'I watch over my back a lot': East side teens reflect on life with gun violence

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Quintez Tucker has a fresh pink scar just off the edge of his eyebrow on his left temple. He has a pronounced bump in his forehead between his eyes.

The scar and the embedded bullet are all Tucker has to remind him of a shooting on Thanksgiving night.

“I was in a car with a group of friends and someone just ran up to the car and starting shooting at the car and I got out running and I collapsed over there at 21st and Mitthoeffer,” said the teenager. “I really don’t remember what all happened and stuff. I remember getting shot in my head though and blood coming down my face.”

Tucker is back at school at the Phalen Leadership Academy for the first time since the shooting in late November. He was seated at a table surrounded by classmates who also had been shot at or lost a family member to gun violence.

“We had bumped into some dudes and I don’t know what they was on so they started talking crazy to us and we started talking crazy back but I didn’t know they had a gun on them,” said Marquis Graham who said he dodged a bullet last 4th of July. “Over here it’s a bad community so you can’t just walk outside and go play like a little kid no more. Like they do violence over here and a teenager get shot every day.”

Tony Crawford also recalled a day when the gunfire was too close for comfort.

“I don’t even think it was meant for me. It was just gunshots and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. “When you go to the neighborhood, it’s more difficult because you got people in your head that’s trying to get you to retaliate and stuff like that and that’s stuff that you don’t want.”

Akaiyah Minor regrets that she wasn’t on the best terms with her father the night he was shot to death last summer.

“One morning I woke up to my father dead and it was crazy because he had just left my house at one and he popped up dead at six thirty,” she said. “It was shocking to me because I never experienced anything like that like anyone in my family shot.”

Each student said they couldn’t count on both hands the number of friends or family members they’ve lost to gun violence visited while wounded.

“I can’t count on two hands,” said Tucker. “Even if I had three, I can’t count.”

Its anticipated that IMPD will release its 2019 statistics on non-fatal shootings Friday.

In 2016, 492 victims survived gunshot wounds.

That number dropped to 479 in 2017 and 468 in 2018, though unofficial counts indicate the statistic may have climbed last year.

In 2019, IMPD investigated 171 homicides, of which 30 were gunshot or knifing victims under the age of 20.

So far this year, a 15-year-old boy was shot to death January 4th and a 13-year-old boy was critically wounded by gunfire Wednesday night.

There have been seven homicides during the first nine days of 2020 in Indianapolis.

Earl Phalen, founder of the Phalen Leadership Academies, said his students are crucial to breaking the cycle of violence that is gripping the city’s eastside.

“Now when you see these leaders starting to step up and now they’re gaining proficiency and they’re gaining confidence and they’re gaining a vision for their future, now you’re starting to say, ‘Wait a second, we can change a whole part of this city, the far eastside, and we can have the strongest leaders coming out of here, going on to do great things in Indiana and throughout the world.’”

15-year-old Akaiyah Minor knows what she wants for the Phalen Leadership Academy.

“We need a gymnasium,” she said. “And a swimming pool.”

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