GARY — In an effort to curb gun violence in the city, Attorney General Curtis Hill joined faith leaders and local officials Friday to kick off a new chapter of an anti-crime initiative with a track record of reducing crime in Indianapolis.
“The sad reality is that far too many of our children are getting killed on a daily basis by gun violence,” Hill said during a news conference outside the First Tabernacle Baptist Church in Gary.
He said the newly founded Gary TenPoint Coalition is receiving a $50,000 startup grant from the Indiana Drug Enforcement Administration. The Office of the Attorney General provided IDEA with $500,000 in grant money towards the coalition’s operations.
Hill was joined by several others, including the local coalition’s first executive director, the Rev. Dyke Lee, of the First Tabernacle Baptist Church.
"Far too often, young adults, they grow up here and they leave Gary because there's a lack of opportunities in their eyesight,” Lee said. “But we want to put back that vision, that spark, back into their eyes, back in their hearts.”
The TenPoint Coalition focuses on bridging the gap between violent offenders in Gary’s highest crime neighborhoods and faith-based groups, former convicted felons and former gang members through nightly peace walks and patrols throughout the year.
The walks will typically occur when crime is at its highest — at night.
“We understand in order for us to really effectively deal with community restoration that the community has to take leadership in that effort, and that is what the TenPoint Coalition is all about,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said during the news conference.
The $50,000 seed grant will provide stipends to those involved in the nightly walks and patrols, including ex-convicts like Bernard Hawkins who are returning to society.
Hawkins — a reformed convict recently released from federal prison after serving decades for a 1979 double homicide and assaulting U.S. Marshals —was among the handful of ex-convicts who joined officials Friday for the announcement.
He will be walking the city's roughest streets this year as part of the TenPoint Coalition.
“I believe people can change, if I can change. They need to visually see someone who has been in the trenches with them, turn that irrational thinking into rational thinking," he said.
Hawkins' mother died in 2006 while he was behind bars in a federal prison in Florence, Colorado — a game-changer for him, he said.
“Her last two wishes, she said ‘Two things I want you to do when this phone hang up: Go back into the federal penitentiary and make a difference. Second thing was, when you get out of prison this time, find a way to stay out,’” Hawkins said.
Since that time, he sought help with the city of Gary through its “Gary For Jobs” entrepreneurship program. The program gave him the tools and skills needed to become an owner of his own landscaping business and construction company, he said.
An ex-convict, fellow TenPoint Coalition member and one of Hawkins' employees, Sean Buck, said this new program is their way of giving back.
"Gary is home to us," he said.