New commission to address gun violence in South Bend

A sign that reads “no guns” is posted at the playground outside the Martin Luther King Center on South Bend’s west side. While swing set and slide aim to preserve childhood, the reality of violence has gotten too close.

Inside the center, leaders from different areas of the community filled a conference room Tuesday morning. While their areas of expertise vary, their goal is the same.

“We cannot have a summer like last summer,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.

The Anti-Violence Commission will be taking what members call an “evidence-based approach.” The plan is detailed in a book called “Don’t Shoot” by David Kennedy and involves focusing on those that are involved in much of the violence, having community members give them moral guidance and providing resources for those that want to distance themselves from illegal activity.

Some at the table bring their own tales of loss.

“I lost my biological sister a number of years ago through a terrible gun violence incident,” said Bishop Eddie Miller, co-chair of the commission. “So, I am personally impacted by this.”

The murder numbers in the city have increased over the past few years – 7 in 2010, 10 in 2011 and 19 in 2012. Many of these cases involve teenagers as both victims and perpetrators.

Some residents at the public meeting spoke out about their frustrations. They pointed to the struggles of poverty that can force a young person to turn to violence as well as the need for strong role models. But, Buttigieg said the commission’s focus will be on dealing with gun crimes.

“We can’t say ‘I can’t do anything about gun violence until we solve poverty’ beause most people in poverty do not shoot people,” he said.
U.S. attorney David Capp said he sees too many people end up in his office after committing violent crimes.

“By the time a 19-year-old reaches my office, he is in serious trouble,” Capp said. “If we can do anything that keeps a 19-year-old from reaching us, I am all for it.”

While the commission will push for serious consequences for criminals, members also want to make sure the right resources are there for those that want to break away from a life of violence.

“Wholesale police tactics that offend an entire community and arresting great numbers of people is not the answer,” South Bend
Police Chief Ron Teachman said. “It needs to be focused and very selective.”

Teachman tells Newscenter 16 he will be analyzing police reports for murders as well as cases where shots were fire to determine where these incidents are happening and hone in on those involved.

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