The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 09, 2019 1:00 am


United effort to better life for black men

Though there seems to have been a lot of high-profile crime news lately, the number of homicides, year over year, has dropped. At this point in 2018, 19 homicides had occurred; as of Friday, there had been 11 in 2019.

Most of these tragedies involved guns, and year after year, the victims of homicide are most often black males. While that tends to be true across the nation, the disparity between the size of the African American population and the number of homicide victims within that group is especially wide in Indiana.

Analysis of 2016 FBI statistics by the Violence Policy Center found the state has the fifth-highest rate of black homicide victimization in the nation. The 31.93 per 100,000 rate, the center reported, is “more than one and a half times the national black homicide victimization rate and six times the overall homicide rate nationwide.” This is not a fluke: The relative number of black homicide victims has placed Indiana within the top 10 states every year since the center began analyzing homicide data in 2007.

“These deaths devastate families, traumatize communities and should provoke an outcry for change,” said a statement by the violence center's executive director, Josh Sugarmann.

Why the victimization rate is higher in Indiana doesn't seem clear. But Iric Headley, whose Fort Wayne United focuses on preventing young black males from becoming perpetrators or victims, knows the national toll is far too high. “We should not be 7% of the population and 75 to 80% of the homicides,” Headley said Thursday.

“When as a society we get comfortable with individuals being shot and their lives being snuffed out because of conflict, because of gangs, because of drugs, because of the clothes that they have on, it really shows a societal problem,” he said. The questions become not only what kind of problems and pressures are causing the violence, but how those not so directly affected respond.

“I'm encouraged today that we have a community at large that says, this issue means something to us,” Headley said. Started by the city four years ago, Fort Wayne United employs a range of violence-prevention strategies, including training sessions, mentoring with at-risk youths and open basketball nights to connect and build trust with such youths. Last fall, specially trained workers with United's Ten Point Coalition began walking each night through the streets of southeast Fort Wayne's Oxford neighborhood, which has had particularly acute problems with violent crime.

The organization is part of a growing local anti-violence coalition that includes the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, the YMCA, the Euell A. Wilson Center and 21 urban and suburban churches.

“We're working together,” Headley said. “We're focused on the same things and even have the same goals” as they reach out to young black males and other at-risk young people. “It's about relationships, and resources: training, jobs, mental health services.”

Fewer homicides this year and early indications the Ten Point Coalition is having an impact offer rays of hope. Continuing improvements such as the expanded resources of the new Boys & Girls Club headquarters will help as well. 

The violence center's report suggests Indiana cities must work especially hard to break the patterns that create special risks for black men, but it could also mean the payoff will be safer communities for all of us.

Statistics are not destiny. At least, they don't have to be.

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