Sporting events drive much of Indiana’s tourism, typically grossing in millions annually. But the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to this thriving industry, a factor that some believe contributed to the rise in homicides.
Ryan Vaughn, president of Indiana Sports Corp, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting sporting events in the state, said Indianapolis as a branded destination is the result of determined efforts by several governments and citizens.
Indianapolis’ first appearance came in the 1980s when Indiana was hosting the National Sports Festival and the Pan American Games. More recently, the city hosted the 2012 Super Bowl and several Final Fours, in part because the NCAA is headquartered in the city. In fact, basketball, Vaughn said, is a huge part of Indianapolis’ culture.
“I think every Hoosier feels like they own the basketball,” he said. “Nine of the ten largest high school gyms in the country for basketball are in Indiana. That fact alone probably speaks for our passion for them.”
In normal times, the events Indiana Sports Corp brings to the state generate $ 150 million to $ 200 million a year, Vaughn said. March Madness alone is expected to have more than $ 100 million in economic impact, much like a Final Four weekend in the past.
That revenue excludes the mainstays in Indianapolis – the NFL, NBA, or minor league teams – or the Indianapolis 500.
“The city’s priority is to be the sports mecca, and we’ve invested millions and millions of dollars to become that and have that image,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, a local pastor and activist. “And meanwhile, if you look over the city, we’ve grown to be one of the most violent cities in America in the past six years.”
As of March 13, according to preliminary incidents by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, there were no criminal murders in downtown Indianapolis, where most of the tournament games will be played and the teams will stay.
But the city center had other challenges. When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, only 10% to 12% of the 150,000 to 175,000 people who normally work in the urban core went downtown as offices were out of the way and businesses were closing, according to senior vice president Bob Schultz for events in downtown Indy, Inc., a local nonprofit organization.
Then that summer, about 100 downtown businesses were damaged by police in protests following the death of George Floyd, preventing locals from spending time downtown, Schultz added.
Now “one of the most violent cities in America”
The night Nya Cope was killed, she, her mother, and a friend were out to fetch late evening food on the east side of Indianapolis. When they found themselves in a crowd of young people gathering for a car show, the 16-year-old told her mother, Nikki Cope, not to worry.
Just moments later, shots were fired and Nya slumped in the passenger seat. She was hit in the head by a stray bullet. First responders took her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead after 1 a.m. on May 3, Cope says.
“I didn’t know (area violence) could be this bad because I wouldn’t have gone,” said Cope, a Marion, Indiana resident, more than an hour north of where Nya was killed.
Nya is just one of 214 people killed by criminal murder in Indianapolis in 2020 – a nearly 40% year-over-year increase and the city’s highest annual record, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
As of March 13, 2021, Indianapolis had 50 criminal murders following the IMPD’s preliminary incidents – an increase of nearly 43% over the same period last year.
In January, more than two months after the NCAA announced that all of the March madness would take place in Indiana, five people and one unborn child were fatally shot – Indianapolis’ “largest mass casualty shootout in more than a decade,” Police Chief Randal Taylor said by the time. Less than a week before the first notice, four people, including a 7-year-old, were shot after a dispute over a stimulus control, according to court documents. Arrests were made in both cases.
Josh Barker, deputy chief of operations for the IMPD, said that many of the areas in the city where murders and serious assaults have increased have typically been disproportionately affected in the past. But the problem has also spread, he said.
“There are a lot more splatter patterns (on the crime map),” Barker said. “We’re seeing this type of crime really all over town, making it harder to refine, reevaluate, and redirect resources.”
Indianapolis is not alone in its increasing number of murders. In metropolitan areas across the country, killings increased by nearly 33%, according to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a professional organization of law enforcement officers representing the largest cities in the United States.
“I think there are several variables, especially in 2020,” said Laura Cooper, the group’s executive director, citing Covid-19, protests, a backlog in the judicial system due to the pandemic, criminal justice reform policies, and spread and ease of access to get firearms.
Combating the rise in violence
As with the rise in violence at the national level, city and neighborhood leaders say there are a variety of factors contributing to the rise in murders in Indianapolis.
Rev. Harrison, who founded a nonprofit organization called the Indy Ten Point Coalition more than a decade ago to help those affected by violence in Indianapolis’ neighborhoods, sees three common themes in his organization: drug trafficking, robbery, and personal issues, complaints.
“Years ago individuals fought and resolved or talked about their conflicts. Today they don’t – they use guns and knives to resolve their conflicts, and we see a lot of interpersonal shootouts and conflicts.”
Five nights a week, 30 to 50 volunteers from Harrison’s organization go out to the neighborhood and work with individuals in the community to offer advice and assistance to people in these areas, especially men ages 14 to 24, who are disproportionately affected by violence To give resources.
“When you have the same people out there night after night, you can really build those relationships and you have the institutional knowledge of the neighborhood and that has been really effective for us,” he said.
Shonna Majors, director of violence reduction for the Indianapolis Public Safety Bureau, said she thought the pandemic played a role in violence in the city.
“Many of our returning citizens and lower-income residents really rely on the hospitality industry to work and the downtown area to be all but closed and closed, and that is changing their economic situation at home,” she said.
Majors said reducing gun violence was an integral part of the city’s efforts to reduce homicides.
This is something Nya’s mother, Nikki Cope, said she hopes leaders can find a way to deal with it.
“All my life, every day, she was just work and her,” said Cope of her daughter. “But now she’s been torn away from me because of irresponsible behavior.”