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After string of shootings, Gary leaders say gun violence solution lies beyond police

screenshot from Gary Common Council Facebook video
Local and regional leaders discuss the issue of gun violence during a meeting of the Gary City Council's Public Safety Committee on July 13.

Gary leaders are planning their response to the city's gun violence. A gas station, nightclub, high school graduation ceremony and a 4th of July block party have all been scenes of shootings in recent months.

During a community meeting hosted by the city council's public safety committee Wednesday, Gary Police Chief Brian Evans said there's an epidemic of violence, both locally and nationally. "We have to get to these individuals before they get to us, and I don't know if you've noticed it, but they're younger and younger," Evans said.

This comes as the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly recently removed the permit requirement to carry a handgun in public. While the effects on gun violence remain to be seen, State Senator Eddie Melton (D-Gary) said he's asking the governor for extra support.

"If they're going to pass gun laws that's going to be negatively impact communities of color and low income, there should be an investment on the back end, knowing that there's going to be repercussions when that happens, making sure that there's enough support for untreated trauma," Melton said.

The Gary Police Department has already been upgrading its equipment. License plate readers are helping officers find suspected criminals, and the new Operation Safe Zone program will make it easier for homes and businesses to share security camera footage with police.

But many leaders felt the problem can't be solved by police alone. Gary Fraternal Order of Police President Greg Wolf said many witnesses and even victims are afraid to share information with officers.

"I would say that almost 90 percent of the cases I investigated, I knew what happened. Probably 70 percent or better of the time, I knew who did it. But I couldn't prove it. I couldn't prove it because I couldn't get nothing to corroborate anything," Wolf said during Wednesday's meeting.

But Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said the main culprits in the cycle of violence are parents and a lack of a supportive family structure. "We have to focus on that family unit! We have to focus on principles. 'Why can't you get married? Why can't you marry that young lady?' That's what I ask some of these young kids. 'You know, you got her pregnant. Why don't you marry her?' 'Aw man, I don't like her. I was just messing around with her, and she got pregnant on her own.' Stupid stuff like that! What happens to that child?" Carter asked.

A new ordinance in neighboring Hammond that outlaws discharging a firearm in the city also has provisions to hold parents accountable for gun offenses committed by minors. Council member Cozey Weatherspoon suggested reviewing Gary's ordinances, to consider similar adjustments.

Council President William Godwin felt that schools have to fill in the gap, when children aren't getting the support they need from their families. He also said residents who've experienced the trauma of gun violence shouldn't be afraid to seek mental health services.

"Too often in our community, we look down on mental health. We think it's for crazy people. We think it's for white folks. We don't think it's for Black people. All of us need to have our mental health checked. All of us need therapy and counseling. It is not a white thing, a European thing. It's a human thing," Godwin said.

Anyone with information about a crime can report it to Gary police with the anonymous tip line 866-CRIME-GP.