Residents implored to help take back Steel City

2013-07-31T21:00:00Z 2013-08-01T14:16:05Z Residents implored to help take back Steel CityChristine Kraly christine.kraly@nwi.com, (219) 933-4195 nwitimes.com

GARY | Brown lawns. No park swing sets. Rusted, dormant train cars. It's hard to fight for your city when it looks dead. 

That is the sentiment of Brianna Johnson, a rare young face at a Wednesday meeting of Gary's public safety committee.

Johnson, a 21-year-old biology major at Indiana University Northwest who grew up in the Steel City, joined local police and residents to discuss the city's recent rash of homicides.

"There's no peace or harmony," said Johnson, the oldest of five siblings, all raised in Gary.

And there won't be, leaders and residents agreed, if residents don't do their part.

The city recorded its 33rd homicide Tuesday morning. Homicides are up by 48 percent from this time last year. In the last few weeks, Gary police have begun collaborating more with local and federal agencies to devise solutions.

But police can only do so much, council members said, if they can't get witnesses to speak.

"Gary is not a place of stranger crime," Councilwoman Kim Robinson said. "People know."

And it's time for them to start telling, said Roy Pratt, councilman and chairman of the public safety committee.

"You know what's happening down the street," Pratt said. "You can't be behind those doors and afraid. Turn them in."

Bishop Norman Hairston has presided over 16 of the city's 33 funerals so far this year. He will oversee his 17th this weekend.

"I really believe we have lost the hope of human compassion," said Hairston, pastor of Zion Progressive Cathedral International.

Getting that hope back, Hairston said, means getting young people to appreciate the value of life. To Johnson, it requires giving them something to do.

"These kids are angry," Johnson said. "We used to climb trees ... walk to the candy store. I can't even drive to the gas station (now)."

Young people need activities and job opportunities, Police Chief Wade Ingram said. Ingram urged council members to focus on ways to boost the city's economy and said he is hoping to hire as many as 11 officers in the next few weeks.

Gov. Mike Pence's office is reviewing a request from Gary to send officers to help man the city for 90 days.

In an interview Wednesday on Lakeshore Public Radio, Ingram said he is concerned about street-level crime and maintaining a uniform presence in neighborhoods, beyond a trooper surge.

"Even if they do come in, at some point, they're going to leave," Ingram said. "I'm focusing mostly on sustainability. What can I do, say they come in, once they leave?"

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