On a dreary Tuesday as raindrops begin to fall, Thomas Allen is not fazed by the weather.
He is simply happy to see the end of high school and the beginning of another summer as he sits in front of his home at an apartment complex near 38th and Sherman Dr.
Allen, 17, seems even more pleased that there is peace in his neighborhood and no gangs are present.
“We don’t see any gangs around here. We have an occasional fight, but it’s not gang related,” Allen said as he sat next to a friend. “I know there’s some gangs in the city, but I don’t think they’re like what they used to be. I see kids who want to be thugs, but it’s not like it probably was back in the day when gang members fought and someone ended up shot or missing.”
Further east, Marcus Douglas enjoys beer outside with a few friends at Amber Woods apartments near 38th and Mitthoeffer Rd. Just two years ago a young woman was shot and killed there by a stray bullet following an altercation at a nearby basketball court.
“That wasn’t really related to gangs, though,” said Douglas, 25. “It’s dry out here now. We used to see G’s and Vice-Lords all the time flashing their colors.”
Douglas’ friends express agreement with him as he points to his shirt and says, “People aren’t getting beat down because they’re wearing the wrong color anymore. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to wear whatever color I want. I ain’t saying there’s no gangs around here, but if they’re here they are being very quiet and not shooting anyone. We have seen some problems with drug activity, so that’s probably what theyíre up to.”
Unfortunately, not every teenager and young adult can report a relative absence of violent gang activity in their neighborhoods. The comments of Allen and Douglas seem to match what local police have generally noticed: Gangs are not as prominent in many neighborhoods, but they are still quietly active.
“I wouldn’t say they are as much of a serious problem as they were in the past, but they’re still out there,” said Sgt. Paul Thompson, a spokesman for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Community leaders and youth advocates are warning residents to work together to keep the level of gang activity from returning to its height in the late 1990s, when Indianapolis experienced a record number of homicides.
Youth advocate Malachi Walker believes the challenge of gang activity must be addressed before the popularity of gangs is revived among at-risk youth trying to make their first paychecks in an economy where the unemployment rate for teens is now at 22 percent.
“The important thing is to give them some positive things to do, especially while they are out for the summer,” said Walker, director of Young Men Inc., which provides camps and programs that develop positive attributes in boys. “If they want to work, we have to help them find positive ways to earn money so they wont be tempted to turn to selling drugs for a quick buck.”
Community activist Byron Alston said violence, whether it is gang related or not, continues to be a significant challenge facing many young Black men and a stronger effort must be made to give them more opportunities to succeed.
“The most hurtful thing to me is to go to a funeral with a room filled with young Black men crying, and see that no one takes the time to address them and (tell) how they can change their lives to prevent them from also ending up in casket,” said Alston, himself a former gang member and leader of Save the Youth, an outreach organization dedicated to stopping violence on city streets.
According to the Indiana Partnership to Prevent Gun and Firearm Violence, Black men make up 68 percent of the gunshot wound victims in Indianapolis, and a majority of the Black men involved in gun crimes are between the ages of 16 and 29.
Alston said that next month, the week before Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration, Save the Youth, the Peace in the Streets Initiative, the Interdenominational Minister’s Alliance and the Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition will hold a breakfast for youth who were previously or are currently involved with gangs to discuss solutions.
Alston believes that in order for gangs to lose influence over youth, individuals and organizations must invest in young people both emotionally and financially while they are still in their developmental stage.
“We’re so tight we won’t even put a basketball court up in these apartment complexes. But the drug dealer comes along, puts up a $90 basketball goal, and the kids love him because he took time to invest in them,” said Alston. “We have to make our youth feel valued and loved. The gangs can get power over them when they give them things to do, and we have to take that power away.”