Into the Crossfire: A Special Report on Gun Violence and Prevention Efforts in South Bend
Everyday 100 people’s lives are lost to gun violence. In the following segments, Scholastic investigates how gun violence has affected the community of South Bend and what prevention efforts are being made both on campus and in the city itself.
Hearing Shots: Notre Dame Students Bring the Conversation to Campus
“I heard the gunshot and everyone in my classroom knew exactly what it was. Even though I’d say most of us had never heard a gunshot before. We just all knew what it was.”
Hailey Fulwider, Notre Dame class of 2019, was a junior at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado when a senior entered the building on a warpath.
“The student walked into school right before lunch time armed with 170 rounds of ammo, a shotgun and some Molotov cocktails,” Fulwider said. “He was intent on hurting a specific teacher and he ended up shooting and killing an innocent classmate who was just sitting there. She stood up and asked him, ‘What are you doing?’ He shot and killed himself before anyone else was hurt.”
The attack lasted just 80 seconds, but, for Fulwider, the ramifications of those moments continue today.
“It was just one of those moments where I will never forget any second that happened while I was in lockdown. Not a single second,” Fulwider said. “The trauma is deeply ingrained in my body.”
Hailey Fulwider and Liam Dalton, co-founders of Notre Dame Students Against Gun Violence.
Arapahoe High School is located only eight miles from Columbine High School, where, in 1999, 13 people where tragically murdered and 21 more were injured. Just 16 miles away lies the movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado where, in 2012, 12 people were shot and killed and 70 were injured.
“You think of those things as isolated incidents,” Fulwider said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘This doesn’t happen in a place like this.’ You just always think, this doesn’t happen here. But it did.”
For survivors of gun violence, transitioning away from support networks and into a new environment can be stressful.
“When I came to Notre Dame, I felt a little bit lost because I was separated from everyone I had experienced it with,” Fulwider said. “I just felt like no one paid attention to it on campus, especially students.”
With Liam Dalton, class of 2019, Fulwider co-founded Notre Dame Students Against Gun Violence, a chapter of the national initiative Students Demand Action. The group was responsible for the organization of Gun Violence Prevention Week last April.
“We thought it was really important to have the community have a voice,” Dalton said.
Dalton got involved with activism against gun violence by working as a survivor engagement lead for Everytown for Gun Safety, an umbrella group for affiliates like Students Demand Action.
“People get involved because they care about their fellow American and neighbor as much as they care about their family and [they care] that the odds in this country are not against it being a member of your family one day.”
Dalton and Fulwider’s call to Notre Dame students is to think about this issue as one that matters for both their own lives and the lives of the South Bend community.
According to Fulwider, students should also try to think about the scope of this problem.
“There are other types of gun violence, like neighborhood gun violence, which is a major problem in South Bend, or suicide,” she said. “These kinds of things are way less blasted by the media. It isn’t just school shootings.”
According to Everytown, 100 Americans are killed with guns every day and, in the U.S., nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, which is 10 times higher than in other industrialized countries.
Senior Caila Lindsey is working to bring attention to gun violence on Notre Dame’s campus. Her recent art installation “Caution: Black People Living,” featured on Scholastic’s cover, was located outside Riley Hall last April for a limited time.
Artist Caila Lindsey.
“The professor, Gary Sczerbaniewicz, assigned this for our second project in his installation art class,” Lindsey said. “He wanted us to think about walls. When I thought of that, I thought about gentrification and building walls between people that are invisible, but are obvious to some.”
Lindsey, who is originally from Detroit, Michigan, recalled seeing a clear divide in her hometown.
“There are lines between the way that people are treated by the police and by other people that are living in the same city,” she said. “They’re treated like they’re outsiders.”
For Lindsey, this is an issue that hits especially close to home when she thinks about her family.
“I have a little brother. He’s eight years old. Why should he be afraid to walk down the street when another eight-year old boy of a different race isn’t afraid? Why should I be afraid for him all the time?”
In her installation, Lindsey used caution tape and various memorabilia, like barbeque tongs, cigarettes, and hair brushes, from publicized cases of police brutality to materialize the historic and persistent struggle between black people and the police.
Tucked between strings of yellow tape, pillows recall the fatal shooting of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones, killed in 2010 when the police raided the wrong house while she slept on the couch. 12-year-old Tamir Rice, killed by police in 2014 while holding a toy gun, is remembered by plastic water guns scattered in the dirt. Burnt cigarettes echo Eric Garner’s violent arrest in 2014 when he was suffocated to death by police. He was suspected of selling cigarettes without tax stamps.
In her installation, Lindsey used caution tape and various memorabilia from publicized cases of police brutality.
In addition to underscoring the violence perpetuated by the police, Lindsey made a point about how easy it is for young people to purchase guns in America, recalling a specific instance where a 12-year-old was able to buy a gun but not purchase alcohol.
“It is not okay for guns to be this easy to obtain,” she said. “Guns shouldn’t be so available. There should be more restrictions on how easily someone can purchase a gun. I just don’t think a 12-year-old should be able to go out and buy a gun or that there should be guns available on the street.”
Everytown reports that access to a gun triples risk of death and doubles risk of death by homicide. Most of these homicides are concentrated in cities and have an especially high prevalence in racially segregated, impoverished neighborhoods.
Lindsey encouraged students to look beyond the campus and into the community that surrounds Notre Dame to start understanding the way gun violence impacts the immediate world around them.
“Notre Dame students are kept within this tightly-knit bubble, but there are a lot of problems in South Bend that students should be aware of,” she said. “South Bend is our home and our community.”
“Put the Guns Down”: South Bend Residents Push to End the Violence
According to Ken Garcia, digital communications and media liaison for the South Bend Police Department (SBPD), there have been 12 homicides in South Bend this year that were the result of gun violence. In 2019 alone, 92 people became victims of fatal or nonfatal shootings.
“Obviously that number is way too high,” Garcia said. “Anytime that number goes above zero, it is unacceptable.” Garcia explained that a lot of the shootings SBPD has seen are located in the west and northwest neighborhoods and arise out of groups fighting with one another.
“We had to adjust internally to the point where we created what’s known as a shooting response team.” This team is composed of detectives and crime scene technicians who are on-call to speed up the investigation of a shooting. Additionally, SBPD has a team called the Strategic Focus Unit that focuses on “hotspot area,” or areas commonly victimized by shootings.
“Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks. [Roughly] 80% of gun owners support universal background checks,” Stephen Miller, a Notre Dame music instructor and local gun violence activist, said. “74% of NRA members support universal background checks. About 80% of Republicans support universal background checks. When it comes to public safety most people agree that dangerous people should not have guns.”
Miller became involved in gun violence advocacy as a survivor.
“I lost my brother in 1972 to gun violence, and a nephew in 1994 to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It took quite a few years, but I could see the movement developing after Sandy Hook. That’s when I decided it was a good time to lend my story and interest into a movement that’s about saving lives.”
In 2012, 20 children and six adult staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The tragedy sparked a renewed debate about gun control and a push for more comprehensive background checks and stricter federal and state legislation.
Miller has been lobbying lawmakers to pass laws that expand background checks and strengthen domestic violence gun laws in South Bend. He began his work initially by getting involved with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a facet of Everytown. According to Miller, seven cities in Indiana have passed resolutions.
“The argument is made that they’re worthless because they’re not binding. It’s the city saying, ‘we’re against this’ and ‘we’re for that.’ On the other hand, it’s an official statement from the municipality and it sends a message.”
Miller argued that because the statistics on gun violence are so overwhelming, the time for debating whether or not action needs to be taken is over.
“It’s not a matter of debate anymore, it’s a matter of whether or not you’re going to act. And that’s a political question. That’s one that’s based on what you see happening today,” he said. “There are three bills sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk right now.”
The three bills he refers to are the National Red Flag Law, Enhanced Background Checks Act (H.R.112) and Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R. 8). A red flag law is one which allows police or family to petition the court for the removal of firearms from someone if they are a threat to themselves or others. As of August, 17 states have passed red flag laws.
October 31, 2018; Downtown South Bend, Indiana (Photo by Matt Cashore)
Another advocate, Desmond Harris, with the South Bend chapter of Moms Demand Action, another Everytown affiliate, has increased efforts to improve awareness and end gun violence.
“Since I was young, there’s been people that I know that have been killed by gun violence and it’s something that occurs in almost every stage of life — from before starting grade school to throughout grade school, then high school,” he said.
According to Harris, South Bend is like a lot of other cities in America, in that gun violence and racial inequities are extensive. Everytown reports that Black Americans represent the majority of gun homicide victims and are 10 times more likely to die by gun homicide than white men. They are also 15 times more likely to be shot and injured in gun assaults.
“It’s a history of discriminatory practices and policies that have led to communities being segregated,” Harris said. “And in these segregated communities there’s disinvestment. [There is] driven poverty, mass incarceration, violence — and I believe some of those are just determinants of gun violence.”
Moms Demand Action takes a two-pronged approach in their fight to end gun violence.
“Gun violence is a multi-faceted problem, it’s going to take a multi-faceted solution,” Harris said. “Number one is just building awareness of how vast this issue is, and then following that, we advocate for evidence-based solutions like common sense gun safety laws, and some of these evidence-based interventions and prevention programs that we see in cities, like Group Violence Intervention.”
Group Violence Intervention is a community initiative originally conceptualized by David Kennedy, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In South Bend, Isaac Hunt, a community outreach coordinator with Goodwill Industries of Michiana, has become a leading voice in South Bend’s GVI.
GVI, composed of community leaders from law enforcement, government and other local change efforts, unites three key groups to “stop gun violence and keep South Bend’s highest risk citizens alive and out of prison.” Under GVI, community, police and social services come together to focus on how to help the individual.
“What we realized is when an individual comes and sits in front of me and I’m doing an assessment on him, I have to do a full assessment on the individual — where they come from, what their background is, what their barriers are, what they’re good at — and how do we eliminate barriers from this individual’s life to help them be able to be successful?”
Under a more comprehensive approach to combating gun violence, communities are encouraged not to tolerate gun violence in their areas, law enforcement groups focus on crime prevention and social service providers coordinate their efforts to provide a viable alternative to gun violence.
“The Group Violence Intervention is the core of South Bend’s efforts to combat gun violence,” Mark Bode, director of communications for the city, said.
Hunt encourages the individuals he works with to confront the impact their actions have on the community around them as well as on themselves.
“How do we get the message out that what you’re doing is hurting the community? What you’re doing is hurting yourself, and we need you to stop before you end up in the penitentiary or the grave.”
According to Hunt, African American and Latino students miss a collective 19,000 minutes of school for disciplinary suspension, compared to their white counterparts who miss only 8,000. This corresponds with higher rates of juvenile shooters, who have less parental supervision when they are suspended or expelled from schools.
“Our kids are coming out of elementary school not being able to read by the third or fourth grade,” Hunt said. “Most of our kids are going through PTSD in our community. They are full of trauma because of all the shootings in our neighborhoods.”
The GVI approach has a way of empowering the community to set the tone for what is allowed in their neighborhoods.
“[People are] selling drugs, people drive by shooting at the houses and all that kind of stuff,” Hunt said. “So it’s getting the community to say, we’re not putting up with this no more and this must stop.”
The community decides on the message, social providers offer viable alternatives and help for individuals and the “police enforce what the community wants.”
While Hunt reports an improved working relationship with law enforcement, SBPD has not been without its controversy, especially in light of the recent, highly publicized police shooting of Eric Logan.
Early on Father’s Day morning, June 16, Logan was shot and killed by police officer Ryan O’Neill in the Central High Apartment complex in downtown South Bend. He was a father of seven.
There were no witnesses to the shooting and O’Neill did not have his body camera turned on. O’Neill, called to the scene to investigate possible car break-ins, has alleged that Logan came towards him with a knife and ignored warnings to drop it.
“I was the one that pushed for body cameras. I led that legislation in 2014,” Oliver Davis, a South Bend common councilman for twelve years, said. “It was slow in coming. Those body cameras would have helped us understand what happened.”
Melina Abdullah, a Pan-African studies professor at California State University, Los Angeles, and the co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter, visited South Bend in July following national outcry in response to Logan’s death. She spoke to a large audience at Linden Grill. Logan’s family was in attendance.
“When [I] came to South Bend, I was really, really impressed by the genuine and authentic way in which black South Benders had come together,” Abdullah said, in a telephone interview with Scholastic. “I was really encouraged by the work that was going on there.”
The Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot and killed an unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“In the days that I had conversations with black South Benders, I’ve had conversations about the rise in homelessness, the difficulty in getting jobs, the way in which black communities are over-policed and harassed by police,” Abdullah said. “Eric Logan is absolutely one of the most tragic killings that we’ve seen in the country. He was 54 years old. He was killed on Father’s Day. It is really troubling and outrageous.”
While SBPD could not comment on what is an active investigation, Garcia noted that “we continue to do what we do all the time which is responding to people’s calls for service. Our ultimate goal here is to reduce the violence in the community, because no one wants to live in a community where there is gunfire or violence taking place.”
As South Bend’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg, runs for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Abdullah offered some concerns about his capacity to address gun violence at a national level.
“I think what we see with Mayor Pete, like what we see with a lot of white liberals, is a strong grasp of liberal rhetoric, or even racial justice rhetoric, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading his racial justice plan and I think his rhetoric is really on point,” Abdullah said. “However, what we see when we talk about on-the-ground experiences of black folks in South Bend, there has been a reluctance and even a refusal to actually implement racial justice."
Davis echoed these claims. While Mayor Buttigieg has been successful across the country, Davis said that “African American communities still don’t want to vote for him,” because they realize that he has a “pattern of decreasing minority jobs” and forcing people out of jobs with mandatory retirement ages.
In 2012, Mayor Buttigieg forced the resignation of police chief Darryl Boykins, the first black officer to head the force, as he came under FBI investigation for wiretapping conversations between other officers. Boykins claimed the tapes showed those police officers engaging in racist rhetoric. In 2013, the FBI ended its investigation of Boykins after finding that he had not violated federal wiretapping laws, but Buttigieg has refused to release the tapes. Many members of the South Bend community were outraged.
In fact, during Abdullah’s time in South Bend, she took notice of how impassioned and united South Bend residents are in voicing their frustrations and exacting change.
“One of the things that we see in South Bend that I really appreciate is not just black people being willing to push back against systemic racism and oppression from the police, but also additional issues like housing and employment,” Abdullah said. “I really appreciate the depths of solidarity. When I was there, I got to meet a lot of white folks who seemed to be as invested in black freedom as a lot of black people are.”
On the future of Black Lives Matter, Abdullah said that they are hoping “to get black issues back on the national agenda.” Under #WhatMatters2020, Black Lives Matter is cataloging how candidates are addressing issues that affect black communities not just in rhetoric but in practice.
On Mayor Buttigieg, Abdullah added, “If he can’t handle South Bend, then he can’t handle the United States.”
According to Bode, however, “the mayor has absolutely made a sustainable difference with antiviolence efforts by setting up a robust infrastructure around the Group Violence Intervention.” The 2020 Mayor’s Office budget for the Division of Public Safety Initiatives includes over $700,000 and encompasses the costs of GVI. He added that the funding would “ensure that the program will outlast any one administration.”
Emergency Preparedness at Notre Dame Aims to Keep Students Safe
As gun violence continues to affect the South Bend community, shootings close to campus have increased Notre Dame students’ concerns about their own safety. In early September, students received two reports of shots fired east of campus, in areas close to where many off-campus students reside.
“The university has decided to proactively and systematically roll out active violence training and emergency preparedness training for the entire university,” Notre Dame Police Chief Keri Kei Shibata said.
The ND Alert system, according to Mike Seamon, vice president for campus safety and university operations, is a tool the Emergency Management Task Force uses to communicate with everyone at Notre Dame in an emergency.
“That’s text, that’s voicemails, it’s IPPA, which is the Internet Protocol PA system across campus,” Seamon said. “It’s emails to let people know, ‘hey, there’s a gas leak over here or there’s active violence over there.’”
The system is tested two times a year and the infrastructure is tested every summer.
“Our public address system is really robust,” Dennis Brown, assistant vice president for news and media relations, said. “More so than at other universities because it is both indoors and outdoors. It’s hard to be anywhere on this campus and not hear it.”
While the system has not been used in an active violence situation to date, Notre Dame Police Department is in constant communication with local law enforcement about any crime that might effect students.
“Sometimes in real time and sometimes after the fact, we are in touch with them about incidents that happen,” Shibata said. “If it were very close to campus, we would probably know in real time.”
September 30, 2017; NDSP Chief Keri Kei Shibata on duty on a game day. (Photo by Matt Cashore)
After the incident itself, NDPD officers critically assess what action needs to be taken and what needs to be communiated to the Notre Dame community.
“We have a great, collaborative relationship with all of the law enforcement agencies,” Brown said.
“We offer mutual aid and vice versa.” Especially during football games, members of SBPD and NDPD work together to keep the thousands of people on campus safe. The clear bag policy and metal detectors are just one facet of the extensive safety protocols they use. According to Seamon, the stadium can be evacuated in 30 minutes.
“This is on everybody’s radar. Everybody’s paying attention to active violence,” Seamon said. “One of the things that we might take for granted, but I’m very, very grateful for is the relationships we have [with SBPD].”
Shibata and Seamon emphasized that NDPD offers specialized training to any group on campus that can be specified to the time and place that group gathers, but Shibata generally advised that students remain alert and get out any area that seems dangerous or where a conflict is occurring.
“Trust your gut,” Brown added. “And if you see something, say something.”
Find a Place at the Table: Advocates Use Art to Empower South Bend
Attempting to address the problem at its roots, members of both the South Bend and Notre Dame communities are working to find sustainable, proactive social solutions to the issues young people are facing locally.
Neeta Verma is a visual communications design professor at Notre Dame who champions her field as “the intersection of collaboration and innovation.” She works together with the City of South Bend, her students, the university and other local groups to combat such issues as the digital divide and youth violence.
“We are all part of the fabric that makes South Bend,” she said. Verma emphasized the importance of navigating the conversation surrounding social issues with sensitivity.
“I cannot start a conversation with you unless I know what you are about, where you come from. What is the context within which we are going to be developing a conversation?” she said. From this beginning, Verma focuses on long term and authentic engagement.
“You can’t grab a place at the table, you have to work to find your place.”
One of the design interventions that Verma and her students, Justine Wang and Maddy Kelly, developed was a podcast, entitled “Humanizing the System,” that attempted to give voice to violence and discrimination in South Bend.
“We played one during the final, and there was not a dry eye in the room.”
In one track, Isaac Hunt recounts his experiences while incarcerated. “I made license plates when I was incarcerated for the state of Indiana. They paid me $0.35 a day,” he says.
As Verma and her students work to develop projects that empower and embolden the South Bend community, Del’Shawn Taylor has created a program for South Bend schools that bridges classical music and hip hop to help students forge a sense of who they are in music.
“These students are growing up in difficult environments and coming to school and being yelled at by their teachers, yelled at by the administration, put into detention, when no one is actually getting to the root of the problem,” Taylor said. “It’s time to pick them up out of the soil they’re in, put them in better soil, and water them and take care of them.”
Hoping to shine a light on a South Bend native using their talents to positively impact the community, senior Gretchen Hopkirk has been working on a documentary about Taylor.
“Del’Shawn stood out to me because he wants to help the people who have the least in our community,” Hopkirk said.
At one point Hopkirk recalled Taylor leading a discussion about the lyrics of a song.
“He asked, ‘How many of you live in an unsafe area?’ And almost all of the students raised their hand,” she said. “In my middle school, maybe 10% would raise their hand. You can say over and over again ‘there’s inequality in this country.’ It’s easy to say it and another thing to be in the room.”
Del’Shawn, a talented musician, currently pursuing an MBA, has travelled the world performing. He decided to return to South Bend and become a music teacher where he first began working on what would four years later become what it is today.
“We teach kids how to effectively communicate,” Taylor said. “So as a part of my program, the kids write about their lives and then turn those lyrics into raps songs and classical music songs with symphony musicians. It’s a way for them to talk about their problems.”
Taylor’s program, currently running at Navarre Middle School and the Dickinson Intermediate Fine Arts Academcy, puts a focus on individualizing students and paying attention to what’s going on in their lives. He likes to say that teaching is 70% listening.
Taylor encourages his students to talk about living in communities effected by violence where their voices are not heard, where the options for their lives may seem limited. Inspired by a classical aria, Taylor wrote out these lyrics, which capture how gun violence and discrimination perpetuate voicelessness and how all people can work to combat it.
“I’m living in the silence amongst all the violence,” he wrote. “If you can see the world from my lens, you will help me change the world I live in.”
Gun Violence Statistics:
- 1/3 of gun deaths are homicides
- The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries
- Black Americans are the majority of gun homicide victims (10 times more likely to die by gun homicide)
- Nearly 1,700 children and teens die by gun homicide every year
2019 South Bend Crime Statistics:
- There have been 79 victims of fatal or nonfatal shootings in South Bend this year
- 674 aggregated assaults (16.39%), 49 arsons (1.19%), 204 non-residential burglaries (4.96%), 395 residential burglaries (9.6%), 2118 larcenies (51.5%), 385 MVTs (9.36%), 42 rapes (1.02%), 236 robberies (5.74%), 10 homicides, 8 were the result of gun violence (0.24%)
Editor's Note: The Oct. 11 Scholastic story "Into the Crossfire" should have provided more clarity about wiretapped conversations between South Bend police officers. Although Mayor Pete Buttigieg has refused to release the tapes, the question of whether or not they should be made public is now subject to a court order that prevents their release, while it's determined whether doing so would violate federal law.