Summer months become notoriously violent in Indianapolis. The sun stays out longer, the days and nights get warmer, and a long-recognized correlation between weather and crime becomes apparent just as it has in years past. Government officials, as well as grassroots organizers, are planning for another summer of pushing back against crime and violence.
The Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS), along with Mayor Joe Hogsett and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, announced a broad violence prevention strategy in early June that includes “safe Saturdays” for youth.
Shonna Majors, director of community violence reduction for the city, said part of “safe Saturdays” will involve working with the parks department to let neighborhood children swim for free at their local public pool. There will also be a summer reading program where residents can volunteer to read to elementary-aged children, as well as activities such as kick ball tournaments. Majors said no matter what the activity or program is, there will also hopefully be a barbecue to go with it.
“It gives people an opportunity to have their children be involved,” she said. “Our focus is on the youth. We want to provide some great ways for kids to have things to do while school is out, while their parents are at work, that gives them a safe place to be with their friends.”
From May 30 to June 12, there were 6,985 violent crimes and property crimes reported in Indianapolis, according to data collected by CrimeReports. That was an increase of 1,283 crimes over the previous 30-day period. Nearly 70% of violent crimes over both time periods happened between 9 p.m. and 2:59 a.m.
That’s why OPHS has also started doing night walks, where volunteers from some neighborhoods, including the downtown area, walk their communities’ streets starting around 8:45 p.m. and do outreach to youth. It’s also a chance to identify citizens who might need help keeping up with yardwork and other outdoor maintenance.
Brandon Warren, who founded We LIVE in 2017 after his friend Dijon Anderson died in a shooting, said efforts such as “safe Saturdays” are good, but they need to be expanded, and leaders need to pay careful attention to how they’re presenting their message.
“One of the truest and most heartfelt ways is to stay true to your story,” said Warren, who went to Warren Central High School and is a student at Ball State University. “Tell your own testimony.”
Warren said it’s been difficult to come to grips with the root causes of crime and violence — he’s lost four or five friends and classmates to gun violence — but added it needs to be understood that it’s about a lack of resources and opportunities.
“No one is born angry,” he said. “No one is born violent. It’s based on a lack of resources and systemic issues. Until we can give young people resources and opportunities, then we can’t fix the issue.”
Along with “safe Saturdays,” IMPD and OPHS will try to connect young people with jobs and job training through Project Indy, Hogsett’s youth jobs program. Two Peacemakers, part of OPHS, will be tasked with intervening with young people who are most vulnerable to commit a crime or become a victim of a crime.
Keeping young people — especially children — occupied with events and activities isn’t a novel or new idea. Beatrice Beverly, program director at Stop the Violence Indianapolis, echoed Majors’ sentiment about offering something positive in place of turning to the streets.
“My opinion,” she said, “is that when youth have other activities, other positive activities, they can participate in, it keeps them from being idle and from having the ability to get into things that are not so safe and productive.”
Stop the Violence will host a retreat in July for girls ages 12-16. The organization is also helping to host free mental health seminars with a focus on minority communities.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
If you would like to get your neighborhood involved, email Shonna Majors at email@example.com.
Stop the Violence Indianapolis girls retreat
What: The TALKS Identifying the Mirror in ME
When: July 8-12
Cost: $25 application processing fee
More info: stoptheviolenceindy.org
Mental Health Seminars (all start at 10 a.m.)
July 27 at Raphael Health Center, 401 E. 34th St.
July 6 at John H. Boner Community Center, 2236 E. 10th St.
Aug. 10 at Community Alliance of the Far Eastside, 8902 E. 38th St.
Aug. 17 at VA Hospital (basement auditorium), 1481 W. 10th St.
We LIVE Peace Walk and Community Day
When: Aug. 10 — Peace Walk at 10 a.m., Community Day at noon
Where: Peace walk starts and ends at Washington Park, 3130 E. 30th St. Community Day is indoors at the park.