INDIANAPOLIS — This year, 2021, is the bloodiest Indianapolis has ever seen.
The death of a man killed early Friday morning at an apartment complex on the city's northwest side marked the city's 245th homicide, tying last year's record.
Friday's homicide was the first in more than a week in Indianapolis. The death of Javian Rhodes, 18, marked the city's 244th homicide on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
And there are five weeks to go before the year ends.
There's no simple explanation for what's driving the surge in killings. City leaders, clergy and activists agree that poverty, distrust of law enforcement, the proliferation of guns play a part.
But there's something else going on too, said the Rev. Charles Harrison, leader of the 10 Point Coalition.
"Nobody is staying in jail anymore so there's no accountability," Harrison said. "People are not going to talk when people get let back out on the street because they know they will be the next target."
Harrison is a staunch supporter of the city's police department and a vocal critic of the county's criminal justice system.
"The police, they can not get people to go into court and be a witness because they are afraid," Harrison said. "That's why we are saying to the prosecutor if you lock June Bug up for the shooting and let him right back out, something bad is going to happen.
"Either he's going to kill someone or he's gonna end up dead."
The city saw between 172 and 179 for three consecutive years before experiencing a sharp jump in homicides at the end of 2020.
"It's disappointing and frustrating that you get there with this much time left in the year," Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor said. "It's no different than what we've been seeing throughout this year, people making very poor choices and taking people's lives for no valid reason."
Taylor said the killings have been fueled by disputes over including drugs, gangs and other random beefs or slights.
"These are people upset with social media posts, feeling disrespected, parking spots, and just a variety of other reasons why people decide to pull the trigger," Taylor said. "None of which are good, and all of which are concerning."
Most of this year's victims are aged 18-34. However, 2021 is seeing a surprising 10 percent jump in the number of victims age 45 and older.
This is the first year the city has seen a notable jump in deaths of older victims. It's too soon to call it a trend, but officials agree it is troubling.
"It is an alarming statistic because it's not really something common," said the Rev. Malachi Walker, who runs the Young Men Inc. ministry that provides mentors to boys and teens who live in tough circumstances.
"We're living right now in what I call times of uncertainty," Walker said. "We had this big shutdown, people were losing their jobs and businesses were closing down."
So many people already living in poverty were suddenly out of work. Some, Walker said, are desperate.
"Maybe they are trying to some alternative ways to try to compensate," Walker said.
Michael Leffler, a spokesman for Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, said the courts and deputy prosecutors are fighting crime and violence, despite being overwhelmed at times.
"The most direct way for our office to combat violence is by holding those who have committed violent crimes accountable in the courts," Leffler said in an email. "Our deputy prosecutors and trial teams have been carrying heavy caseloads and experiencing consistent success in the courtroom."
Rick Snyder, president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police, blames the violence on what he calls the county's revolving-door justice system.
"It's horrible," Snyder said. "It's not just the homicides, it's the volume of violence that is occurring in our community."
Violent offenders, Snyder said, are being arrested then quickly released from jail. They go back home, commit new crimes and terrorize their neighbors, Snyder said. At least two suspects arrested this year were on GPS-monitoring when they allegedly committed homicides.
"It all shows and demonstrates that it is an issue where there is no fear of accountability and evil will always follow the path of least resistance," Snyder said.
The pandemic has clearly added stress that sociologists may someday link to the dramatic spike in violence. At least one incident in Indianapolis, a quadruple killing on Randolph Street in March, was tied directly to a dispute over a pandemic-related stimulus check.
"I look at the other major cities, you know, that have all had an increase in the violence," Taylor said. "We're all asking the same questions: Is that the pandemic? Is it systemic issues, a combination of those two things or something else that we're missing?"
Violence is not a plague on our city alone. Albuquerque, Des Moines, Memphis, Milwaukee and Syracuse also set new homicide records in 2020, the New York Times reported.
"It's true that every major urban area in the country is experiencing an exponential rise in the level of gun violence," Mayor Joe Hogsett said. "But having said that, the people of Indianapolis and the mayor of Indianapolis don't live in all those other cities. So we are myopically focused on providing the best level of public safety that we can to every resident in every neighborhood in the city of Indianapolis."
Keith "Wildstyle" Paschall is a community activist, photographer and music producer who lives on the west side. Paschall said public safety doesn't seem to be a high priority in his neighborhood, where he frequently hears the sound of gunfire. He said one neighbor was wounded this week in an early morning shooting.
"Look at what's going on and things haven't gotten better for most people in this city," Paschall said. "The conditions that made violence a viable alternative for so many people haven't changed. I just think that, you know, we've tried different things, (but) we haven't really tackled the root causes of violence and that is poverty."
Hogsett is trying to address poverty while also boosting the police force and other more direct crime-fighting efforts.
The city is spending about $150 million of cash from the American Rescue Plan on anti-violence initiatives over the next three years, including hiring 100 new police officers, new crime-fighting technology, grants to fund anti-violence programs and 50 new community Peacemakers. The money also funds prisoner re-entry programs, food access programs and other efforts aimed at reducing the root causes of crime.
"Those types of community-based, neighborhood-oriented investments are being made," Hogsett said. "I think over time, they're going to make a real difference."
Hogsett said the community must work together to stop the violence.
"The gun violence challenges that our city is facing can't be resolved by IMPD," Hogsett said. "Unless and until the community as a whole does its part: 'if you see something, say something.' It will take all of us, including me as a citizen and a resident of our city, to make sure that collaboratively, we're doing everything we can to eradicate the mindless menace of gun violence that affects too many families."
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Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.