Indy Violence and a Growing Divide

September 21, 2015 By Tom

This weekend, a ten year old was shot and killed just a few miles from my house, almost perfectly straddling the halfway mark between my home and office.

It’s something that has gnawed at my core since I read the breaking news on Saturday evening and the following developments. The sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach sat heavy yesterday as I went about my Sunday like it was any other.

And then, this morning, we set up for another day of Nine13 programs at an IPS elementary on the east side. I had grades 2-6 on my bikes and I watched them laugh and giggle and try their best to find success on our bicycles. I witnessed them find new limits and realize they could push themselves harder than they imagined. I had a conversation with a student about why helmets are important and how his family couldn’t afford one, but he was asking for one for his birthday. I listened as students talked about riding their bikes in their neighborhood and the park next store to the school.

And, my heart and mind kept coming back to that ten year killed through no fault of his own, DeShawn Swanson.

I truly hope that his name, and his tragic death, is the rallying moment for Indianapolis that brings all walks, races, and backgrounds together to take a stand against this senseless violence. Because, if it doesn’t happen in the aftermath of this, what will it take? I fear that if this is not the catalyst for meaningful change, what awful tragedy will create change?

I’m fortunate to play a small part in the lives of thousands of kids, if only for a fleeting moment of their youth. But, when I think about the kids we’re working with today, I envision them in future years using the bicycle lanes in Indianapolis, hopping on a BikeShare, catching the Red Line, and benefiting from the many resources our city has put into place over the last few years.

I don’t imagine a 10 year old being shot and killed and never having the opportunity to experience those things and to strive for a life of his own.

Who am I to talk, right? I’m just another white, yuppie, young professional, from an upper middle class suburb of Columbus, Ohio. I had two amazing and supportive parents who fought the world to give me a chance to succeed. I had every advantage possible, a college education handed to me, a support system when life hit a rough spot, and a promise of unconditional love and support. I could have easily networked through family connections and found a job that put me on the path to middle management and the “American Dream” of suburbia and a family.

And yet, I find myself spending my working hours with kids who don’t have those “easy” opportunities; I spend many of my days with students who get their breakfast and lunch from school and may or may not get dinner when they get home that evening. I spend my focus on creating programs to serve students and to, hopefully for at least a moment, give them a chance to experience the joy of a bicycle in a safe and secure setting. I pour every ounce of my energy into showing these kids that they can do anything they put their minds towards, and they can and will succeed.

Most importantly, I hope the students I’m privileged to serve realize and understand that my entire team is there because we care about them and we want them to understand that there are advocates of all types in this city fighting to make their lives better.

Somebody asked me recently why I want to get into politics and if I really believe I can make a difference at the local level.

The short answer is, yes, I do believe that I can make an impact. More importantly, I believe that my ability to work through red tape and politics, to build relationships with traditionally ballooned government and corporate entities and make meaningful impact–I believe that is something that is lacking for many of our local career politicians.

This isn’t just a police, church, family, or community responsibility—it’s all of it. And until this community is willing to cross party lines, cross racial boundaries, and realize we’re all in this together—Indianapolis will continue down this dangerous and deadly path.

I don’t want to see another kid killed, I don’t want to not have an opportunity to serve a student because he was shot down while innocently attending a family event, I don’t want to hear of the divides and the lack of cooperation among our community.

It’s time to have a real conversation about fixing these problems, and that conversation must start now.