FORT WAYNE — A chant of “We say no!” echoed through the lobby of Fort Wayne’s Edwin J. Rousseau Centre on Saturday as about 80 people rallied against a spate of violence that left dozens of people dead in Fort Wayne in 2012.
Malcolm Howell, pastor of Fort Wayne’s Harvest Word of Life Ministries, led the rally, saying many attendees, including his own family members, had loved ones who died through violence.
“We have to make a declaration that we can say ‘no’ to the culture and spirit of violence,” he said. “We’ve got to stop complaining and do something.”
Howell called the rally “a call to action” for residents and officials alike.
Featured speakers included other pastors; John Dortch, president of the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce; and Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York.
Events last year showed violence was not “an African-American problem” or confined to one area or neighborhood, Howell said.
There were 30 homicides in Allen County last year.
“It’s all over the country,” he said. “We all heard about what happened in Connecticut (with the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School).
“We must come together to end this.”
After the rally, Howell said what forms local action will take are yet to be determined.
But he said a meeting at noon Jan. 19 at his church at 2260 Lake Ave. would begin to study approaches that have worked in other cities.
York told attendees “a common thread” ran through last year’s homicides.
“It’s drugs, it’s gangs and it’s guns,” he said.
“There’s a lot of answers, and we’ve got to look at all of them,” York added. “We’re dedicating ourselves to work with all of you to address this issue. We’ll meet any place, any time.”
Howell outlined areas that need to be addressed to curb violence such as joblessness, which he said creates financial desperation and, consequently, crime; large numbers of children in fatherless homes; too many “children raising children”; and lack of conflict-resolution skills among young people.
“You don’t have to shoot somebody because they disagree with you. You don’t have to shoot somebody because they disrespect you,” he said.
Attendee Randy Thieme, 58, of Fort Wayne said he sees a need for easily accessible mental health services, counseling and mentoring for young people.
“Some of the young kids, some of the decisions they make are what I call ‘street level.’ They instantly use violence instead of going to somebody to talk about it,” he said.
Olive Carpenter, 67, of Fort Wayne said it was time for residents to stop looking the other way when violence occurs.
“One of the things we’re here for is we’re tired of all the killing,” she said.
“We’re hoping and praying that coming down here will show how we feel. It will show the higher ups that we’re serious. We know there’s something that can be done, and they have the means to do it.”
In an interview after the rally, York said “it really was gratifying” that so many people attended, and he hoped better communication between the community and the police would result.
Fort Wayne police have made arrests in three of the 22 homicides in 2012 that were in their jurisdiction and not ruled justifiable, he said.
“In the ones where we don’t have any arrests, many of them were gang-related. They’re the ones we find most difficult because we often have unwilling witnesses, or in shootings, we don’t even have willing victims,” he said.
The culture of silence needs addressing, he said.
“I only see good coming out of” having churches and pastors help fight violence, York said. “I can’t reach people with the degree of emotion that parents and pastors can.”