INDIANAPOLIS–After a holiday weekend when Indianapolis appeared to have enjoyed a temporary respite from its pursuit of a record annual homicide rate and IMPD officers shot and wounded two men they said were attacking them, Mayor Joe Hogsett delivered a blunt and very adult-oriented address on gun violence to more than two dozen youngsters on the first day of their urban summer camp.
“You’re gonna be very soon, if not already, the leaders of this city,” Hogsett told the campers of Young Men, Inc., meeting in the basement of Great Commission of God Church on the city’s northside. “You’re here today to start down the path of leadership. And in my mind, our city needs your leadership more than ever before.”
It was a week ago that Indianapolis shot past the 100 mark for homicides earlier in the year than ever before with the killings of two young people at the front door of a downtown hotel.
“I don’t need to tell anybody in this room the mindless menace of gun violence that plagues too many areas of our city,” said Hogsett. “Part of the challenge you face is we live in a world today where guns are everywhere and I’m asking you to take on the leadership role that you deserve to help our community put guns down.”
Each summer Rev. Malachi Walker accepts approximately 60 young men into his camp which is mentored by older teens and young adults who are often alumni of the program.
For eight weeks the youngsters learn conflict avoidance and de-escalation skills as well as leadership and decision making and practice scenarios on how to react during a police traffic stop.
“What we think about is that could happen to us now,” said MarQues Woods, 20, who has been involved in the camp for 12 years and recalled the social injustice protests that rocked Indianapolis a year ago this week. “This could be me. They could be protesting over me.”
Woods said he appreciated the mayor’s aggressive comments which did not sugarcoat the city’s struggle against gun violence.
“You don’t want to talk to kids like they’re kids. They’re not gonna grow up if they’re not learning anything,” he said. “The way they were talking to us it makes you want to…have a conversation with them, always make sure it’s right, don’t do anything unnecessary because if it’s unnecessary that means you don’t have to do it.”
Messiah Belton is a veteran of the program and just entering high school.
“I can only control me and I’ve also learned that I can put an impression on other people so most of the time when I’m walking around there’s people looking at me 24/7 so I have to set myself to a standard that other people see and I have to have self-discipline,” he said. “I know where in my old neighborhood that they need to calm down, that there shouldn’t be that many guns in a community let alone in a complex.”
Walker said he knows his program has succeeded in saving lives during the worst 18-month long stretch for murder in the city’s history.
“We haven’t lost any mentees or anyone to gun violence.”
Within the span of 48 hours, from Saturday afternoon to Monday morning, IMPD officers seriously wounded two men who either shot at neighbors or officers or attacked officers who were responding to a domestic violence run.
“I’m proud of IMPD and the way they reacted this weekend,” said Hogsett, “but I don’t want police officers putting themselves in harms way no more so than I want police officers to have to feel like they have to shoot somebody to protect themselves.
“If you can’t resolve your disputes, the one thing you don’t want to do is point a gun at a police officer.”
A total of six officer-involved-shootings from this year will soon be reviewed by the new IMPD Use of Force Review Board now that community members have been named to the panel and are completing their orientation.
“They had a very good training session a couple weekends ago, as I understand it, and we have expanded both the Use of Force Review Board and the General Orders Board to be a majority civilian presence,” said the mayor, “and I think the time has come to assure greater accountability, to assure greater transparency, to maybe add a civilian perspective to what a day-to-day police officer is required to do.”
The General Orders Board will have the power to review and, if necessary, rewrite the rules of IMPD operations.
Hogsett also indicated that the city’s hiring programs for youth and Friday night basketball leagues are already beginning in conjunction with Indianapolis’ summer violence reduction plan.
“Within another week or so, you and I will be talking about maybe some more investments that the city of Indianapolis will be making in public safety,” said Hogsett who also expects a refinement of IMPD’s approach to tackling crime in some city hotspots.
For more information on the Young Men, Inc., summer camp, visit GreatCommissionChurchOf God.org.