ELKHART — A community discussion about violence and other concerns connected to the city’s south side is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 15, at the gymnasium of the Historic Roosevelt Center on Indiana Avenue.
Organizers have been meeting for months and working toward the opportunity for a public discussion, but the meeting has taken on an added meaning following a fight involving a police officer on July 3 on Garfield Avenue, an organizer said Friday.
The officer suffered a broken eye socket in the fight and a Chicago man faces seven charges after being arrested in connection with the fight.
Residents claim police began harassing people in the neighborhood because a crowd that watched the fight did not assist the officer.
Elkhart police officials deny claims of harassment or retaliation.
The fight and resulting tensions have put a spotlight on what was already considered a troubled neighborhood that has seen several violent crimes in the past year or so.
Tuesday’s meeting will likely include representatives of the city, including police, as well as city council members.
Leighton Johnson, a member of Elkhart Community Roundtable, which is organizing the event, said he expects the Garfield Avenue incident to be part of the discussion.
He said the meeting is intended to be much more than a discussion about the July 3 incident and actions that transpired afterward.
“We definitely don’t want the event to be overshadowed by what happened on Garfield,” Johnson said.
Johnson said they will establish ground rules for the meeting and said they hope to avoid “pointing fingers” or blaming people for the circumstances.
“What’s really lacking is community engagement,” Johnson said.
The “Town Hall on Community Safety in Elkhart” was organized with the goal of bringing the Elkhart community together, Johnson said.
Panelists expected to participate include Mitchell Grant, barbershop owner; Regina Roberson, high school guidance counselor and former probation officer; Jason Moreno, community organizer; Adrian Riley, an Elkhart County corrections officer; Clara Hadley, middle and high school social worker and several concerned residents.
The topics could be wide-ranging.
Johnson said organizers plan to span out across the neighborhood Saturday to invite people and conduct a survey.
In addition to neighborhood tensions, Johnson told council members on Monday, July 7 the closing of several convenience stores following a raid for alleged synthetic marijuana last month would also likely be discussed.
According to a news release issued by the group, other topics will look at:
• Ways in which the community can build proactive relationships with law enforcement to preempt youth from engaging in crime.
• Ways to build community and help provide a safer environment for families in this community.
• How to engage community to provide effective educational pipelines in order for children to be successful.
• Economic development and ways to increase the quality of life in this community.
For more information, organizers can be reached at Elkhartcommunityroundtable@gmail.com.