Pallbearers carry the casket of Brandon Boone from Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church as family and friends follow. Boone was killed by gunfire in a 2014 Thanksgiving Day shooting in Anderson. John P. Cleary, file | The Herald Bulletin
Pallbearers carry the casket of Brandon Boone from Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church as family and friends follow. Boone was killed by gunfire in a 2014 Thanksgiving Day shooting in Anderson. John P. Cleary, file | The Herald Bulletin
When Tina Boone-Turner watches her grandsons, 11-year-old Braylon and 7-year-old Zayveon, she often thinks of their father.

“The things I knew as an adult, I would be reminded by him: ‘Mom, be strong, you’re going to get through this,’” Boone-Turner recalls. “He would always tell me that. He was very special.”

She looks at photos of Brandon on her wall, recalling memories. One shows him with the beard he grew during No-Shave November. Another shows him as a baby, chubby-cheeked and smiling brightly.

Boone-Turner pauses and shakes her head.

“It’s just so sad that somebody would take his life like that, leave us with no answers,” she says softly.

On Thanksgiving Day 2014, Brandon Boone was at Divine Stylez-n-Cutz, 609 W. 22nd St., Anderson, with a brother and a friend when, according to police reports, two gunmen burst into the barbershop.

Brandon’s friend, James Hurd, fled the building. Brandon’s brother, Jaysson Streaty, was attacked with a baseball bat. Streaty and Hurd both survived.

Brandon did not.

He suffered gunshot wounds to the back and was transported to St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital. A short time later, he was pronounced dead at the age of 24.

Raymond Rashard Johnson was charged with murder and robbery in connection with Brandon’s death, but those charges were dismissed by the state in December 2017 because of weaknesses in the evidence. Police never officially announced a motive for the homicide.

Several months after Brandon’s death, in June 2015, Boone-Turner hosted the Families Against Crime walk. About 100 family members, friends and other supporters participated in the hour-long event that started and ended at the Wigwam.

More than five years later, Brandon’s case remains unsolved.

Homicides take the lives of Black people, like Brandon, far more often than white people across the country. The disparity is particularly pronounced in Indiana and in Madison County.

The state ranked third worst in 2017, the last year for which statistics are available, in the nation for Black homicide victimization with 34.91 per 100,00 population, according to an annual study by the Violence Policy Center, which works to reduce gun deaths and injuries through research, education, advocacy and collaboration.

Indiana’s rate is 71% higher than the national Black homicide victimization rate, 20.42, and nearly seven times the overall homicide rate nationwide, 5.1.

The Violence Policy Center has conducted the annual report “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States” since 2007. In that time period, Indiana has been in the top 10 states for Black homicide victimization rates every year except one.

According to records from the Madison County Health Department, the county had 42 homicide deaths from 2010 through 2020. Of those, 33% of victims were Black, far exceeding the county’s Black population, 8.6%.

Tamie Dixon-Tatum, director of human relations for the City of Anderson, is saddened but not shocked by the numbers.

Several factors contribute to Black people dying at a higher rate from homicide, she said, explaining that crime is triggered by systemic racism that leads to subpar education, limited job opportunities, inadequate housing and poor health.

The causes of high Black homicide rates have been debated for decades.

A 1993 study by Ruth Peterson and Lauren Krivo titled “Racial Segregation and Black Urban Homicide” found a “relatively strong” positive association between residential segregation and Black homicide. Such segregation, according to the study, is often reinforced by various types of housing discrimination.

Citing low local literacy rates, Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings believes the high Black homicide rate can be traced directly to lack of opportunities, especially in education.

Cummings thinks the county needs to push harder for better education, not only to help ensure Black students’ futures, but the future of all students.

Crimes such as homicide more often affect poorly educated people of low socioeconomic status, regardless of race, the prosecutor said. Black people in Anderson and elsewhere, he noted, suffer at an even higher rate.

“At one time ... Anderson had the lowest African American male high school graduate rate in the state,” Cummings said. “Those are also factors that lead to low economics, lack of opportunities and crime.”

The prosecutor was referring to 2010, when less than four of 10 eligible Black male students graduated from Anderson Community Schools, ranking last in the state.

A decade later, statistics tell a different story.

In 2019, the Black graduation rate from Anderson High School was 84%, according to the Indiana Department of Education, four percentage points better than the school’s overall rate of 80%, though still three percentage points lower than the state rate.

To concerned citizen Lindsay Brown, the complexity of the problem runs far deeper than graduation rates and housing segregation.

He points to systemic racism, specifically in economics, that goes back hundreds of years and is perpetuated today.

“Is it because we have been held to a lower standard in life?” asks Brown, who is Black. “Or is it because we are more segregated into a certain area?”

Brown thinks both factors play a role.

Black people disproportionately inhabit economically depressed neighborhoods in Anderson, he said.

Brown also detects that an overly aggressive police approach to those neighborhoods focuses on catching criminals, rather than helping people who might be victimized.

“If I drive to the west side right now, within 45 seconds to maybe a minute, I’ll probably see three or four cops,” Brown said. “The presence of police that do not get out of their cars and do community policing and get to know the people, what good are they?”

Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger agrees that Black homicide victimization stems from economic disparity. Like Cummings, the sheriff sees education as a catalyst to change the dynamic.

Mellinger also recognizes the need for law enforcement agencies across the country to reevaluate themselves, particularly at a time of heightened racial tension spotlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There are quite a few evaluations that need to be done in law enforcement, for all of us,” Mellinger said in reference to the recent police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans. “It’s very clear that across the nation, there have been some horrendous events that have happened,”

To Dixon-Tatum, the solution to the Black homicide rate is clear: Invest in the community.

If city officials gave incentives to businesses to build on the west side like they do the east side, Dixon-Tatum said, increased commerce would bring more jobs, quelling the desperation that leads to crime.

Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department, said almost all the new businesses that are offered incentives are in the core of the city, not necessarily the east side. Winkler also said his department is working with “a number of” businesses on the west side as the city continues to pursue redevelopment for Edgewood Plaza.

“The question is, how do we get these businesses over here? A lot of times, you’ll hear, ‘It’s a high crime rate’ and ‘The area is under-developed,’” Dixon-Tatum said. “Well, we know that, but why?”

According to Peterson and Krivo, efforts to reduce Black homicide rates should include changing “important structural conditions” such as racial residential segregation and social isolation.

While their study is 27 years old, the solutions it suggests still seem familiar: improving police and emergency medical service response times and strengthening neighborhood social institutions such as churches, banks, schools, stores and recreational facilities.

The key is equal opportunities, according to Brown.

“If we gave everybody an equal playing field, the country would grow substantially,” he explained. “As long as we are constantly going to be held to a different standard and looked (down) upon, we are always going to have ... struggles, and ... struggles are going to stem off into other things.”

Six years after Brandon’s death, Tina Boone-Turner still has moments when she falls to her hands and knees and prays to God.

“It comes in waves,” she says. “I’m still going through it. When it comes, it hits hard.”

And when she looks at Brandon’s sons — Braylon and Zayveon — she thinks back to when her son was a young father, back to when Zayveon was just a few months old.

Brandon used to work late as a contractor while training to be a barber. He would come home about the same time every night, and Zayveon would wake up in his crib to see his dad.

After Brandon died, the baby would still wake up in the middle of the night.

Boone-Turner knows all too well — Zayveon was waiting for Brandon to come home.

She knows, without a doubt, that if Brandon were still alive, the world would be a better place.

“I know Brandon would be here today ... doing some serious stuff that would be nothing but positive. I’d seen it in him before he died,” Boone-Turner says.

Brandon would still be barbering, she says, and loving every second of it.

He’d be taking care of his sons.

And he’d be at his mother’s home every day, making sure she was OK.

He was her rock, after all.
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