After six homicides and far too many shootings in 2013, Elkhart started the year with more violence.
And it has continued.
As a community, we need to organize to address violence in our community now, before the body count begins to climb.
No one can forget what happened the night of Jan. 15, when a gunman walked through a Martin’s Super Market and killed two women — Krystle Dikes, a 20-year-old store employee, and Rachelle Godfread, 44. Police shot and killed the gunman before he could murder the store manager.
But just a few days later, police arrested 19-year-old Thomas Harper in connection with a double shooting near a convenience store west of downtown Elkhart. The victims survived.
A fight outside another convenience store in south Elkhart sent a 25-year-old man to the hospital Thursday night with a bullet wound. The shop sits at a busy intersection, Benham and Hively, and just down the street from a Kroger grocery store.
We’re lucky that a stray bullet didn’t increase this year’s homicide total to three.
In response to the June murder of Braxton Barhams, 16, Jermaine Sanders formed My Hood Needz Me. Its young members marched in September, standing up against gun violence and gangs.
Robert Taylor organized an August rally at the Roosevelt Center to show young people they need not turn to violence, and LaCasa Inc. led a pair of efforts to clean up a couple of neighborhoods near downtown Elkhart.
Kathy Skinner lives on one of those blocks — an area where police make drug arrests and residents often hear gunfire.
“It’s a rough neighborhood,” Skinner told an Elkhart Truth reporter in June. “But if you don’t know your neighbors, who’s going to help you?”
Exactly. And if you know your neighbors, you can begin to take back your city.
City government supported LaCasa’s “Rock the Block” events in 2013. So did local businesses.
The initiative needs to return for 2014. And when it does, the entire city needs to turn out — because this is not just about a neighborhood, it’s about a city and its safety.
Sanders and Taylor need our support. So does Jason Moreno, the LaCasa community organizer who launched a youth basketball league last summer at the Roosevelt Center, just a few minutes away from where Barhams died in June and somebody gunned down 18-year-old Devonte Patrick just before Christmas.
Ballers to Scholars assists high school students with their coursework — or, if they’re not enrolled, helps them pursue GEDs.
“Every time a child dies, it creates a sense of urgency. I just hope this time, people will start latching on to the alternative programming that we’re offering,” Moreno told a Truth reporter.
Finally, we can no longer allow Elkhart’s elected officials to ignore the city’s violence. If there is a single issue that should unite Mayor Dick Moore and the city council, it’s public safety.
If we need to expand neighborhood policing efforts, begin today, before warm weather returns. If we need to improve access to mental health programs, start building it into the budget now.
No single entity can organize a community’s efforts to reduce violence as effectively the mayor’s office. Assert your leadership, Mayor Moore. Support him, council Republicans.
Because this year’s death toll already stands at two and the bullets are starting to fly. As a community, we must act now to prevent a repeat of 2013.