FORT WAYNE – It was a string of shootings in March – five deaths in one week – that prompted a group of city residents and community leaders to start thinking of ways to end such violence.
The group, dubbed Building Bridges to a Better Community, met several times during the spring and summer to develop a plan that was unveiled Thursday night at a meeting at the Fort Wayne Urban League.
“It's calling for a transformational change, not just the same old thing that we've done before,” Urban League President and CEO Jonathan Ray said of the 33-page plan, which emphasizes that curtailing violence will require efforts from not just the police.
“A successful attempt at reducing crime will come when a large section of the community is involved,” the plan's preamble states.
The plan makes several recommendations on how to strengthen relationships between residents and local institutions, like the Fort Wayne Police Department. For instance, the plan asks police to keep witnesses of crime, those who come forward to speak with investigators, better informed of the outcomes of cases. This will let those witnesses know that their actions have helped the community, Ray said.
The plan also seeks to fix problems, like unemployment, that lead to violence. It aims to improve preschool education and create more opportunities to receive GED certificates and train for better jobs.
Ray said the plan, which will be available soon on the Fort Wayne Urban League's website, will be presented to the mayor, City Council members, the region's state legislators and Indiana's congressional delegation.
“We can't do it by ourselves. We have to empower people, and we have to engage others,” he said.
The group's first meeting in March drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 300. Subsequent meetings also had strong turnouts, but only about 20 people attended Thursday's meeting. While this frustrated Ray, he remained optimistic.
“Don't believe the hype that things don't change,” he said. “We can make a change.”
One of those in attendance was Asmar Nuriddin, a retired GM worker. Nuriddin, 66, said he had gone to several of the meetings and felt compelled to show up Thursday.
“I know a lot of black men and retirees are available and can make some adjustments to the problems, to help young people out … by just showing their presence in the community,” he said.
After the meeting, Marsha Brooks, a Fort Wayne native, sat with a friend and recalled a more peaceful era in the city.
“We can remember when there wasn't any gunshots ever,” the 58-year-old said. “You might have a little fistfight, but when it was done, it was over.”
This year, 31 deaths in Fort Wayne and Allen County have been ruled homicides, one more than last year and an eight-year high.