IN Focus: Mayoral candidates square off on debate stage

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INDIANAPOLIS - The African American Coalition of Indianapolis invited both Republican mayoral candidate State Senator Jim Merritt and the incumbent mayor, Democrat Joe Hogsett, to Arsenal Tech High School to have a debate Monday on issues facing the black community.

One of the key issues was violence.

“It's obvious we have a problem in Indianapolis," Merritt said in response to a question about black homicides. "Almost an epidemic of murder.”

“Homicides have gone up in Indianapolis unfortunately for every year since 2012,” Hogsett said during his response.

According to IMPD numbers, over 70% of Indianapolis homicide victims were African American. Those in attendance say something needs to change.

“One of the biggest issues, and I didn't realize this was happening, is crime in our community and especially the shooting with our young people,” said Carrie Harris. "We've got to get in touch with parents who have children in our community, and figure out what’s going on in these homes.”

"I think gun violence and education, and there’s also income disparities in our African American communities,” said Derrick Slack.  "You segregate communities, put them in one area, and they fight for resources. You solve the resource issue by giving them opportunities, getting them jobs."

Both Hogsett and Merritt say they have solutions that could help the issue. Merritt said he will have a change in leadership at IMPD, and Hogsett says increasing officer pay and increasing the number of officers will make a difference. He also said that he believes this year we will see a decrease in homicides.

“We also need top leadership at IMPD," Merritt said during his response. "I’ll have a public safety director who’s also a deputy mayor and Bill Benjamin as Chief of Police.”

“At the end of this year we’ll have 150 net increase of IMPD officers which will allow us to return to a community-based beat oriented policing system,” Hogsett said.

As important as the voices are on stage, the voices in the community are what matter come election time. These voters in the crowd hope their voices are heard.

"I'm just quite interested still in understanding what they're gonna do for the African American community," Harris said. "They talked about a lot of issues, but nothing of how to really solve them.”

"Historically, in this country and traditionally in this country, this is the community that gets lost. This is the community that everyone panders to, but nobody focuses on," Slack said of the black community. "Here in Indianapolis, this community has not been focused on in this way so I think this is historic in one sense, but it needs to be more and deeper."

Hogsett, Merritt and libertarian candidate Douglas McNaughton will meet next Monday night for another mayoral debate which will air live on FOX59 at 7 p.m.

See more of our interviews with the candidates in the video below, and reaction to the controversy over Merritt's new campaign web site which began to make news after our interview with Sen. Merritt was recorded on Wednesday:

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