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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 04, 2016 10:03 pm

Pastor feels homicide's pain

Jeff Wiehe | The Journal Gazette

Like many other teenagers, he didn’t come to church every Sunday. 

But Porter La’Shon Billians was drawn at least somewhat to the ­Imani Baptist Temple, where he once heard the senior pastor there quote Tupac Shakur during a sermon. Later, toward the tail end of 2015, that very same senior pastor would deliver Billians’ eulogy during his funeral after someone gunned down the 19-year-old and left him in an abandoned home.

The Rev. Bill McGill has spent a lot of years speaking out on issues relating to violence in the city, but Billians was the first member of his congregation who became a victim of that violence. 

"It was different, there’s just no two ways about it," McGill said of the eulogy he gave for the teen. "It was a different moment for me. Showed me none of us are exempt."

Indiana made a splash in headlines and online during the last few days after a report released by the anti-gun Violence Policy Center showed the state had the highest rate of black homicide victims in the country, with blacks being killed in homicides here at a rate of just over 34 per 100,000 people. 

In Missouri, which ranked No. 2 in the report, blacks were killed in homicides at a rate of 30 per 100,000 people.

The report used data from 2013, a year in which Fort Wayne had a record number of homicides, and found that more than 6,000 blacks died from homicide throughout the country at a national rate of just over 16 per 100,000 people.

In Indiana, a total of 213 black people died from homicide that year, according to the report.

The study also found the use of a gun as the most common method in these homicides.

"In America, black men and women face a disproportionate risk of being murdered, a fact both alarming and unacceptable," Josh Sugarmann, the Violence Policy Center’s executive director, said in a statement. "We hope our research will not only help educate the public and policymakers, but aid those national, state, and community leaders who are already working to end this grave injustice."

It’s unclear whether using 2013 data – the most current available from the FBI for the study – skewed the results due to Fort Wayne’s record-breaking 45 homicides that year. Although Indi­anapo­lis did not set a record, homicides were on the rise that year as well, with more than 120 in 2013.

There was a sharp decrease in homicides in Fort Wayne in 2014, but most of the victims, just as in 2013, were black.  

"It was a dark day then," McGill said. "But of course, we’ve had simply a lot more community peace put into play. Our law enforcement and our residents had a real wake-up call, and the level of cooperation has increased, if you’re looking at a positive coming out of a negative."

The report also found that in cases where a relationship between the killer and deceased could be found, 76 percent of the time the victim knew the killer. Twenty-two victims were killed by strangers, according to the report. But in more than 100 of those cases, no relationship between the killer and victim has been found – meaning there are cases that have no arrests and no conclusion. 

Like that of Porter La’Shon Billians, whose death remains unsolved. 

One that brought the violence McGill spoke out about home. 

"It showed no matter how involved or engaged a congregation or community is, it can happen anywhere at any time, under any circum­stances," McGill said of Billians death. "On any given day, you’re going to have to be prepared."