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Frank Gray

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Crime scene tape marking off a shooting scene has been common in the city this year. Comparisons to 1997, the most violent in Fort Wayne's modern history, yield interesting similarities - and differences.

Lack of leaders a root cause of Fort Wayne's violence

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column lamenting that the city had had 38 homicides so far this year and expressing a degree of amazement that people are willing to gun people down in broad daylight on the streets, almost casually.

That brought a somewhat hot response from one young man, who said he disliked how non-hood, non-ghetto people write about how unfathomable the street mentality is but offer no solutions to the problem.

In his email, which I found stunning in its bluntness and honesty, he talked of how violence in certain areas is glorified, family members are proud of their violent children, and most victims of homicide are themselves perpetrators.

He called prayer services and rallies naïve and said the sooner people drop their politically correct demeanor and accept reality, the sooner a solution might be found.

I contacted the man who wrote the email. His name is Kyle Bolton. He graduated from New Haven High School but grew up in Fort Wayne, in the hood, and he paints an image of the so-called hood that is neither kind nor sympathetic.

Bolton, who says he is half black and half white, acknowledged that when he was 18 or so, he was a completely unreasonable person who would never back down.

"I was a predator. I was looking for conflict," he says.

That's the way it is on the southeast side, he said, an area where he said young black males are isolated within their own demographic, where fear equals respect and respect is earned through violence.

"They think being hard is a good mentality," Bolton said. "Doing violence is a completely reasonable way to solve a problem. To kill someone is not out of the ordinary. Anywhere you see a large African-American population it's like this."

Bolton, though, seems to have largely escaped what he calls the demographic. After high school he joined the National Guard, getting a substantial signing bonus, going to basic training for four months before going into the routine of someone in the Guard.

The experience opened his eyes. His superiors weren't violent. He made friends who were making money legally, he said. They'd go out with their friends, and they wouldn't talk about violence.

Bolton, who is still in the National Guard and has worked as a prison guard, says he doesn't hang out with a lot of the people he knew in high school. He did try to talk one friend into joining the military. That would have earned him a $2,000 bonus, he said.

But the friend, he said, told him he was a street soldier. The friend is dead now. He was shot to death, one of the 39 homicides that have taken place this year.

The near-record rate of killings this year has caught people's attention. Last week, the City Council sat down with various community leaders to discuss the issue and talk about causes and solutions.

People cited breakdown of the family, lack of economic development and so on.

But the bluntest description of the root of the problem I've heard – there are layers upon layers of problems, Bolton said – came from my conversations with him, describing a segment of society with no leaders.

At least in the old days of gangs there were leaders who set rules, he said. Today, he said, the streets are full of kids running wild, out of control in an atmosphere where going to prison or getting killed is viewed as honorable.

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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