Alleged ‘hate crimes’ spark public discussion on race relations

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New Haven, Ind. (WANE) -New Haven city officials held an open house to discuss race relations in their community, Monday night. This comes after La’Kysha Gardner said three boys beat up her son Jason, because he was black, then left him nearly unconscious by a creek.

Gardner’s story ended up all over social media in June prompting peace rallies and a call to action from the community. However, the family has moved from their New Haven home claiming the police did not do enough to protect them.

New Haven Police Chief Henry McKinnon said that is simply not true. He is concerned that “rumors and false statements” have been shared over social media, which dominated a large portion of conversation during the public meeting. Chief McKinnon was joined by New Haven Mayor Terry McDonald and representatives with the Department of Justice.

“I would read things such as, ‘this is a racist department’ or ‘members of the community are racist,'” said Chief McKinnon. “I’ll look you in the eyes, in my 22 years here, and tell you that’s not how we operate.”

For McKinnon, this was a chance to talk to the community face-to-face and set the record straight.

“Sometimes people will form opinions based on what they’ve read and what they heard,” he said.

He answered questions from the audience about how the police department handled the investigation, if it was done fairly, and why the people involved had not been arrested. McKinnon said the investigation has been turned over to the prosecutor’s office for review.

“Everything was put together,” said McKinnon. “We filed that with the juvenile prosecutor’s office. So right now, that investigation is done. We have been able to identify the suspects.”

Mayor McDonald said he does not want the actions of a small group of people damage the community’s reputation.

“I don’t care where somebody is born,” he said. “I don’t care what color somebody’s skin is. I don’t care what language they speak. I just want everyone to know they are welcome in the city of New Haven.”

About a dozen people attended the open house but, the family that fueled it all, was missing.

“We didn’t know anything about it,” said Gardner. “We didn’t know anything until just now.”

Gardner said the issue goes beyond the her son being beaten. She said her family received threats months prior, and continued to be victimized even after the police began the investigation.

Gardner said she took to Facebook because she was desperate for help after feeling ignored by New Haven city officials. In videos and posts to social media, she said the police did not respond to reports of threats forcing them to move.

“Help me. Help me show the world what is going on,” La’Kysha Gardner said in one Facebook video. “I thought the Mayor of New Haven said this is not stuff that they stand for? What can you say now Chief McKinnon? What’s your excuse this time?”

Gardner said members of the community have helped her along the way, including Clearwater McGhee, who was instrumental in helping her find a new home. When McGhee heard about the situation in New Haven he organized a peace rally. He said the Mayor and Police Chief were present.

“[The police] assured me they would be there to help and they weren’t,” said McGhee.

Chief McKinnon said there will be another forum to discuss race relations in the future. He plans to do a better job of getting the word out to the community.