Downtown teen fights becoming ‘typical’

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INDIANAPOLIS--IMPD patrol officers are so inured to breaking up weekend fights between battling teens that now when a skirmish breaks out on a downtown street they merely report is as, “another typical Saturday night,” on the police radio.

And so it was last night as IMPD officers called for backup and broke up at least five fights between eight and ten o’clock, arresting perhaps a dozen teens and young people, one of them a 13-year-old girl.

“There was a fight involving some of these juveniles where officers got dispatched out to and they were able to get there and break it up, however, that commotion did cause more youth to come in and eventually we had to get our Event Response Group to respond to help with the crowd size,” said Ptl. James Gillespie. “A lot of these beefs start out over social media. They start out at school and they just decide they’re going to end up doing something downtown and they see each other downtown and they bring these beefs up, they start these fights.”

On January 21st an 18-year-old man was shot on the grounds of the Indiana Statehouse downtown.

On January 29th Wilbur Morton was shot to death outside the Bu Da Lounge on East Market Street while a closing time crowd watched a street brawl between several women, many of them recording the fight on cell phones.

Morton’s murder in front of dozens of witnesses on the morning of his birthday remains unsolved.

“What we need folks to do is call 911 immediately as soon as they start to get a hint that there’s some type of aggressive behavior or retaliation that’s about to happen, they need to call 911 so we can get there to diffuse the situation,” said Gillespie, “and prevent anybody from being harmed, including the innocent bystanders who are visiting downtown just looking to have a good night.”

When the weather warms, large crowds of unsupervised teens running and fighting on downtown streets for revenge or amusement have been a chronic problem.

“Something that we’re doing as far as the incident last night, Deputy Chief Chad Knecht is planning on going to meet with the families of these kids that were arrested as well as making contact with the schools that they go to,” said Gillespie.

Rev. David Hampton is Mayor Joe Hogsett’s point man on community and teen issues as deputy mayor.

“I’m going to be doing a lot of work tonight and all week engaging with pastors, going to talk to the mayor, we’re going to continue to talk with Chief Bryan Roach and Chief Knecht, and we’re going to sit down and formalize a formal strategy,” said Hampton. “It has to happen very soon.”

Not soon enough for one man who spends his nights on downtown street corners hustling change.

“I was sitting on the corner of Illinois and Washington Street and I was kind of panhandling and I heard a bunch of screaming and seen a couple kids get into a fight up there,” said the man who asked not to be identified as he sat on a bucket in the shadow of Circle Centre. “Later on that evening I had a youngster come up and threaten me, kind of attack me, for being out here on the street panhandling and so he kind of followed me around about three or four different times on different blocks.

“Basically he told me I had to pay ten percent of anything I made to him.

“I told him, ‘I get fifty percent every time you walk by me then.’”

The teenager’s friends dragged the would-be extortionist away before the confrontation could grow uglier.

The convention business in downtown Indianapolis is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the city’s economy each year.

The anonymous panhandler, like it or not, is one of the most visible signs of Hoosier hospitality that visitors encounter.

He fears escalating violence downtown could tarnish the city’s reputation.

“It’s a possibility and the history of the violence here at the mall and all that in the past, it could very well be,” said the man while fashioning paper into valentine’s flowers for a dollar. “It’ll be bad for the city, definitely.”