Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

We have had too many young people die in this city.

We lost Nicholas Nelson and Ashlynn Nelson last week to senseless gun violence. The loss of young people breaks our hearts, but they can leave us feeling helpless.

We have now lost at least 10 high school-aged children to homicide each year for the last three years — and this should break your heart.

I saw a picture on social media of several young Black males, possibly in the late teens or early 20s on “Katie”— weed laced with toxins like bugs spray.  

Drug use is often a sign of the need to escape. What are our young people escaping?

We were warned.

The 2014 Marion County Community Health Assessment told us then that homicides and suicides were leading causes of death for 12-17 year olds in Marion County. Our 18-34 years were experiencing both high levels of depression as well as a high rate of violent death. It even said violent death was a leading cause of death for 35-64 year olds.

The report also notes “homicides rates disproportionately affect Black males, who are six to 13 times more likely to die from homicide than white males.”

The Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Study from 2011 also “found that nearly 1 in 5 high school students carried a gun, knife or other weapon, while 4 in 100 carried such weapons to school.”

At least four students have brought guns to school already this year.

We were warned. We should’ve saw this coming.

Imagine having four or five high school friends violently murdered before graduation. This is a reality for some of our students in Marion County.

We know the problem is real. We also should’ve known it was coming.

Our teachers tried. Our youth works continue to make valiant efforts. Mentors are mentoring.

Nevertheless, our challenges persist.

Some have suggested we are on the precipice of a new normal. Despite the evidence, I refuse to succumb to this fatalism.

And I’m not going to give you answers either because I don’t have them. Sometimes it’s important that we face hard truths and our own sadness.

What I am hearing …

Local media entrepreneur and columnist, Abdul Hakim Shabbaz released the first independent poll covering the municipal elections last week and found some interesting findings for the mayoral election but the real question is going to be voter turnout.

Unsurprisingly, of the Black voters polled, 75% of them said they would vote for Mayor Hogsett — Sen. Jim Merrit still remains unknown to our community and the Indianapolis community at large.

Shabbazz noted some softness in support amongst all voters with only 25% strongly approving of Hogsett and 41% stating that they “definitely” plan on voting in November. These findings support this columnist’s view — Hogsett while likeable, is going to struggle with voter turnout and soft support from our community.

I think there are things that both campaigns can do — like debate on issues impacting our community to drive what has been poor voter turnout in recent municipal elections.

The year 2015 was the lowest municipal election turnout we have had going back to Mayor Goldsmith’s election in 1991. To be fair, we’ve also added over 245,000 registered voters since 1991, which obviously impacts voter turnout percentages.

But we only had 150,447 voters — the second lowest total number of voters in the last seven municipal elections when Hogsett got elected.

An affable mayor boasting a 73% approval rating in the polls, he will need to overcome soft support in our community. The poll found that Black voters were concerned about public safety and gun violence as well as education — all issues that are challenges for our community right now.

But Hogsett is definitely in a better position than Merritt, who is mostly unknown and will need to do more work to have a chance in this blue county. Hogsett more than doubles Merrit in voter preference and only 15% of voters claimed to be undecided in the poll. While Shabazz notes that those polled had a net positive view of Merritt, most of the people polled, or 54% didn’t have an opinion of him.

In an election cycle where the Black vote is critical, both camps should take a page out of the Obama presidency and outline in detail what they have done or plan to do for our community.

Finally, our condolences to the Neely family on the loss of George Neely aka “Chef George.”

When I was on the Super Bowl Host Committee, we were comforted to know that we had someone of his caliber to represent our city on an international stage. He did not disappoint. Chef George passed away — but he will be missed.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at

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