Jonathan Ray, the chief executive officer of the Fort Wayne Urban League, doesn't pretend to have all the answers that would allow for an accurate assessment for the reasons behind the amount of gun violence that plagues Fort Wayne.
With the city seeing five fatal shootings over the past week - with one of those a police-action shooting by trained snipers - as well as another that left a person in critical condition, Ray does know one thing: It's time for the community to sit down and start asking questions, tough questions, that lead to sustainable policy with the stated goal of decreasing it.
Not speeches. Not short-term action. But sustainable policy that first seeks to understand how and why numerous individuals seek to use gun violence year after year, then attempts to minimize or mitigate those root causes in order for Fort Wayne to become a safer place for all of its residents.
Friday night, the Urban League will hold the first of what it hopes to be a series of strategic planning meetings that will discuss these kinds of topics from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at its headquarters at 2135 S. Hanna St. The meeting is open to all residents, and Ray hopes that group-based and honest discussion will merely be the first step in addressing this problem.
"At the end of the day, the issue isn't violence. Violence is a symptom of something else, something larger," Ray said Thursday. "Lack of employment, depression, education, other issues all precede it. These are issues that we know exist."
"Fort Wayne seems to be at a place where more people are seeing exactly what some individuals are capable of and who some people see every day," Ray said. "Just total disregard for human life. People aren't born that way. No one is born that way. There are things happening that make a number of people behave this way. That spawned this idea (of the community meetings)...it was something that we had already been thinking about, but last week sped things up."
Ray described how the entire city, from elected officials down to the last resident, has to consider getting involved with violence prevention efforts, because it will likely require sustained effort and support from businesses and educational systems, along with political and financial capital, in order to change what could be viewed as a systemic set of issues.
"It is incumbent for this community to understand the depth of the problems here," Ray said. "It has to be something where people truly want to listen and participate and provide ideas and suggestions that can help.
"What we're seeing is that there are certain people who don't know there's a way out," Ray continued. "I think that is what happens to people that have been disenfranchised -- they don't see a future. They don't have jobs. They aren't prepared to get them. These are people who are living day to day. They see others who use violence, they see the results from when people use violence. So they know if they don't use violence, someone else will."
The next meeting will be held in two weeks, with Ray hoping a set of initiatives can be formed over an eight-week period that can be presented for action to appropriate groups and members of the community - many of whom Ray hopes will be participating in the meetings from the start.
"Change...it doesn't have to take a long period of time," Ray said. "I don't think we should want change to take a long time. We should want this now. We can't be afraid to address these issues. If we do, if we address them honestly, we could see change rapidly."
"If we provide understanding and opportunity, we could do more than people realize."