Peacemaker uses lessons learned during former life of crime to help Indy’s youth

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- While attending Broad Ripple High School in the early 1990s, Robert Fry recalled he was often up to no good with his best friend Andre Vaden.

“Andre and I spent a lot of time together because even though we were trying to sell drugs and doing all the things that we were doing, we still played basketball,” said Fry. “He and I hung out on the streets together after high school. I moved away to Michigan and I get a phone call and the phone call was, ‘Andre’s dead.’ He was found in the trunk of a car and it blew me away.”

Fry realized but for a simple twist of fate, he could have been in the trunk of that Cadillac in Haughville in December of 1996, right alongside his childhood friend, but another close call a couple years earlier convinced him it was time to change his ways.

“Myself, a friend of mine and my cousin, we were selling drugs out of those two apartment buildings,” said Fry, recalling a pair of three-story buildings in the 1100 block of North Illinois Street, “and we hear the police are coming through the alley, so as the police start coming through the alley towards the back door, we run out the front door, but luckily for us they weren’t coming for us, they were coming for the guys next door who just moved in from Detroit.

“I watched this guy come out the third floor window and hit the middle of the street, and I mean he hit the pavement hard in the middle of Illinois, and he gets up and tries to run and, unbeknownst to me, everyone around me was an undercover police officer, so we see guns and we hear, ‘Get down! Get down! Get down!’ so, for me, that was the turning point watching that because, here I am, 19 years old, with a pocketful of money and a pocketful of drugs, standing next to police officers and didn’t know it. The very next day the police bust into the apartment we were selling drugs out of, so for me, that was that wakeup call that said, ‘You know what, this doesn’t work.’”

Fry said it was that realization that he was “an unsuccessful thug” that led him to dedicating his life back to the community and placed him by the side of Mayor Joe Hogsett last week to be introduced as one of the first two Indy Peacemakers.

“The bulk of my responsibilities are going to be coming out in the neighborhoods like this, going to visit people, the kids in the neighborhood that right now all they know is violence and drugs, so I’m just trying to make a difference in their lives.”

Fry sat in a picnic shelter at Wes Montgomery Park as a steady rain threatened to wash out his first day on the job.

Unofficially, last week before his appointment was announced, Fry began circulating his old neighborhood, ringing through the contacts on his cell phone.

“Knowing people is gonna help me a lot,” he said. “We need a change around here and so I asked, ‘What are you willing to do to change this neighborhood?’

“What has to be done are all the things people talk about but they don’t do it.

“Start doing something now, start being seen now, not just after a killing or a shooting, lets clean this neighborhood up now.”

Fry said his first official event as an Indy Peacemaker will be to hold a Brightwood neighborhood clean-up on Aug. 9 starting at Mike’s Variety Store at 25th and North Dearborn Streets with his friend Terry Triplett, a community leader who took a bullet to the spine years ago trying to break up a street dispute. The incident left him in a wheelchair.

“In the streets there aren’t any rules to the game anymore,” said Fry, who explains to young people there’s more to life than collecting "Likes" from people they don’t know on social media. “When I was in the streets, when I was hustling, doing different things I shouldn’t have been doing, at least there were rules. You didn’t mess with old people, you didn’t mess with kids and you didn’t mess with women. Now the young guys that are out here hustling and shooting and killing and they don’t understand the rules of that game, if you will. They don’t understand the rules of life.

“Right now, neighbors are so afraid to say something to a kid that’s hanging out because they don’t know if that kid has a gun, they don’t know what the kid’s reaction is gonna be.”

Not far from the neighborhood where Robert Fry grew up, IMPD homicide detectives continue to investigate the killing of 13-year-old Harry Taliefer, who was shot to death on July 12 while trying to make peace in a neighborhood dispute.

The young teen is Marion County’s eleventh homicide victim under the age of 20 so far this year.

Soon, Fry and James Wilson, Taliefer’s uncle, will be joined by two more Peacemakers as the Hogsett Administration is on the verge of announcing recipients of $300,000 in new grants intended to fund programs targeting a reduction in youth violence and the kind of life Fry narrowly avoided.

“I thought I was good at it because I had a couple dollars in my pocket,” he said. “I really wasn’t good at it and I’m glad that I wasn’t.”