Indianapolis teens seeking way out of gang life

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Metro Police said 16-year-old Simeon Adams emerged from a west side neighborhood as a petty criminal who couldn’t follow the rules to become the accused killer of an expectant father and the chief suspect in a gun store burglary.

The youth now faces charges as an adult that could send him to prison for decades to come.

Evidence of Adams’ career path and potential fate has not escaped the notice of the teenagers who knew of him back in the community.

“You pretty much know all about the bad,” said Justin Collier, 17, as he sat at a table inside Barnes United Methodist Church just a few blocks away from a parking lot where Adams is accused of shooting a man in early April less than two days before he himself was shot.

“All the violence around here. The shootings. The violence. The killings. The burglaries. The old ladies being robbed. All that stuff. People just ain’t right. They ain’t thinking right. They just not going on the right path.”

Collier and 19-year-old Dailand Butler, a senior at Ben Davis High School, are both on track to achieve a rare feat in their community:  they’re both poised to graduate high school.

“Its really important,” said Butler whose arms are covered with tattoos and his neck is scarred with a bullet wound. “Without a diploma you going to be stuck out here in the ‘hood for the rest of your life.”

“To me right now, school’s the only way out,” said Collier. “If you don’t go to school, you choose either hustle, rob, kill or steal or that could lead to jail or dead, one of the two. So, in five years, if I don’t see myself out of here, I see myself locked up. Obviously.”

Collier and Butler and more friends from the neighborhood have gravitated to Rev. Charles Harrison’s church. Harrison hosted a meeting last week between Mayor Greg Ballard and other youths so that the city’s leadership could hear firsthand the desperation of Indianapolis’ youth growing up on streets without fathers, role models, jobs and hope.

“We ain’t got no father figure,” said Butler, who referred to the Temptations Motown classic, “Papa was a Rolling Stone,” when asked about the house he grew up in. “I mean, some people do, but most people don’t.”

“I would sit the mayor down and tell him straight up how it is,” said Collier. “You need to get more programs out here for these kids to do ‘cuz these little kids got nothing to do after school.

“They don’t got no programs. They don’t try to give us no jobs. I don’t even see football programs no more. I don’t even see that stuff anymore…at least not around my neighborhood.”

Mayor Ballard has asked Rev. Harrison to convene more meetings with teens and gang members seeking a way out of the street life and ready to make a commitment to working and education.

Collier and Butler said they’re ready to leave the Life behind.

“Its not the same,” said Collier. “The bad is getting worse and the good is getting worse, too.”

Collier wants to get his diploma in a month and go to college for an associate’s degree.

He says he doesn’t own a laptop computer.

“Which would you rather own,” he was asked, “a laptop or a gun?”

“Laptop,” answered the teen. “You can’t apply for a job with a gun.”