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Frank Gray

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Lessons of violence too often unshared

Saturday afternoon, a group of people gathered at the Rousseau Centre, which is the old City-County Building, and chanted “We say no” during a rally against violence, which has killed well in excess of 500 in Fort Wayne since the early ’90s.

A few hours later, a couple of groups of men got into an argument down on Winter Street, and someone pulled a gun and started shooting. One person was shot, but he wasn’t killed. Add up the number of people who have been shot in the last 20 years and you’ll probably get a huge number.

Just last week, the newspaper looked at the number of killings that had occurred in 2012 – 29 at the time – and noted that only three people had been charged in any of those killings.

The problem, police pointed out in that story, was that witnesses aren’t willing to cooperate with police.

At the rally Saturday, some people said the same thing. People look the other way.

In some areas, there’s a lot of pressure to do that.

Around Fort Wayne, some people actually wore “Don’t Snitch” T-shirts, though I haven’t seen one in a while. Online, though, you can still buy those T-shirts – and bags and coffee mugs and hats and teddy bears.

Talking to the police can get some people in trouble with the wrong people. Just look at the events of a few months ago, when gunmen shot up a car and an ambulance carrying a man they had cut up with a beer bottle a little while before. One of the men gave up to police and offered an account of what happened. He, as far as I know, is still in hiding.

I’ve talked to people who have had family members gunned down in the street, who will tell you that any number of people saw exactly what happened and that they knew exactly who did it, but witnesses won’t come forward.

One woman told me that people are afraid. There are bad people out there who will try to eliminate witnesses. They’re killers.

Curiously, I got a call from a guy named Foundation One, who’s been trying for years now to talk kids into thinking first, and about getting an education and establishing a career. Lately he’s been speaking to classes at area schools.

It’s all about early education, he said.

“Everything they idolize, I show them where it’s dark,” he said.

He shows them lists of people killed in the last few years and shows them letters from people serving life in prison. Occasionally, he said, one of the students in one of the classes he speaks to will have a father who is on that list of homicide victims.

Foundation One, though, is speaking to students in seventh and eighth grade. Is that early enough? I asked him.

No, he said, it’s not early enough.

The problem is that parents are often too young to teach their children lessons. Foundation One says he asks people what lessons they have to teach their children, and they have none, often because they never had fathers to teach them lessons.

They’re letting the streets do the teaching.

The key, it seems, is teaching lessons early.

But what is the lesson that needs to be taught, and who will teach it?

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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