2 years after killings, neighborhood action makes for safer South Butler Tarkington

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- In the late summer and early fall of 2015 the community of South Butler Tarkington echoed with the squeals of police sirens as IMPD was called to investigate four murders, one of them involving a 10-year-old boy.

Now, two years after the unsolved killing of Deshaun Swanson, the sounds of sirens have been replaced by the squeals of playing children at renovated Tarkington Park at East 40th and North Illinois Streets as neighbors, police and the city joined forces to take back the community.

“When you have your elderly citizens not wanting to come out and interact with the young people, then you got something wrong,” said longtime resident Fred Richardson as he recalls the violent days of 2015, “because in the black community elderly people aren’t sacred of anyone.”

Neighbors realized they had to save themselves, said IPS teacher Damon Lee, in order to bring peace to the streets and outside support to their struggle.

“As a homeowner and father, nobody’s gonna look after myself and my family and children or my neighbors better than I can do it,” said Lee. “We live here 24/7 so I thought it was just a chance for the men and women to step up and take their neighborhood back.”

Lee said the recently reorganized and reopened Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center served as a rallying point for meetings and programs which included homeowners from the wealthier neighborhoods near Butler University.

A makeover at Tarkington Park including a splash park and stepped up patrols and investigations by IMPD and federal agents brought a sense of calm to the community and ridded the area of warring gangs.

“Basically we’re watching out for these children and not be afraid for these kids playing out in their own yard and even on the sidewalk,” said Clarence Havvard, whose adult son Wade was shot to death in August 2015. “This atmosphere is different with the park. You have children coming from all different areas and there has been a little bit of violence up here but now you have a park ranger here, it's more peaceful.”

Residents said the key to rescuing South BT was convincing neighbors to talk with one another and share information.

“We had to start understanding that you’re responsible for the neighbor in front of you and in back of you, to the right and left of you and you need to at least know their names, who they are, who’s in their home, how many teenagers do they have,” said Richardson, known throughout the area for his dog training skills. “There’s a thing about ‘neighborhood’ and we dropped the ‘neighbor’ and now it's just ‘hood.’ Well, we put the ‘neighbor’ back in the ‘hood.’”

Mayor Joe Hogsett, who walked the streets of Butler Tarkington two years ago as a candidate, returned to the MLK Center recently to hand out paychecks to teenagers who had spent the summer cleaning up their neighborhood.

“That’s the biggest way to deter crime. A paycheck,” said Richardson. “If you want to take someone and turn them away from crime, give them a decent job.”

South BT, while more peaceful, is not totally crime free as a recent shooting in the park proved.

Before his death, Deshaun Swanson was a member of the Indy Steelers youth football team.

On Oct. 15, Deshaun’s teammates will play a game at Butler Bowl in his memory.