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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

‘They have no hope’: Local officials, community differ on how to solve soaring homicide rates

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When Paula Stone got into an argument with her 90-year-old neighbor last October, she thought the tension had hit its peak. A few weeks later, she was shot by the same neighbor. The bullet — which went through her groin and leg — left the 69-year-old dependent on a cane.

Stone is no stranger to violent crime — the Indianapolis native has lost two nephews and a niece to homicide, and her son survived a stabbing years ago. The common denominator among the perpetrators, Stone said, is desperation.

“They have no hope,” Stone said. “When you feel like your life doesn’t matter, no life matters.”

So far this year in Indianapolis, roughly 120 people have been killed. Local officials continue to fund initiatives to stop the issue — the city-county council approved a $3 million fiscal package to fund mental health initiatives, domestic violence prevention and included $1.5 million for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) on June 9. The money to IMPD, Chief Randal Taylor said, will go toward data collection and internal infrastructure.

“The funding … will give our officers additional insight as we combat violent crime in Indianapolis neighborhoods,” Taylor said during a press conference earlier this month.

“It will also enhance our accountability to the community, which will help improve trust and open lines of communication as we seek to promote safety in collaboration with residents.”

Councilman Ethan Evans, D- District 4, proposed an amendment to the proposition that would eliminate the funding for IMPD.

“… I heard from multiple community members who voiced concerns both about providing additional funding to IMPD and about the specific uses outlined for those funds,” Evans said. Evans said he wanted to divide the proposal to make funding for IMPD separate from funding for the city’s Information Services Agency two separate votes, but was told that couldn’t happen without an amendment.

The motion to amend failed, and the committee voted to send the proposal on to the full city-county council.

Community member David Rogers mentioned that, despite a $7 million increase in the IMPD budget for 2021, homicides have not decreased. At this time last year, just 80 homicides had occurred in Indianapolis. Further, while Assistant Chief Aaron Bailey said the increase in funding would go toward “proactive policing” to prevent crime, community member Emily Blum worries that means an increase in interactions between police and Black Hoosiers.

The majority of community advocates that addressed the committee said the money being allocated to IMPD should instead go directly to neighborhoods to meet the needs of residents. Advocate Noah Leininger called for IMPD to be “demilitarized” and defunded, and for that money to help address poverty, an often-ignored root of crime.

“Eighty percent of homicides and 3 in 4 violent crimes occur in the poorest half of Indianapolis,” Leininger said. “To fight crime, we must fight poverty, racism and exploitation.”

Carlette Duffy, director of reentry for the Office of Public Health and Safety, said we cannot address crime without addressing poverty.

“They’re directly linked,” Duffy said. “For a number of individuals involved in the criminal justice system, what started them on that path was some form of insecurity, like food or housing. … Without knowing what resources are out there, or without having resources that will treat them with humanity, it can lead to crime.”

According to the Justice Policy Center in 2017, residents of low-income areas nationwide have higher rates of incarceration. While these individuals aren’t more likely to commit violent or drug-related crimes — a disproportionate police presence in these areas lead to more arrests — “crimes of poverty,” such as burglary, are often committed by those who lack adequate access to necessities.

In a previous interview with the Recorder, activist Aahron Whitehead said investing in communities is the best way to prevent crime.

“A lot of times, if people need money or food, they’re gonna steal,” Whitehead said. “And that can lead to violence. When you’re constantly going without, you feel like there’s no way out, and that’s why we have more [homicides].”

To help those getting out of prison adjust to life outside the system, Duffy’s office helps them find housing and secure food on a regular basis. While it’s important to help them get a fresh start, she said it’s also important to make sure people have what they need to prevent crime in the first place.

“We need to make sure people have what they need to thrive, that way they know it isn’t necessary for them to go down the path of crime,” Duffy said. “A lot of people [dealing with insecurity] say ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore,’ and sometimes, crime is seen as the easier way to fix a situation. Having resources in place helps create a more sustainable path.”

Jessica Louise of Indy10 Black Lives Matter said a good place to start in addressing poverty would be to establish a guaranteed basic income and fund mental health care. She said we should only add funding to IMPD’s budget when we have “exhausted all other options to help and heal” Indianapolis.

“Pour resources into our community,” Louise said, “not our cops.”

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

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