harrison said, "but at the same time, it saddens me too because a lot of times, I run into kids that don't have this."
Harrison and his wife adopted their children four years ago, after fostering them since Jaylyn and Jeremyon were in diapers.
His kids know about dad's other job, leading the Ten Point Coalition.
And they know why he travels to the danger zone, night after night.
For Harrison, that mission is personal. He lost his older brother to gun violence, while growing up in southern Indiana, near Louisville.
"My brother was only 21 when he was killed," Harrison said. "He was shot seven times. I know the pain that people experience when they get the phone call or have to go to the morgue to identify a body. That's why I do this, to save lives."
Now, his own children inspire the crime fight, as well.
"I need to make the streets safe for them. That's a big part of what I do. I want to make the streets safe for my kids," he explained.
That is also why inevitably, family time is interrupted at Harrison's home.
Like so many nights lately, he gets the call.
This time, the phone rang as the kids played basketball in his driveway.
"Was there a shooting on the west side? Where was that at," Harrison asked the caller.
What's said on the other end of the phone, takes him from father to crime fighter.
His daughter, Jaylyn, never wants him to leave.
"She'll say to me, 'why don't the bad people put their guns down? And stop shooting people' so I don't have to go," Harrison said.
But he does go.
He says he simply has to.
And what he sees out in the streets isn't pretty: kids, not much older than his own, who are killers.
"They don't fight no more. People have stopped fighting. What they do, they settle their conflicts through guns," Harrison said. "They have no hope. They see no real future. And most of them don't think they're gonna live long anyway."
Reverend Harrison does more than show up at homicides.
He also champions programs to help youth.
As leader of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition, he focuses on violence prevention.
They meet at Harrison's church Wednesday through Sunday nights before heading out into the streets.
On this night, in the gym, he checks on a basketball game, with young men from the neighborhood.
It's something, he says, for them to do - something he doesn't see enough of in the city.
Then, the Ten Point team gathers to pray and discuss their plan for the night.
Which members are going to which neighborhood?
Did anyone hear anything from their sources about the latest homicide?
They did - and it looks like the victim was taken out, for not paying back a debt.
Ten Point's goal now is to prevent retribution.
The members fan out at night to talk to neighbors, build relationships and gather intel on what crimes could happen, before they do.
"Very little happens that we don't know about," Harrison said. And it's because we're talking to people, engaging people on the streets."
Ten Point deploys to two of Indy's five most dangerous zip codes.
They focus on 46205 and 46208.
Reverend Harrison says what they're doing works.
There only have been two homicides this year in those zip codes.
Harrison and a few other team members head to the Marathon at 29th and MLK.
He says it's a hot spot.
"Normally you have a lot of the neighborhood gangs and cliques that hang out here and there's a lot of trouble that normally happens here. That's where Simeon and them were hanging out at," he said.
Harrison was talking about Simeon Adams, the teen accused of gunning down expectant father Nathan Trapuzzano.
Reverend Harrison had a confrontation with Adams days before the shooting.
"I knew he had a gun on him, you know," Harrison said, "and that's what we deal with. We deal with a lot of these kids out here who have weapons."
At the Marathon, Harrison get word that a concert by a local rapper could cause trouble.
He says it has in the past.
So Harrison, calls the chief of police, to let him know to be prepared, just in case.
"We are kind of the eyes and ears out here and if we feel like we can't handle it because we're not the police, then we'll call IMPD to handle it," Harrison explained.
The pastor is candid with criticism and worry for Indy's spiking violence.
He told us the city needs to focus on root causes of violence: helping families, mentoring teens, helping men on the streets find jobs.
"Most of them are living in poverty. They have the urge to make this easy money. You know, the drug dealer will offer them a job of selling drugs or a teenage dropping something off for them. We're trying to offer them something different. We need to," Harrison said. "But I don't see our political leaders on the same page. I really don't. We gotta get the mayor, the city-county council and our state legislators on the same page."
Harrison says Ten Point needs help too - more soldiers on the streets and more money for the battle.
A cut in grants and public safety dollars cut the number of full-time Ten Point outreach workers.
"We had 10 full-timers in 2010, two in each of the city's most dangerous zip codes. Now we're down to four. We see the difference," Harrison said.
It is, at times, an overwhelming mission for a man committed to making Indy safe.
But for his own children, and kids like them, he will continue to answer the call.
"We gotta change that mindset out there. We do. We gotta change that mindset and that's why we spend a lot of time with these kids," Harrison said. "You can tell some of these kids have not had anybody positive in their life talking to them. I'm a father out there. I'm a big brother. I'm an uncle for some of them I'm a grandfather. It's important. It's a tough ministry, but we have to do it."