Sunday night, March 30, 26-year-old Anthony Botello Perez died of a gunshot wound at Deer Creeke Apartments, just outside the Elkhart city limits. The coroner ruled Perez’s death a homicide.
Three days later, Mayor Dick Moore used about 950 words of his 7,700-word State of the City address to discuss crime.
An elected city leader finally acknowledged that after six homicides in 2013, two so far this year and one last week at Elkhart’s doorstep, we can do more to reduce violence.
Moore clearly feels the loss of every innocent life over the last 15 months. It comes out in a long passage from his Wednesday speech:
“There is no magic wand we can wave that will end violent crimes. We cannot position a police officer on every street corner or in everyone’s backyard or living room. I have said it before: Violent crime statistics will go down only when our hearts start talking to our minds. Society must begin to understand the thoughts and the words of those who march in solidarity, with those who conduct vigils and candlelight ceremonies. We have to see Elkhart as one Elkhart and all people as one people living in peace and harmony and without fear of each other. Please allow me this quote from the Mayor of Columbia South Carolina who said, ‘The answer is civility, rules not of courtesy or etiquette but rather of citizenship: making the commitment to respect each other as citizens if not as individuals and putting the common good before our personal ambitions. It’s about recognizing that whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together, and building our collective future is more important than winning an argument.’”
The mayor he quotes, Columbia’s Steve Benjamin, wasn’t addressing violence. He made his remarks in a column calling for civil discourse. Moore sees shared respect for human life as a crime-fighting tool.
Perhaps, but civility wouldn’t have stopped the bullets that killed 18-year-old Devonte Patrick in December or Braxton Barhams, 16, in June. Building a culture of peace, love and understanding takes time, and Moore offers no ideas on how we should proceed.
Yet he does seem to grasp that if we intend to reduce violent crime, the effort must involve a partnership between police and the city’s neighborhoods.
“We can’t talk the talk,” Moore said Wednesday. “Our police department must walk the walk. What they tell me is that they need help. The end to violent crime in this community will only come with help from the community. We need more neighborhood associations willing to get involved putting more eyes and ears on the job."
That, along with Moore’s policy of increasing police patrols, expanding training and investing in modern technology, offers us the best chance to start saving lives quickly.
No one ever argued that Moore ignores crime. But when the city started the year in the national spotlight because of a pair of murders in a Martin’s Super Market, we could no longer practice politics as usual; someone in city hall needed to acknowledge that the city had been badly scarred by violent crime in the past year, that too many innocent lives had been lost and that as a community, we must do more to end the bloodshed.
Organizations like My Hood Needz Me and LaCasa Inc. responded instinctively, cleaning up neighborhoods and expanding educational programs for at-risk youth. But no one emerged to speak for the entire city. No one in city hall publicly acknowledged a problem.
That’s why we elect a mayor and a city council — to articulate the challenges we face and rally us as a community.
In his State of the City address, Moore finally stepped forward to lead a discussion on the bloodshed we’ve experienced for 15 months. Now he needs to keep the issue alive until the community joins as one to reduce violent crime.