Ex-cons and law enforcement join together to stop gun violence in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- Over the last four years, shootings have gone up during the summer months between May 15 and Aug. 25. However, this year has been different and one local group thinks it's due to the meeting they held back on May 16. Because of the success of the first meeting, which they're referring to as call-ins, they held another meeting Thursday night.

"We're having a second community call-in where we sit down with individuals we've identified as being influential members of gangs or violent associated groups in the city," Dominic Zultanski, Lieutenant of the South Bend Police Department said. "The hope is they get the message that we will no longer tolerate the shooting."

Over the last four years, shootings have been at its peak during the summer months. However, this year shootings are down 38 percent from the same time last year. The meetings are part of a crime reduction strategy conceived by David M. Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He's also the co-chair at National Network for Safe Communities. With the plans he's helped develop, cities across the nation have seen a 40 to 60 percent reduction in violent group related murders. While it hasn't been a long process in South Bend, the statistics are following the same pattern as the national average.

"Things are very, very promising," Lt. Zultanski said. "Numbers are just numbers because one victim is too many. But it's promising and with the 38 percent reduction, we're at least going in the right direction."

Part of the success, according to SBGVI, is the people they bring in to speak with the violent street groups. They use a mix of law enforcement officials, clergymen, local citizens who have lost individuals to gun violence and ex-felons who have reformed their lives.

"I did 10 years in Michigan City Prison because I shot a gentleman," Isaac Hunt, Community Resource Advocate for Goodwill Industries of Michiana said. "It gave me an opportunity to look at my life and say 'Where am I going?' So I made the conscious decision that I wanted to regroup and make a change and an impact in the city of South Bend with some young men that may be going down the path I went."

Hunt missed a lot during his time in prison. His mother almost died from a stroke and he missed an entire decade of his daughter's life. So aside from trying to reestablish a relationship with his daughter after missing 10 years of her life, he also had the battle of trying to find someone to hire him.

"When you have a felony and you try and get a job, you feel like no one will hire you," Hunt said. "You're really, really trying to change your life and you're really trying to work, but you have this stigma on you. It makes you go and do what you really don't want to do. There's no excuse for it, but at the same time, how do we help these people with felonies and they apply for a job and can't get one? They go out and hustle and do things of that nature. If we can take the hustling aspect away, we can stop the violence most of the time."

SBGVI tells the members of violent street groups that if they continue the path they are on, there will be "swift and certain consequences for violent crime." However, they are also offering help to those willing to accept it.

"We want them to be productive members of the community," Lt. Zultanski said. "We want them to work with Goodwill and Isaac as mentors and be there for the next generation. We want them to understand this isn't a lifestyle to go to."

"Most of them want to work every day but they never really had a job so they don't know how to act on a job," Hunt said. "They don't know how to respect authority or someone telling them what to do. They don't know how to punch the clock. So at Goodwill, we help them with resumes and cover letters. We give them work experience, how to talk to your boss, how to file a grievance if you have a problem. We have a young man who got a job today. He sat down and cried. This is a guy who was shooting people and he cried because he got a job."

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