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Editor's Note, June 17, 2014: Byron Alston, a 15-year veteran of the Ten Point Coalition, was arrested in May and charged with four felony counts of tax evasion and one count of perjury. He has since resigned. Alston allegedly failed to file certain state income tax return for 2008 through 2012 but was paid by Save the Youth, Inc., a nonprofit he started, and by Ten Point.
Several nights a week, three middle-aged men keep vigil in portions of Indianapolis that largely exist in the past tense, discarded wrappers that once contained something of value. This boarded red-brick building, they remember, used to be a grocery store. The empty, snow-covered lot on the corner was the site of a home, a nice one. The van in which the men are traveling tonight—one of this harsh winter’s coldest—groans as it skids to a stop in front of a house on the near-northwest side. The porch lamp, a single exposed bulb, is one of the few sources of light on the block. A man lived there, they say. He was duct-taped to a chair and shot dead.
The man was Terry Day, one of Indianapolis’s 125 homicide victims in 2013, the highest number recorded here in seven years.
On streets to the east and west of this one, in neighborhoods like Riverside, Crown Hill, and United Northwest, the stories told by Eddie Owens, Darryl Jones, and Anthony Neal ring the same: abandoned, razed, dead. The men will measure the success of this three-hour shift as they do the others: A good night is a quiet one. Owens is one of the few paid employees of the Ten Point Coalition, a faith-based group whose members—90 percent of whom have criminal records themselves—want to prevent violence, specifically gun violence, among young African-American males in the city’s urban core. Jones and Neal are volunteers. They call themselves O.G.s—Original Gangsters.
These nightly sweeps, bare-bones affairs that require street smarts and shoe leather, owe their meager existence to an unsteady stream of taxpayer dollars, grants, and donations. And yet, according to at least one city official, Ten Point is an “integral” part of fighting crime in Indianapolis. Jones, one of the volunteers from the van, is more blunt: “We go where the police can’t.”
Two areas that Ten Point patrols were among the nation’s most dangerous last year, according to NeighborhoodScout.com, a real-estate website that marries FBI statistics on homicides, aggravated assaults, rapes, and armed robberies with census data and mapping technology. One of the neighborhoods, which includes the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, ranked as the 17th-most dangerous in the country. The other, bounded by Fall Creek, 38th Street, and I-65, was the 20th. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department patrols these streets, too, but Ten Point occupies a space between the cops and the criminals: the precarious middle.
Last summer, Jones, armed with only a neon-yellow vest, the kind favored by road crews and runners, showed up to a crime scene on the near-northwest side, where a young woman had been stabbed. He arrived at the same time as the victim’s family members, who were armed with handguns and intent on shooting the assailant. Jones stepped in and convinced the family members to put away their weapons.
Ten Point crews are often alerted to potential flashpoints by the IMPD’s staff chaplain and sometimes even the department’s higher-ups. Their bright vests serve as a kind of human yellow crime tape; the 25 volunteers and four full-timers routinely act as buffers separating the police, grieving friends and family, or warring factions. They broker deals between rivals. They share street-level intelligence with law enforcement and watch over potential hotspots. They offer curbside counseling, referring scores of people to social programs and job leads. They play basketball with those who are open to changing their ways and, for those who stay headstrong, eventually pray at their funerals.
Ten Point and its vocal president, 53-year-old Rev. Charles Harrison, have a knack for finding trouble even when they’re not looking for it. In February, a Marion County grand-jury investigation prompted by Democratic Prosecutor Terry Curry turned up at the doorstep of one of the organization’s full-time outreach workers, prompting calls of corruption from one corner and cries of a political witch hunt from the other. Republican Mayor Greg Ballard and his administration’s support of the group have drawn criticism; Harrison charges that city Democrats publicly ignore Ten Point’s efforts while privately undermining its progress.
“We’re the peacemakers,” says Owens. Yet Harrison and Ten Point find themselves in the line of fire, both on and off the streets.Rev. Frank Moore, the man who inspired Harrison to enter the ministry, describes his one-time student as a prophet. And, like that of any good prophet, Harrison’s narrative is a compelling one: He almost chose a gun over God.
Once, when Harrison was 13, the phone at his family’s home in Jeffersonville, Indiana, rang in the middle of the night. He watched as the caller’s message brought his father to his knees. Harrison’s 21-year-old stepbrother had been killed. That night, the stepbrother, also named Charles, had been across the Ohio River in Louisville, riding in a vehicle with several friends. He was shot seven times, dumped from the vehicle, and left to die on the roadside. The likely motive: drugs. Charles picked himself up from the ground and staggered almost a mile in search of help. Eventually, he reached a home where someone called 911. But before EMTs could get him to a hospital, he bled to death. (Charles’s son, Juwan, who was just 1 year old at the time of his father’s death, would meet a similar fate years later.)
Harrison felt a thunderbolt of rage when next he saw the men he suspected of pulling the trigger. “His so-called friends, the ones who ended up killing Charles, they came to the wake,” he says. “That to me said, when you’re in the street, friendship means nothing. It’s all business. There are no friends in The Game.”
Not long afterward, Harrison and a few others decided to take matters into their own hands, tracking down Charles’s killers and working to acquire guns. Before Harrison was able to execute the retaliation, however, a group of adults from his church learned of the plan and confronted him. “It was just a matter of those men talking to me, showing me they cared by getting involved in my life at a very personal level—that was enough,” he says. “They steered me in the right direction, and I truly believe that led to my calling.”
By 17, Harrison had set aside a promising athletic career (he played football, basketball, and baseball and ran track at Jeffersonville High School), and he began spending more time at church, struck by the energy of the new pastor, fresh from seminary and just 11 years his senior. “I remember this little fella in the congregation staring at me all of the time,” says Moore, then 28. “I’d look at him when I was preaching, and he was just glued to me. Charlie would show up to church meetings wearing a ball cap—he was a great athlete, wonderful running back for his high-school team—and just sit and listen. I eventually invited him and some of the others to my home and taught them to play chess. Not only was Charlie athletic, he was competitive, very determined, and while he was fair, he always played to win.”
Swayed one Sunday by a Moore sermon—“Come to the Feast”—Harrison approached the pastor after the service, gave his life to Christ, and explained that he felt “the calling.” Moore mentored the young man and, Harrison says, had “a profound effect on my life at a point where I might have gone either way.” Harrison completed his undergraduate degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, and then received a Master of Divinity in Delaware, Ohio, at Methodist Theological School. Upon graduation, he was appointed pastor of a United Methodist Church in New Castle, Indiana, where he spent seven years before his bishop transferred him to Barnes United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, in 1993.
“I was concerned when he first started preaching,” says Moore, who was pastor of another UMC congregation in Indianapolis when Harrison took over at Barnes. (Moore now works in Philadelphia.) “He was imitating me, had all of my idiosyncrasies, my hand gestures—everything. I pulled him aside one day and said, ‘Now, listen, Charles, I’m going to tell you the same thing my mother told me: ‘God called you to be you, not someone else.’”
Harrison found his own voice in 1998, when he heard Rev. Eugene Rivers speak. Rivers, a Pentecostal minister, founded the first Ten Point Coalition in Boston to combat violence in his neighborhood. The project’s success inspired then–Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican presiding over a city that saw 162 homicides in 1998, to invite Rivers to talk to local clergy and community leaders. At a rally on the near-north side, Rivers urged the audience to “put our lips with our hips in the streets, meeting young people where they live.”
“Hearing Rev. Rivers speak reminded me of what happened to my stepbrother Charles, reminded me of the mistakes I almost made as a teen,” says Harrison. “It seemed like a natural fit—Ten Point was something I needed to be involved with.” Harrison’s past dovetailed with his future, and over the years he found an unflinching mission that was uniquely his own.
“Charlie is what I would call a prophetic minister,” says Moore. “His heart has always been in the street. He’s always taking care of the poor and always putting love and justice above all else. A lot of us are preachers in a priestly sense: We visit the sick, we counsel married couples, we offer guidance—basically, we minister. Charles does all that, but he walks with gangs, challenges the police and politicians. He brings God’s word to the city, to the government, just like those Old Testament prophets Jeremiah and Amos challenged the government of their time. He speaks truth to power.”
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