INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Derris Ross grew up near the intersection of East 42nd Street and North Post Road in one of Indianapolis’ most violent areas.
“Over the years, I am age 28, I have lost over 34 friends to gun violence,” said Ross as he sat in the picnic shelter of an apartment complex in the neighborhood. “When I was five years of age I saw someone killed in broad daylight.”
Ross left IMPD’s Northeast Beat 70, a tough place to patrol due to the number of apartment complexes and abandoned buildings where witnesses tend to be scarce, but returned with his roots with the self-named Ross Foundation with a goal of, “building alternative solutions in our community.”
The January murders of five young men in the area brought enhanced police presence and Ross with a plan to offer jobs, education and social services to the acquaintances of the victims.
“So we was able to bring two groups of people young men of color and resolve an issue and conflict that was really a petty feud,” said Ross. “So most of them guys got jobs, some of them has finished their GED courses, a lot of them are on the right path to success and they are coming back to help me to be role models in their neighborhoods.”
Since the January killings, there have been six more murders on IMPD NE 70, proving Ross has more work to do.
“Well, definitely pride is an issue in our communities,” he said. “No one wants to back down, no one wants to show that, ‘I’m afraid of you,’ so sometimes they do use these guns to scare people and put fear into other individual’s lives.
“Kids should be off limits. Elderly should be off limits. Women should be off limits, especially if they’re innocent.”
D’Andra Yates-Dycus nodded her head and added, “I think killing should be off limits.”
Yates-Dycus’ son Deandre couldn’t join her for the conversation about community safety in the shade of the picnic shelter. He remained at home, disabled and paralyzed by a bullet that was fired his way as he attended his first teen party in 2014.
Deandre was wounded in front of several witnesses. His attacker has never been caught.
“People don’t tell. They may know, they may see, but they don’t speak,” said D’Andra who understands that witnesses and parents who won’t talk to police would rather take their chances instead with the criminals who live among them. “People take the second one. They just hope that it never happens to them, they hope that they’re never me or any other mother who suffers like this.
“We have a hard time trusting each other and we have a hard time trusting law enforcement. I will say we may trust each other first before we would trust some people out here.”
Mayor Joe Hogsett and the Central Indiana Community Foundation are on the verge of awarding more than $2 million in the next two months to groups pledging to fight violent crime in the community.
The Ross Foundation received $12,000 last year and is seeking $100,000 this year to expand its programs.
“The budget for those crime prevention dollars is not nearly enough to really tackle these issues in this community. That is pebbles and you look at the comparison with public safety and public health, they pour way more dollars into public safety than into public health,” said Ross who’s aware that the city is in the process of building a $570 million community justice center with a courthouse, jail and sheriff’s office on the city’s eastside. “We gotta invest more into public health and grassroots efforts and not just throw little small change at them because it’s not enough.”
Ross would like to see the city build a community center with a basketball court, swimming pool, classrooms and video and music studios for neighbors at 42nd and Post.
“Anytime a 14 year old can go inside a birthday party and pull a trigger, its hopelessness, lack of love,” said D’Andra who started her own group called Purpose For My Pain.
“It takes the community to save the community,” said Ross. “We got to put the word ‘unity’ back into the word ‘community’. We can’t have a sense of community it we don’t come together.”