Dionell Hill did something Monday night few of us have the patience to endure — he sat through an Elkhart City Council meeting. But he had something that he wanted to say, so he waited.
When the chair finally acknowledged Hill, this is what he said:
“It is my concern, and I feel I am obligated to speak for these children because, actually, the community is tired of the violence that’s going on. We’re tired of our kids dying in the streets. We’re wondering if there is some help that we can get here on the south side from the common council or whoever …”
Dionell Hill stood up for his family, his friends and his neighborhood. He refused to let elected city officials ignore the violence he sees on the south side of Elkhart.
Firmly and respectfully, he held our leaders accountable.
“These children” Hill mentioned include his three sons, ages 7, 10 and 12. He's raising them with his wife, Roberta, on West Indiana Avenue, not far from Roberta's family.
They include Kristyana Jackson, Braxton Barhams and Devonte Patrick — 7, 16 and 18, respectively — all shot to death in Elkhart since the summer of 2012. He knew all of them, or their families.
And they also include the children he sees at the Tolson Center, where he works as a monitor and mentor.
Many of the kids who visit Tolson live at Washington Gardens, a government-subsidized apartment complex south of downtown Elkhart. Children often tell Hill that they couldn’t play outside last night because they’d been warned of a shooting.
It’s no idle gossip. Hill informed council members Monday that he’d heard about two recent gun-related incidents in the Washington Gardens neighborhood.
He also told them that the city had discontinued a police patrol at Washington Gardens. Dan Spalding, an Elkhart Truth reporter who covered Monday night’s meeting, said Hill’s news “seemed to catch council members off guard.”
That’s troubling, to say the least.
The Washington Garden patrols ended in January, when the Elkhart Housing Authority learned that it could not use specific federal funds to pay off-duty police.
After the meeting, Spalding asked Mayor Dick Moore about the discontinued patrols. Moore said Elkhart police cover Washington Gardens like any other part of the city.
If the Housing Authority wants to provide additional patrols, Moore said, that’s up to director Kim Sindle.
Don’t believe it. No one at City Hall does anything without Moore’s approval.
In his State of the City address less than two months ago, Moore said neighborhoods needed to help in the fight against crime.
“We can’t talk the talk,” Moore said April 2. “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."
A valid point. But a few weeks later, Dionell Hill reaches out to the city on behalf of his neighborhood and Moore says, essentially, “Not my problem.”
Council members did not seem to know that the Moore administration had ended extra patrols at Washington Gardens. Either the mayor’s officer never communicated the information or council members weren't paying attention.
Either way, city government failed a troubled neighborhood.
Hill, the 29-year-old father of three young boys, thinks he’s seen an increase in police patrols since taking his case to the council. By reaching out to the city, perhaps he made Washington Gardens a safer place.
But that’s just a start, as Hill recognizes.
“It’s not just Washington Gardens," he told Spalding. "You got the old Roosevelt. You got the whole south side that needs that type of protection."
That won’t happen until others like Hill begin to stand up for their children, their neighborhoods, their community. And when they do, City Hall needs to pay attention.
We all do.