Indianapolis hits grim milestone, surpasses 200 homicides in 2021

Crime in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — With three months to go in the year, the city of Indianapolis marked a grim milestone this weekend as it saw its 200th and 201st homicides of 2021.

On Friday night, a shooting in the area of E. 11th and N. Oxford streets on the near east side left a man dead and a woman injured. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said preliminary information leads investigators to believe the two victims were shot while sitting in a vehicle.

Just before 9:30 a.m. Saturday, IMPD responded to the 500 block of N. Dearborn St., also on the near east side, for a report of a death investigation. Upon arrival, officers found a man inside a vehicle suffering from trauma. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner’s office later identified him as Demarcus Mack, 27.

Reverend Charles Harrison, board president of the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition and senior pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church, has been working on violence reduction efforts in the city for more than two decades. He said he never imagined the day the city would see one year of more than 200 homicides, let alone two back to back.

“I remember when we would panic over 100 homicides and we would work to make sure that we were keeping the criminal homicides under 100,” said Harrison. “2012 was the last year we were under 100 criminal homicides. It’s just hard to believe that in 2021 we are now in the second consecutive year of 200 plus homicides. Just stunning,” said Harrison.

In all of 2020, there were 245 homicides in the city, including 215 criminal homicides. On Sunday night, IMPD said of the 201 homicides reported in 2021, 188 were considered criminal.

“I speak as a pastor to families who have been victims of homicide and I know the pain of it because I’ve had two of my family,” said Harrison. “You never get over it, you know, and I can speak for someone who had a loved one killed nearly 40 years ago and another about 20 years ago.”

For every one homicide, IMPD’s Victim Assistance Unit estimates around 200 people are affected.

“I know the pain these families are experiencing and then you start multiplying it year after year, the number of people that have been killed — a significant number of families in Indianapolis and friends and loved ones have been impacted by the senseless violence that is shattering and breaking families to the core,” said Harrison.

“We as IMPD are just as frustrated as everybody in the city. The thing is that our men and women are out here every single night running towards the gunfire, towards the danger,” said IMPD Night Watch commander, Major Kerry Buckner.

Nationwide and throughout Indiana, police departments are needing to replace retiring officers or veterans that have left the force, but they’re all competing for the same pool of applicants. IMPD is no exception.

“When you start losing personnel and can’t get people to apply for the police department you prioritize what’s important at this time and right now it’s violent crimes,” said Buckner.

Buckner said despite the challenging push for applicants, their officers continue to put in long days and work to solve the homicides and other violent crimes impacting families across Indianapolis. In order to solve these crimes, however, he said they also need the help of the community.

“There’s 1,600 and some change of us and you know almost a million people in the city, there’s absolutely no way that we can be everywhere at all times,” said Buckner.

That’s why Buckner said the community needs to step up and help share information if they see something.

“We have a lot of times where we have a homicide, and we can’t even get a family member that witnessed it to cooperate, and I can’t wrap my head around that,” he added. “If I saw my family members get killed, I definitely would want to help bring that person to justice.”

“Not only that, some of these neighborhoods they’ll all go into their house and not answer the door, so you almost have to go around and leave a card and say, ‘Hey call me later,’” he added.

In addition to the homicide investigations, Buckner said other violent crime, including nonfatal shootings and stabbings, is also keeping officers busy across the city.

“The shootings and the stabbings ought to be as concerning as the homicides are because as long as they are this high, you’re going to see high levels of homicides in the city,” said Harrison. “I was sharing with my congregation today, the level of lawlessness in the city is very concerning.”

“People don’t care how many people they harm or kill, and I think this is what is concerning to a lot of us who are out on the streets and we’re watching this that this is getting worse,” he said. “It’s very concerning now that we’re constantly having these shootings where multiple people are injured, or you may have multiple people killed.”

Harrison said he worries that if people don’t start respecting the value of human life, that these numbers will continue to increase.

“I’m concerned that if we don’t really get a hold of this, we’re not talking about 200 we’re talking about 300 people that are going to be killed in the city in the next few years,” said Harrison. “I think we ought to be concerned now about this, that there seems to be a total disregard for the sanctity of human life.”

“It’s a public safety crisis,” he said.

Buckner said, “We cannot buy our way out of this problem because the problem starts in the living rooms of each and every house in this county and in this city.”

He also said IMPD is continuing to target hot spots across the city with its Violence Reduction Team (VRT) and Violent Crimes Task Force.

“I think we have a good, sound plan at this point where we’re hitting the hot spots. We had one officer witness a murder. It’s not luck if you’re doing all the right things and cutting all the fat out and getting to the meat and you’re saying that we’ll be in this area here,” said Buckner. “We’re doing our best, but I just want to reiterate, we are just a cog in the criminal justice wheel. Once we arrest a criminal, what happens after that is out our of hands, unfortunately.”

“It’s kind of a tough time, we’ll get through it. It took a long time to get here, because I didn’t think we’d think it’d ever be like this and now it’s here and it’s not gonna happen overnight, but we’ve definitely put some things in place to try and combat the violent crimes,” said Buckner.

Harrison said he believes the community needs to focus on a bottom-up approach to engage everyone in violence prevention efforts.

“We have to fix the judicial system in the city. That is a must. I think second, there has to be a bottom-up approach to addressing the issue of urban violence,” said Harrison.

Harrison said, “That means we get neighborhoods involved in it, grassroots organizations, community stakeholders, churches, anti-violence groups like Ten Point and all of us are working together toward one goal: how do we reduce the level of violence in our neighborhood and overall in the city?”

Buckner said he also agrees on the importance of engaging with the faith-based organizations and the community. He said he often gets the question asked: “What’s the answer?”

He continued, “I don’t know the answer and I don’t think anybody really does,” said Buckner. “We can just keep trying to do the right thing.”

“It’s kind of a tough time, we’ll get through it. It took a long time to get here, because I didn’t think we’d think it’d ever be like this and now it’s here and it’s not gonna happen overnight, but we’ve definitely put some things in place to try and combat the violent crimes,” said Buckner.

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