In 2012, Mayor Dick Moore used his State of the City address to propose a bold initiative — a downtown transportation hub. A year later, in the same venue, he defended the city against a grasping General Assembly.
“We have always had too little home rule and after seemingly every state legislative session, home rule continues to diminish,” he warned, correctly.
Moore can be fearless. He can pull a city together, as he did during the Great Recession.
Wednesday night, when he delivers his seventh annual speech, Moore can also — if he chooses — take the lead in the city’s fight to reduce violence.
Elkhart finished 2013 with six homicides. In one case, Jesus Macedo-Perez, 16, killed another 16-year-old, Braxton Barhams, in a drive-by shooting a few minutes away from South Main Street on the biggest night of the Elkhart Jazz Festival.
A few weeks later, two robbers killed Jagtar Bhatti, 55, the owner of Saleh’s Market on the corner of Middlebury and Madison streets. They also murdered 20-year-old Pawan Singh, a clerk at the store.
Dec. 23, in the year’s final homicide, someone gunned down 18-year-old Devonte Patrick near the Prairie Street Mennonite Church. His killer remains at large.
The killing resumed Jan. 15 in a Martin’s Super Market. Investigators say Shawn Bair, 22, went to the store to commit suicide and murdered two strangers — Krystle Dikes, 20, and Rachelle Godfread, 44 — before turning his gun on himself. At the same moment, two heroic police officers, Cpl. Cody Skipper and Cpl. Jason Tripp,opened fire on Bair and ended the bloodshed.
Gunfire in the city’s neighborhoods resumed a few days later. Yet no elected official speaks of the violence that tears at Elkhart. No one in City Hall calls for a comprehensive attempt to reduce the city’s homicide rate or take illegal guns out of the hands of criminals.
Sewers, tax abatements, angled downtown parking — the mayor and city council debate those at length. But when two people die in a robbery at a neighborhood market just east of downtown, when gunfire routinely erupts in residential neighborhoods, when someone kills an 18-year-old man and disappears into a cold winter night, City Hall pretends as if it never happened.
Moore can change that Wednesday. He can take the first steps toward saving innocent lives.
Call for a thorough, aggressive study of Elkhart violence. Commit to reducing the city’s homicide rate.
Don’t allow the city to forget what happened at Martin’s. Put everything on the table.
Authorities believe Bair bought his gun from a friend. Investigate how effectively the city enforces gun laws.
Bair hated society and displayed suicidal tendencies. Begin a discussion of local access to mental health care.
Look at the distribution of violence throughout the city and begin more neighborhood patrols. Project 365, conducted from June 2010 to July 2011, reduced crime and improved the quality of life in the city’s West Central Neighborhood. Perhaps it could help in other parts of Elkhart.
Which, in turn, leads us to acknowledge that violence also includes child abuse, domestic violence, assault, animal cruelty and bullying. If we want a safer Elkhart, we cannot focus exclusively on homicides and shootings.
Jason Moreno, a community organizer for LaCasa Inc., works tirelessly in the Roosevelt neighborhood to keep young people in school and restore a sense of pride in the area. Jermaine Sanders started My Hood Needz Me to help children avoid violence.
But they need more muscle. They need someone at City Hall to issue a call against violence.
Moore should issue that call Wednesday.