INDIANAPOLIS — When Harold Lee was gunned down outside his mother’s home in south Butler Tarkington last month, Damon Lee had an idea why his brother died.
“If somebody killed my brother for retaliation, that’s when things go around, and that person will probably be retaliated at too,” said Lee. “If you live by the gun, you will die by the gun.”
When Jamarion Bledsoe and Jonathan Ramirez were shot to death at Blackburn Terrace on November 28, an IMPD detective reported the teenagers died in a retaliation shootout over an earlier attack.
“Whoever they were going to retaliate against found them first and started shooting and that everyone in his group shot back,” wrote the detective, quoting one of the participants in a probable cause affidavit.
In an attempt to curb retaliation shootings, the City of Indianapolis is set to invest $400,000 in 2021 crime prevention grants into a program to pay stipends to those involved in violence and to hire six so-called interrupters to meet those people face-to-face and talk them out of taking an eye-for-an-eye in revenge.
“We certainly had some where we realized, ‘Hey, there just was a shooting a couple hours ago, and this violence stems from that violence,’” said IMPD Deputy Chief Craig McCartt. “We look at networks of people, and we see if we can look at a shooting, and we start digging into their group, and then we find that they have a feud with this other group, and maybe those exact same people aren’t involved in those subsequent shootings, but some of the people out in their web of people in their group started getting involved and shooting each other.”
Indianapolis’ 2020 homicide total is approaching 230, one third higher than last year’s final tally, which was nearly an annual record.
“We will have people who will do social media interruptions when you see people posting these videos and pictures with the guns and drugs and all of that. Those instances can lead to violent interactions,” said Shonna Majors, director of community violence reduction for Mayor Hogsett.“If there’s a top 50, we definitely want to have at least 30-40 of those people engaged in those services and have interruptions occur, beefs squashed. I’ve seen it happen, and its very useful.”
Majors said many of those involved in violence are facing a variety of crises that may drive them to reckless and violent behavior.
“We have started a fellowship program that will engage the highest at risk in our city with the use of stipends to transition them into more safe lifestyles,” said Majors, who indicated recipients will receive cash to pay for housing, food, transportation or job assistance to reduce their level of risk.
“And then really trying to connect and have a tighter connection to services, whether that’s counseling, trauma-informed care, a job, whatever that looks like, it will be individualized to each person.”
Majors said violence interrupters will be hired by the City’s partner, the Indy Public Safety Foundation, which is not prohibited from employing ex-felons as neighborhood outreach employees.
“Through this project we will be able to hire guys with those backgrounds that have that credibility,” she said, “and be able to reach where, quite frankly, we can’t.”
The Gun Violence Reduction Strategy grant is the largest of its kind ever awarded during the annual funding of crime reduction grants, which are a result of revenues raised by the county option income tax.
This round of grants is marked departure from the past to heavily fund one large targeted program as opposed to spreading modest financial support among several smaller organizations.
“We’re becoming more targeted, more focused and trying to put more funding behind these efforts,” said Majors. “We will be keeping track of how many interruptions and interventions we do, what types of interruptions and interventions we’re doing, I’m gonna look at what services are effective, what intervention that took place that changed something.
“I’m gonna look at our most hot areas in the city as far as the action. Those are the areas that have the most room for opportunity to get in there and infuse resources into those areas,” said Majors. “So looking just in those areas that are targeted, we want to see crime levels go down in those areas specifically, so it’s not gonna be like this huge net cast out on the city. It’s gonna be very intentional and very targeted in specific areas.”
Majors expects the first interrupters to go to work and the first stipends to be handed out in January.
The mayor’s office previously handed out $75,000 grants to four organizations tackling violence reduction programs, while City-County Councilors will soon allocate approximately $1.3 million in targeted spending in Council districts in an attempt to reduce violence.