Upon news of what could be Allen County’s 15th homicide this year, all shooting deaths, a Wednesday forum on domestic violence quickly turned into a discussion on guns and culture.
“We have had more homicides than I can ever remember” in the first three months of a year, said Jonathan Ray, president and chief executive officer of the Fort Wayne Urban League.
About an hour later – after complaints about easy access to firearms, negligent parents, ineffectual lawmakers and shoot-’em-up video games – a self-described felon tried to sum up the mood in the room and the city.
“Now it’s affecting everybody,” Armond Dowdell said about gun violence. “It’s spread to everybody’s community.”
The national gun-control advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns organized the roundtable discussion. About 20 people attended the program at Urban League offices on South Hanna Street – less than a mile from the site of Wednesday’s fatal shooting, Dowdell noted.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns, of which Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry is a member, supports federal legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers, outlaw the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and make gun trafficking a federal offense.
“I can go buy you a gun right now on the street,” Waymon Brown III, who runs a substance abuse treatment center, said about the local availability of firearms.
Andre Patterson said cultural changes are partly to blame for the spate of violence.
“Kids don’t fight anymore. They shoot,” he said.
Cameron Johnson cited a shortage of male role models and after-school activities for teenage boys and young men prone to gunplay.
“Clearly these guys have an anger problem,” he said.
Social worker Edith Kenna traced the tolerance of gun violence back a half century to the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“We never take it seriously,” she said. “No one cares about anyone else. I don’t know when this happened.”
Radio personality JaNay, who declined to give her last name, said parents, schools and churches have been too lenient when young people engage in criminal activities.
“We make too many excuses and give people too many passes too often,” she said.
Dowdell offered his formula for avoiding trouble since being incarcerated: “I stay home, and I go to work. I stay home, and I go to work. I am not happy doing that. But it’s safe.”
There was some talk about domestic violence, with roundtable participants calling for stricter laws to protect people who have been harmed or threatened by spouses or partners.
But, Brown said, “There is a fool or two out here that doesn’t care about a protective order. … That’s when women die.”
One of this year’s homicides was considered domestic violence: the March 20 shooting death of Jacqueline Bouvier Hardy, 49, by Kenneth Knight, 45. Knight, who police said forced Hardy off a Citilink bus and killed her in the street, later was shot to death by police snipers while he was holding a 3-year-old boy hostage.
Hardy had filed for a protective order against Knight a day earlier, according to court records.