Of all the challenges Indianapolis has faced since I first was elected to the council a decade ago, none pains my heart more deeply or has visited more despair on our community than the reality of the lives, loves and human potential our city has lost to gun violence.
Not once, but twice so far in 2021, entire households have been slaughtered by a member of their own family. And the eight people, guilty of nothing more than going to work, killed by a troubled young man that our society deemed too young to buy alcohol but old enough to purchase deadly weapons. A 12-year-old boy visiting his grandparents was shot in the head as he sat in their living room playing video games.
It would be easy to give in to a feeling of hopelessness. The Giffords Law Center reports that, although Black men make up just 5% of Indiana’s population, we account for more than 57% of our state’s gun homicide victims. Black men in Indiana between the ages of 18-24 are 33 times more likely than white men the same age to be murdered with a gun. Nationally, Black children and teens are 14 times more likely to die from gun homicide than their white counterparts.
We don’t need fact sheets to understand the scope and scale of the problem of violence in Indianapolis.
In his acceptance speech upon receiving the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said violence is immoral because “it destroys community.” Violence in our neighborhoods is, in no small part, the compounded interest of centuries of racial inequity.
That is a payment we must stop making. My faith in our ability as a community to stand against this is built on our collective response to COVID-19. Many people could have locked themselves away — and some did. But many more started checking in on neighbors, volunteering at food banks, delivering meals and sewing face masks. After all, when we talk of “herd immunity,” we are at least acknowledging the reality of our interdependence. My challenge and my hope is that we bring that perspective to the fight against community violence. Not one of us is or ever will be immune from a bullet. But if we begin to operate more like a “herd,” we will strengthen our city’s immune system against the epidemic of violence.
When my colleagues and I talk about fighting the root causes of violence, we are, in many ways, also talking about strategies that combat racial inequity, like:
• developing and reinforcing grassroots community relationships,
• rebuilding infrastructure and attracting investment in Black neighborhoods,
• increasing employment, education and economic opportunities,
• expanding access to addiction and trauma recovery support groups,
• working with the community to implement public safety programs and policing reforms, and
• supporting safe and stable housing.
I know achieving these things is not as simple as writing a list, and I’m well aware that no individual can do this work alone. I know also that our community is not destroyed; there is great power and possibility in it. Even in neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence, there are mothers and grandmothers hosting block meetings, fathers and grandfathers doing neighborhood walks and community leaders of all ages organizing.
In the coming weeks and months, your city-county council will consider our city’s budget for 2022. The dual challenges of violence and inequity that we face together as a community will be at the forefront of our minds.
We are, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, “perplexed, but not despairing … persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Vop Osili is president of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council.