Youth football helps South Butler-Tarkington celebrate two years without a murder

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s been two years since someone has been murdered in the South Butler-Tarkington community on Indianapolis’ north side.

It’s a dubious anniversary, one that other areas may not mark, but considering the bloodshed in South B-T in 2015, it’s a legacy based on community success.

“We did a lot of work back in those days of looking at those persons involved in illegal activities, violent crime, identifying them, they took out over six million dollars over a period of time from the area of ill- gotten gains,” said former IMPD Chief Rick Hite, “but the challenge was being to mobilize people to come out of their houses to walk their neighborhoods and take it back.

“You have to go to the soul of the problem and children are watching. They’re not disposable they’re our future. But at the same time the legacy has to be about neighborhoods like this where people didn’t leave. They didn’t pack up. They stayed and fought the good fight.”

During the last several months of his tenure, Hite directed IMPD’s response with added patrol and covert operations to discourage and dismantle criminal activity while neighbors organized themselves to walk streets and meet residents, sending a message to outsiders and troublemakers they were not welcome, and then the city identified funding to pay small salaries to teenagers hired in the summer to clean up their streets.

Some of those kids formerly played football for the Indy Steelers, a bantam team that counted DeShaun Swanson as one of its own before he was shot to death by gunmen who sprayed his grandmother’s house in September of 2015.

“I coached Deshaun when he was eight,” said Donnell Hamilton as he recalled his pint size hard hitter. “He was a little monster.”

Indy Steelers coaches often dig into their own pockets to make sure teammates from South B-T have the equipment they need to play.

“It gives them something to look forward to. A lot of them are from the neighborhood and come around here and play a lot and to be able to actually play on this field is amazing,” said Hamilton. “I think it makes a big difference. It usually takes up a lot of their time. What we do is we usually practice three or four times a week, we’re good role models to them, we also do a little tutoring on the side and they’re like kids to me. I call all of them my sons. It’s a real big help to the parents and the kids who don’t have parents.”

Lakeisha Johnson’s son played Saturday. She returned Sunday to stand on the cold windswept sidelines of the Butler Bowl to cheer on the children of other parents.

“Basically I feel like there’s a lot of things lacking in young folks lives like they don’t have that support system and that’s why we’re failing them so that’s why we have to be out here and root for all the kids, not just  my boy,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on out here in these young kids life and I feel like just having them out here really gives them a chance and keeping them out of trouble.”

At an appearance at Tarkington Park, home to a renovated play space for the area children, IMPD Chief Bryan Roach said the department is ready to help similar neighborhoods across the city but is waiting for direction from the communities as to what form such assistance should take.

“When those people come together and say that they’ve had enough of that violence is when we do better as a police department. We can’t do it alone,” said Roach. “The neighborhoods that expect us to do it alone are not going to have as good a success as we would have if we would work together.”

Roach highlighted the start-up progress of community councils organized in IMPD’s six districts.

“I don’t know if the neighborhoods just aren’t ready for it yet,” he said. “We are trying to get them ready.”

As part of the celebration marking two years without a murder in South B-T, the Ten Point Coalition announced it was trying to organize similar community movements and was recruiting volunteers in neighborhoods such as near the intersection of Tenth and Rural Streets on the east side where a man was murdered last week.