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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
The Rev. Dr. Saharra Bledsoe, president of the NAACP, speaks at a rally Thursday afternoon to call the community to action against recent violence in the city.

‘We want it to stop’

NAACP denounces violence; witnesses urged to speak out

Fire Chief Amy Biggs, left, holds hands with Donna Dixie during a prayer at Thursday’s NAACP effort to rally the community against violence.
Prayer was part of Thursday’s rally presented by the Fort Wayne/Allen County NAACP.

Members of the NAACP’s Fort Wayne/Allen County chapter called for an end to violence Thursday.

Last weekend, four separate shootings killed two men and left two others in critical condition, and on Wednesday, 17-year-old Elijah O. Freeman was gunned down in an alley just east of downtown. Freeman’s death was the 13th criminal homicide committed in Allen County this year and the seventh since the beginning of March. There have been 15 deaths ruled homicides this year in Allen County, including one police action shooting and one death from complications in a 1980 shooting.

Dozens gathered downtown Thursday to call for an end to the killings.

“We aren’t just sick and tired, we are fed up,” said the Rev. Dr. Saharra Bledsoe, NAACP president. “We want it to stop.”

Bledsoe begged the people involved – most of the shootings have been gang-related, police say – to change their lives.

“Instead of picking up a gun, pick up a book,” she said. “Come to church. There are people here that care about you.”

South Park Baptist Church’s Rev. Bill Robinson led the group in prayer that witnesses would come forward.

“We need help. We need people to say what they saw, to tell what happened,” Robinson prayed. “We need help, Lord.”

Police Chief Rusty York attended the rally, holding hands with people as they prayed, then spoke tenderly with a family member of a victim before she went into the Rousseau Centre to speak further to police.

Southeast Quadrant Deputy Police Chief Garry Hamilton said the number of killings has been overwhelming, and that the department is meeting with other agencies, combining its gang unit and neighborhood response teams, working with federal agencies and targeting people known to be involved in criminal activities.

Hamilton said community involvement is critical, but the department needs more than just anonymous tips.

“It’s more than just information, we need people to testify in court,” he said. “We can’t make an arrest on a Crime Stoppers tip.”

The NAACP is planning a march against violence April 27.