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More than 100 community members, along with officials from Indianapolis
Public Schools, city and state leaders and local law enforcement gathered at Pacers
Square inside Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday afternoon for the National Public Safety Forum: Challenges
& Solutions for Today’s Youth
.

 

It was the second in a series of community conversations on
youths and youth violence spearheaded by IPS. The first was held in April at
New Era Church.

 

Wednesday’s candid conversation focused not just on youth
violence but other issues young people face, including a deficiency in education
and other basic needs.

 

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Troy Riggs
said youths are plagued by: 
  • An
    increase in victimization and violence
    . (Indianapolis has seen an increase
    in the number of homicide victims and suspects under 18 years old during the
    last four years).
  • Mental
    health issues
    . (Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death in Marion
    County and depression is double the national indicators).
  • High
    prevalence of youth poverty and hunger.
    (“One in three Indianapolis
    children are born into poverty,” said Mayor Joe Hogsett.)

 

“When we have had community conversations with our youth, we
have heard four key messages from them over and over again,” said Riggs. “‘No
one loves me. No one cares about my future. They are hungry when school is not
in session and they are concerned about their interactions with police. We need
to change that.”

 

“We owe it to the
children of this community to reject a spirit of hopelessness, and instead seek
solutions that will assure a stronger, safer Indianapolis for all,” said Mayor Hogsett.

 

The goal of the forum was to advance the conversation and to
build relationships between community leaders, schools, parents/caretakers and
IMPD to reduce violence and provide our youth with safe neighborhoods and a
better quality of life.

 

Recommendations included increased gang intervention
programs, opportunities for youth employment and providing mental health
services to support students. Some programs are already in existence through help
from community partners, while others will need to be implemented.

 

Jamal Smith, IPS Athletic Director, also pointed to the positive
impact that sports can have in deterring youths from crime. He cited a program
that included an academic expectations agreement, which mandated respect for
peers, parent involvement, community service and respect on social media.

 

“Coming together as
a community to support our young people is vital to the health of our city, and
Indianapolis Public Schools is proud to be part of this solution-driven
initiative,” said IPS Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee. “Our community
leaders and organizations all want to see our young citizens thrive, and we
look forward to continuing this engaging and empowering conversation.”

 

The community forums on youth and youth violence were
conceived following a blog post by
Dr. Ferebee in January, in which he wrote about learning of a double shooting
that killed one student and injured another. Since that blog, Dr. Ferebee has
been strategizing with community leaders to create better opportunities for
students that might help them thrive and feel safe.

 

Tragically, Dr. Ferebee recently received more heart-wrenching
news. “Over the weekend, a 10-year-old shot himself in an alley,” said Ferebee
during the forum. “Why was this child unsupervised? Why did this occur?”

 

During the past four years, Dena Carson, assistant professor
at IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the city has seen an
increase in concern surrounding the number of homicide victims and suspects under
18 years old.

 

“These conversations, these forums, are an important first step to alleviating those
concerns,” said Carson. “Law enforcement, the public school systems, and
researchers can play an important role in addressing youth violence in our
city, but we must first build stronger ties to the communities that are being
disproportionally impacted.”  

 

The National Public Safety Forum: Challenges
& Solutions for Today’s Youth
was
sponsored by the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI and the IU
Public Policy Institute. IMPD, IPS, Indy Public Safety Foundation, Eli Lilly and
Company Foundation and the Central Indiana Community Foundation also lent their
support to this important initiative.
 

The goal is to
continue the national dialogue surrounding issues of importance to communities.
Planning for additional forums is underway.