On the day that the Allen County Coroner's Office declared a Fort Wayne teen the city's latest homicide, the NAACP delivered a heartfelt plea to the community's young people and others to stop the violence in the city.
About 40 people turned out at noon Thursday in front of the Rousseau Centre, home of the Fort Wayne Police Department, to support the NAACP in its statement. The Rev. Saharra Bledsoe, president of the Fort Wayne-Allen County NAACP, made a plea for young people and their parents to turn to their churches and first responders before someone else is lying dead in the street. She urged the community to come forward if members have information about crimes and let the authorities know. Invoking the names of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X she told the community's young people that everything that has come before will be in vain if they don't stop the senseless violence now.
“You are not just killing yourselves, you are killing us,” Bledsoe said.
Standing near the back of the group Lucille Brown, grandmother of Elijah Freeman, who was shot to death Wednesday, stood with tears running down her cheeks. Next to her, Freeman's cousin Omar Muhammad hugged Brown as he comforted her.
Muhammad said he had no idea who the people were who killed his cousin behind a house in the 900 block of Hugh Street.
“He was a good kid, just 17 years old. He wasn't in a gang. He must have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Muhammad said.
After Thursday's news conference, Bledsoe said she believes things are so bad in the African-American community because of a lack of solidarity and the lack of a sense of community that young people have. Bledsoe said that started with busing students of the inner city. The end result is what we are seeing now. She would like to see better educational resources within the community so children stay closer to home and develop more community pride.
Pastor Bill Robinson of South Park Baptist Church said real people need to speak out to bring change. People need to stop living in fear. Times have changed; there are people in the community who can help, he said.
The NAACP had a list of recommendations for what can be done to make a difference: make background checks universal, improve state reporting of criminals and the mentally ill, ban assault weapons, cap magazine clip capacity at 10 bullets, purge armor-piercing bullets, fund police officers, strengthen gun tracking, support research on gun violence, encourage mental health providers to get involved, promote safe gun ownership, fund school counseling, encourage safe, anti-bullying school environments, recognize the mental health needs of low-income Americans, contact your senator by April 8.
The NAACP will be hold a march 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 27. Bledsoe said NAACP chapters from around the state to will be participating.