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1/3/2011 8:01:00 AM
'Urban genocide' a way of life on streets of Gary

Lori Caldwell, Post-Tribune

GARY -- The names and numbers change from year to year. Even the cities Gary gets compared to when looking at homicide rates are different.

But this remains the same: homicide victims, mostly young, black men, die in this city at a higher per capita rate than any other municipality of similar size.

No longer listed in the major cities of 100,000 or more residents, Gary appears to rank first among cities with a population between 50,000 and 99,999, which is the next grouping used by the FBI when releasing its annual Uniform Crime Report.

Although data from every city in that population range was not available, none of the cities with reputations for high crime rates reported numbers close to Gary's 54 violent deaths for 2010.

In 2008, with 40 homicides, Gary reached a low not seen for decades. In 2009, 50 people died violent deaths.

The year's youngest victim was Leon Burns, a 5-year-old Glen Park boy who died from injuries suffered during a beating. His father was charged with murder and other felonies.

Willie A. Burnett, 62, was the oldest homicide victim. He, also, was beaten and possibly robbed. As with about half the homicides in 2010, his killer remains at large.

Two of last year's homicides were committed by police and both ruled justified. Terrell Spires vowed never to return to jail and opened fire on police, who shot back; Michael Nunn was shot as he lunged at police with a knife near his Glen Park home, where residents said his irrational behavior was ongoing.

The year ended with the shooting death of Deiago Porter, 36, killed at his Glen Park home during an apparent robbery. Porter had a lengthy criminal record, some of it for selling drugs, but he never spent much time in jail after his arrests.

'No one wants to get involved'

Violent Crime Unit detectives say they often know who committed the most heinous crimes. But people who could help solve a case won't cooperate by providing even an anonymous call.

Sgt. Larry Robertson said he and his co-workers get frustrated when they start asking questions and get blank stares from people who could provide even basic information.

The death of 21-year-old Dewitt Williams on Nov. 6 is a good example, he said.

"He was shot in broad daylight at 45th and Harrison. There were people in the car who saw what happened, students or former students from Lew Wallace. No one wants to get involved. I don't understand," Robertson said. "The God-fearing person I am, I believe people should help any way they can."

As days and weeks pass after the crime, locating witnesses with a clear memory of events becomes more challenging. But that passing of time can also ease the fear witnesses face after watching a violent crime.

"It's harder to locate people months later because they move, or change their phone numbers, but other changes can help us, too," Lt. Jack Arnold, supervisor of the Violent Crimes Unit, said last week.

"In that lapse of time, the suspect can get arrested for something else, or the witness can lose the loyalty they had for the suspect," Arnold said.

A comment during an interview on an unrelated case, or anonymous call can be enough to send the detectives in search of new leads, he said.

Cops don't forget

"We don't forget about any of the cases. We talk about them, try to think of new approaches and try to exhaust every lead," he said.

That's what happened with the shooting death of Kenneth Jones, 57, killed in April 2005, Arnold said.

As a result of newly obtained information, Perry Donald was charged with murder in November. He is in custody.

Arnold and Sgt. William Fazekas started working on an eight-year-old case that led them to South Bend where they hoped to obtain DNA from a suspect.

"We spoke to no less than 20 people, and everyone we spoke to was helpful in finding the individual. We were impressed," Fazekas said.

"On the way back, we talked about how it was so different than what we experience in Gary. Frankly, it's embarrassing to deal with people who act like they know nothing but they saw everything," Fazekas said.

Detective James Bond said residents of Gary are making themselves "prisoners of their own environment" by refusing to cooperate with police.

"I go into a barber shop and hear people talk about what they saw or heard, and they don't know who's in there listening to them. They'll talk to strangers, or even post on Facebook, but then they say they're afraid to talk to police," Bond said.

"Then when it's someone in their family, all of a sudden they want everyone else to help," Bond said.

Still unsolved

Detective Cpl. Michael Barnes is hoping for a call that will provide leads to an old case he inherited.

Thomas P. Pazak, 46, was shot early on an August morning in 1995 as he sat in front of his Glen Park home after returning from his job.

A West Point graduate, Pazak worked for CSX railroad and lived in the house where his mother had been born.

"His family calls me periodically. I met with them to get some background, because I wasn't even on the police department when it happened," Barnes said.

"I don't have any leads, nothing. Just a phone call, something from somebody and maybe I could get started," he said.

Two cases involving innocent victims Joceyln Blair and Kevin Champion remain unsolved, although Bond said he is close to obtaining charges, if he can get a little help.

"But it's very disheartening to me as an investigator, with both those cases a couple of people called but the first thing they wanted to know was how much was the reward," Bond said.

"How about the reward being that deceased person's eyes and ears and voice, then speaking for them because that person can't speak for themselves?" Bond said.

Blair, 31, was killed as she ate breakfast at Charlie's Coney Island on Dec. 19. "There were at least five people in there, but no one saw anything. How can that be? Where is the decency for our fellow human beings?" he said.

A surveillance camera at the door could have caught the entire crime if it were working, Bond said.

But a video recording of a savage attack doesn't always mean a quick arrest.

When Champion, 41, was killed outside his family's liquor store last year, the community was stunned. Many of the city's homicide victims are involved in criminal activity when they die, but Champion was a respected businessman who had just closed the store when a gunman shot him at close range.

"People of Gary should ask themselves why the communities around them don't have this level of criminal activity," Bond said. "Urban genocide will continue until those who are brave enough actually stand up and do the right thing," he said.

Robertson said criminals who commit one homicide with no repercussions are likely to do it again.

"If they've killed before, they will kill again. But now the blood is on the hands of the witnesses who walk away. That's how I look at it," he said.

Copyright 2016, Chicago Tribune






Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR


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