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Homicide: Life and death in Indianapolis

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Dontrell Hanyard was just 21 years old when he was murdered outside an Indianapolis apartment complex on the far east side in 2013.

His mother, Latricia Hanyard, described her son as a “good kid and loving father who would give you the shirt off his back.” At the time of his death, he worked at Amazon and left behind a 3-year-old daughter, Dezire. 

“He did some stuff he probably shouldn’t have,” Hanyard said. “But that didn’t give nobody the right to murder him like that.”

Hanyard still doesn’t know who killed her eldest son, and violent crime in Indianapolis continues to worsen. 

In 2019, 172 people were murdered in Indianapolis. Roughly 75% of those victims were Black. 

According to the Marion County coronor as of Oct. 28, there have been 221 murders in the city — over 50 more homicides than this time last year. Roughly 65% of murder victims were Black, and 43% of victims were under the age of 30. An overwhelming majority — around 90% — were killed by a firearm.

“I come from Gary, and we were the No. 1 murder capital a few years ago,” Hanyard, 47, said. “I come from a city of violence and murder. I thought moving here, I was bringing my kids into a better life, and my son got murdered.”

Hanyard acknowledged her son had drugs on him at the time of his death and was dealing to friends. 

“All these murder victims is someone’s child,” Hanyard said. “[Dontrell] is my child, and I still love him no matter what he did in life. … I’m not going to see my son no more, and it hurts. Nothing gives nobody the right to kill somebody.”

Hanyard’s youngest son is 25. Along with his brother, he’s lost countless friends to violence in the city. 

“I got so many obituaries in my closet of my son’s friends who been murdered,” Hanyard said.

Hanyard doesn’t think city officials are doing enough to prevent and solve homicides.  

 “They [police] just look at it as Black-on-Black crime,” Hanyard said. “These police … don’t care about Black folks. It’s one less person they gotta worry about. I think they love to see our own color kill each other. We always say ‘Black lives matter.’ No they don’t. We out here killing our own people.”

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) is working to deter and solve crime, said spokesperson Aliya Wishner.

“The men and women of the IMPD grieve with this mother, and every family in our community who has lost a loved one to violence,” Wishner said via email. “And let me be clear — the background, race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic of a victim makes no difference when it comes to protecting lives and holding perpetrators accountable. IMPD homicide detectives work diligently to bring justice for every individual whose life was taken in our city, as far too many have this year.”

In 2018, Mayor Joe Hogsett launched the Peacemakers, local residents who work within the community to address the root causes of violence. Shonna Majors, the city’s first director of community violence reduction for the Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS), oversees the group.

“We all have to work together to stop violence,” Majors said. “People can’t put everything on the government’s shoulder to solve, but I think there are a lot of people in the community who want to help.”

Majors said the Peacemakers have been working to create new programs to stop violence before it happens, and to address domestic violence, which has been on the rise in the wake of COVID-19.

‘It’s not enough!’

For 21 years, Rev. Charles Harrison, pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church, has led the Ten Point Coalition, a community activism group that works to curb the violence in Indianapolis. In recent years, Harrison said he’s seen a shift in how local government interacts with grassroots organizations, and it isn’t helpful. 

“In the past, we had strong community initiatives that helped really address the issue of violence,” Harrison said. “We had faith-based and anti-violence groups work in collaboration with law enforcement to address the root causes, and the city partnered with us rather than led the efforts.”

Not everyone is impressed with the coalition, or other community-led groups. Hanyard views the Ten Point Coalition as a waste of money. 

“We’re spending money on this man that walks through the neighborhood talking to people trying to get the violence under control,” Hanyard said. “It’s not working! We’re spending money on programs that ain’t doing nothing and expect the murders to just stop.”

The majority of funding for the Ten Point Coalition comes from grants from city government and local organizations. In 2019, Ten Point Coalition received a $500,000 grant from the attorney general’s office for statewide expansion. Since 2014, the group has received grants up to $50,000 from the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Harrison said the city has failed to control violent crime over the past six years by not letting community groups such as Ten Point Coalition lead the charge like they have in the past. 

“I don’t think just anti-violence groups alone are going to be able to stop crime. It’s going to take a whole community effort, including law enforcement,” Harrison said. “The difference between today and 2010 and 2011, when the city was under 100 murders, is that it used to be a more community-driven effort to address the root cause of violence and offer resources for communities.”

Majors said city officials have been working toward more cooperation between the city and community organizations.

“This city has put in a considerable amount of money behind getting community-based and grassroots organizations the resources they need to further assist people,” Majors said. 

Among the issues Harrison believes is driving violent crime is an increase in drug trafficking and a lack of gun control. 

Earlier in the year, city officials announced Operation Legend, a federal program aimed at reducing violent crime. In a previous interview with the Recorder, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said the program is a necessary step to fighting violence. 

“Indianapolis has become a very violent city,” Carter said. “This program brings a specific expertise that we think every agency has, but they simply don’t. If we can follow guns, generally we can follow crime.”

Operation Legend recently was extended indefinitely, but some still don’t feel safe.

“I don’t even go nowhere now,” Hanyard said. “You used to be able to go downtown and walk the canal, and you can’t even do that no more. … If I had another place to live, I would move out of Indianapolis.”

Kierra Bailey recently moved out of her Speedway apartment complex after two of her neighbors were shot. She said the incident kept her and her husband from taking their dogs out at night, and Bailey avoids downtown as much as she can, particularly at night. More officers on the street, she said, isn’t a good solution.

Despite these concerns, Majors said there’s only so much anyone can do to truly prevent violent crime, unless the root issues are addressed first. 

“Control is a hard word to use because we’re dealing with human beings,” Majors said. “There’s always an X-factor. You have low-income communities, and there’s a certain level of trauma that comes with generational poverty. We’ve been oppressed as Black people for over 400 years, so there’s a lot of mental weight. … There’s not anything you can do to control violence, just try your best to lean on the influencers of the people doing the shooting and showing them there’s another way to solve their problems.”

One thing Harrison and Hanyard agree on is the lack of reentry programs plays a role in the city’s crime rate.

“I think crime would slow down if they just give people second chances in life,” Hanyard said. “A felon can’t get a job, an apartment, how could they get on their feet? The crime’s going to continue because they won’t open the doors for people when they get out of jail. There’s no programs. When they feel lost and no one wants to help them, they turn to crime. … They got too much money in Indianapolis to not help these people.”

Carlette Duffy, who was named director of reentry for OPHS earlier this year, said she wants to make it easier for those with a felony record to find stable housing and employment. Specifically, she said she wants to ensure those with children are able to find housing in areas with good schools, so the problems they face — including legal problems — won’t become cyclical.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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