Gangs, hangout, unemployment trouble Millennium hood
By Rick Yencer
MUNCIE, IN - A safe summer initiative started by Mayor Dennis Tyler drew concerns of youth gangs, neighborhood hangouts for drinking and drug use and general unemployment with people lining up for minimum wage jobs on Thursday.
"We have a bigger problem than you realize," said Muncie Community Schools Supt. Tim Heller, about youth gangs in schools and inner city neighborhoods.
And youth activist Carl Malone described a crisis with young black youth who were out late, looking to fight and having little opportunity for jobs.
Emma Price, a resident of the Millennium Place neighborhood that replaced the old Munsyana Homes public housing complex, talked of a neighborhood hangout on South Vine Street where men in in 50s and 60s stood around and drank all hours of the day.
"I don't want anybody hanging around my neighborhood," said Price, the self proclaimed mayor of Millennium.
Those were the images and stories told Thursday when Tyler brought the neighborhood and community leaders together to talk what had been done to curb violence, crime and other problems in inner city neighborhood.
When the mayor took office, youth gangs staged fights downtown and in city parks that police handled with arrests and extra patrols. Tyler pledged to put youth to work and give them other recreational and education opportunity during the summer. Programs offered by Friends of Conley, the Islamic Center of Muncie and other neighborhood based group have kept hundreds of youth busy.
But the startling comments by Heller, who is a member of a national gang task force left some residents of Industry neighborhood wondering just what was going on in the back yards.
The superintendent said some youth were involved in guns and drugs given there were not enough jobs or other opportunities in Muncie. Tyler described a scene underscoring unemployment in Muncie, saying how he saw hundreds of people waiting to fill out applications for jobs at a new Little Caesar's Pizza.
Mark Vollmar, deputy police chief, said there had been only a handful of shootings this summer, and he was unable to document Heller's claim that gangs were plentiful in Muncie.
Mike Harley, president of the Muncie chapter of the NAACP, also questioned how many youth were involved in gangs, saying more employment and educational opportunities were needed to help those with little means.
Price and her concerns about the Vine Street hangout caused community activist Stephen Mitchell to personally talk with the property owner and try to resolve the problem.
Tyler also agreed to add patrols to inner city neighborhoods, promising that every 911 call would result in an officer dispatched to the scene.He was not committing to a general crackdown on curfew, saying how parents would line up and break down the doors of city hall.
But some residents believed a curfew enforcement could help save lives and keep youth problems at a minimum.
Some walking patrols in Industry, Whiteley and Millennium are expected to resume to reach out to residents and youth to head off violence and other problems.
Look for more outreach by government, local clergy and other social service groups to continue to work with parents and their kids besides others to keep violence from happening.