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I was downtown Saturday night, when the mess jumped off.  When several were shot on downtown streets while Black Expo and its Teen Bling were happening.

First some background. Ever since Circle Center opened, my Expo Saturday night ritual has been standing on the corner of Illinois and Maryland Street, starting around 8:30pm to watch the crowd and the police. Every Expo Saturday, thousands of young adults, and yes children have packed the sidewalks of those two streets walking and milling about.

Before the shootings, there was something very, very different from this year’s Black Expo crowd.  Far, far fewer people.  The numbers walking downtown this year were drastically down from past years. In previous years, the sidewalk in front of the Steak & Shake was gridlocked.  Nothing but people. No empty space.  This year, you could comfortably walk around that intersection and not bump into folks.

In past years, the crowds were boisterous, very noisy, some years arrogant and somewhat dangerous.  That was NOT the case Saturday.

On that corner, there were ten patrol officers, four mounted officers, a passel of bicycle officers and a bunch of plainclothes.

Pastors and lay leaders from area churches and the Ten Point Coalition were also on the corner, walking and talking with the crowds.

The only concern was when the rain was coming.

I had been standing on the street for more than forty-five minutes, talking with the ministers, top police officials and the Public Safety Director Dr. Frank Straub.  Dr. Straub and I decided to go into Steak & Shake and grab a milkshake. (Yes it was open and doing business).

We’d been in the restaurant about three minutes when all of a sudden we heard commotion outside.  Some people inside the restaurant yelled and screamed.  Dr. Straub’s police training instincts kicked in and he and his security officer ran outside.  Two women next to me screamed “duck”, so instinctively I did.

After a few minutes, I showed my media credentials to the Sheriff’s deputy doing security in the restaurant and I exited onto Maryland Street.

Out there I saw a crime scene.  Dr. Straub and a couple of officers were treating a young man, between 16 to 18, who had a leg wound.  Another younger man right at the corner of Illinois and Maryland was also treated by police.  Other officers were scurrying to clear the streets of cars and the sidewalks of people.

Bystanders were very cooperative, following police orders.  Police, though under the stress of an incident, moved people out calmly.  The faith patrol, the pastors also helped police calm bystanders and direct them to alternate ways of getting to their destination.

Within six minutes ambulances arrived for the victims and I learned that there were multiple shooting victims.

The official police report from IMPD says this:

“On Saturday July 17th, 2010 at approximately 9:30 pm a disturbance broke out near the intersection of Illinois St and Maryland St.   During the disturbance unknown individual(s) began shooting into a very large crowd.  Eight victims were injured by the gun fire.  All victims are males, ages ranging from 10 years old to 18 years old.  All victims sustained gunshot wounds to their lower extremities.  A second shooting took place a few minutes later at the corner of Georgia St. and Meridian St.  The 16 year old male was shot in both legs.  At approximately 11:30 pm a third shooting took place in the 100 block of W. Market St. where a 15 year old male was shot in the leg as well.  All individuals that were shot are being treated at local hospitals and are listed in good condition.”

IMPD now reports that they have a suspect in custody that was involved in the 11:30pm shooting and may be involved in the others.

Indiana Black Expo also has issued a statement on the incident:

“As our community celebrates 40 years of having one of the largest African-American events in the country, we are saddened by the reported incidents that occurred downtown this evening.  Fortunately, none of the incidents resulted in life threatening injuries.  We are still waiting to hear if the incidents were related and who was involved.  The incidents were isolated from the IBE events that were planned by IBE and its countless number of volunteers and numerous partners.  We are working closely with Public Safety Director, Frank Straub and the Mayor’s Office to understand all of the facts and circumstances involved.”

There will and should be a lot of discussion and debate about what happened and why.

But four things stand out.

The crowd downtown this Saturday at Black Expo was the lowest it has been in many, many years, even though the violence was one of the worst in recent years.

Black Expo’s marketing reliance on events for teens and young adults to the exclusion of events that can involve a family needs to be totally overhauled.

Expo must also overhaul its pricing structure to make it attractive and economical for parents to afford to accompany their kids.

And parents and grandparents must step to the plate to understand that you can accompany your children and grandchildren to Expo without seeming overprotective or overbearing.

The community conversation starts Monday on our Afternoons with Amos at 1pm.

What do you think?  Send me an e-mail and I’ll share with our listeners.