Following what the Crusader called the “Year of Death” in 2020, 2021 brought many of the same challenges but with a new sense that a better future was still possible. Though COVID-19 remained and continued to devastate communities, the protection gained from vaccines allowed many to return to work and make group outings again possible. While news headlines of police brutality remained, the conviction of George Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, allowed many to have a momentary celebration.
In late fall, the announcement of the dangerous and fast spreading Omicron variant disrupted many end-of-year plans, leaving what the future holds for 2022 unclear.
THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Trump leads Insurrection at the Capitol
As the country was preparing to move forward from the Trump administration and officially certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the next President and Vice President of the United States, a massive group of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and overtook police and barricades in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
Joe Biden’s Inauguration
Following the madness and destruction of white rage displayed on January 6, 2021, just two weeks later Biden and Harris were officially sworn into their new positions. The American public and those on the celebrity-studded performer and guest list were awed by the reading of an original poem by the star of the day, Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman.
Karen Freeman-Wilson portrait
A portrait was unveiled in the corridor of City Hall honoring former Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on February 19, recognizing her tenure as Gary’s first female mayor, from 2012-2019.
Basic Income Program
A universal income pilot program that will give 125 Gary residents $500 a month was introduced. Those who receive the assistance from the Guaranteed Income Validation Effort will be selected from a lottery following responses to a survey that will be mailed to 4,000 residents.
New Police Reforms
The Indiana state senate, with a unanimous vote, passed House Bill 1006 that will enforce de-escalation training for officers, defines chokeholds as deadly force, criminally penalizes officers who turn off body cameras to hide unlawful behavior, and establishes safeguards against an officer trying to cover up past disciplinary actions.
BLM meets with county Prosecutor
Members of Black Lives Matter-Gary and their allies from around Lake County held a press conference and protest on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, accusing Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter of a lack of accountability and transparency in dealing with police killings. The event focused on the case of 82-year-old Melvin Bouler who was shot 10 times through the windshield of his car by a Gary policeman in November, 2019. He died several months later in the hospital, never having recovered from his wounds. Community outrage has focused on Mr. Bouler’s case, which has languished in the Prosecutor’s Office since the shooting.
Black Lives Matter has called for a public meeting with Prosecutor Carter to air issues of process, training, Grand Juries, and in general, accountability to the public.
Derek Chauvin verdict
For the first time in Minnesota history, a white police officer has been convicted for killing a Black civilian while on duty. Derek Chauvin is now a convicted murderer for killing George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. Just 10 hours after deliberating Chauvin’s fate, jurors returned with a stunning verdict: Guilty of second-degree manslaughter; guilty of second-degree unintentional murder; guilty of third-degree murder.
Mia Neal wins Academy Award
Gary native Mia Neal won the Academy Award for Makeup and Hairstyling along with Jamika Wilson and Sergio Lopez-Rivera, for their work on Netflix’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Sunday, April 25, during a televised ceremony.
Neal and Wilson became the first Black stylists nominated in the Oscar’s history, and winners in the category. Neal, the department head, created the wigs worn by actress Viola Davis in the film.
Hard Rock Casino Grand Opening
In true Hard Rock tradition, the new Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana celebrated its grand opening with a legendary Guitar Smash featuring Tito and Marlon Jackson, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy. Musicians Kym Mazelle, Crystal Taliefero and Deniece Williams, all of whom are Gary natives, also participated.
Leading the smash were Hard Rock International COO Jon Lucas; Chairman Marcellus Osceola of the Seminole Tribe of Florida; and Matt Schuffert President, Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana. The $300 million casino and entertainment destination officially opened to the public on May 14.
The 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex includes a massive gaming space, five food venues, an on-site sportsbook, a retail shop, and a 1,954-seat Hard Rock Live performance venue.
The Royal Family of Music – the Jacksons – are featured prominently throughout the property. The impressive 37-foot-tall guitar marquee at the entrance to the building is modeled after Joseph Jackson’s famous guitar that changed the world and was the start of the Jackson 5. Upon entering the casino, guests are greeted by a spectacular guitar chandelier artwork modeled after that same guitar.
The expansive Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana is all on one level much like the Las Vegas casinos. The casino floor has 150,000 square feet dedicated to gaming, which includes blackjack, roulette, and craps, along with slot machines and video poker. There is a special baccarat area, an exclusive high-limit room, Pai Gow poker and Spanish 21.
Carolyn Rogers Degree
On June 8, 2021, Indiana University Northwest held a ceremony to award the late Carolyn Rogers, former Gary Councilwoman, a posthumous degree in Criminal Justice.
Ebony Miller, Carolyn Rogers’ daughter, moved her tassel to indicate her graduation, and received her official Indiana University diploma.
Several community leaders, including city of Gary Mayor Jerome Prince, Lake County Prosecutor and IU Northwest Adjunct Professor Bernie Carter, and city of Gary 6th District Councilman Dwight Williams were present.
Graduation of Class of ’21
On Sunday, June 6, the West Side Leadership Academy class of 2021 and their families were able to gather safely at the football stadium, aka the “Cougar Den,” for a formal graduation.
“It’s been by far one of the most challenging years in academia, especially for our seniors,” said GCSC Manager Dr. Paige McNulty. “Not only did they have to complete most of the academic year virtually but miss out on many special moments that all graduates look forward to. It was important that we make graduation special for them.”
The commencement address was co-delivered by power couple Attorneys Michael and Shelice Tolbert of Tolbert & Tolbert Law Firm. Shelice Tolbert, Esquire, is a 1993 graduate of West Side, who met her future husband at Tolleston Middle School. During their presentation, both touted their Gary roots while inspiring the graduates to go out into the world proudly representing Gary.
Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Wallace Broadnax killed in Gas station shooting
Many throughout the city of Gary mourned the death of Wallace Broadnax.
Broadnax, a former Gary firefighter and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer, was shot during a failed robbery attempt. He was 70.
Two juveniles were arrested in connection with the shooting that took place at a Clark gas station at 2295 Grant St. on June 26.
No Charges in death of Melvin Bouler
The Grand Jury was called to hear evidence on whether [Brandon] Henderson, a Gary police officer, should face charges of murder and reckless homicide in the 2019 shooting and later death of Melvin Bouler, an 82-year-old Gary resident.
Evidence presented to the Grand Jury was prepared by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, the agency in charge of the investigation.
The prosecutor’s office will not bring charges against Henderson. The announcement was made at a press conference, but without responding to questions from the media, a representative saying he could not discuss the Grand Jury’s findings. Instead Lake County Detective Michael Stewart read a 15-page report, which has been made public, summarizing his department’s investigation.
The COVID-19 Delta variant is identified as responsible for pushing up infection numbers
As a matter of precaution, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb extended protection measures related to the COVID-19 public health emergency until August 31, 2021.
Holcomb cited the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 as leading to the uptick in the state’s infection numbers. The seven-day COVID positivity infection rate of 2.1 percent, in June, rose to 6.3 percent in July.
Biden gives record increase in food stamps to poor Americans
The Biden Administration approved a record increase in food benefits of its nutritional welfare program that has helped provide nutritional access for millions of poor Americans across the country.
On October 1, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were increased by an average of 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The increase impacted as many as 42 million struggling Americans. The move will be the largest increase since SNAP began in 1975.
Mayor Prince lays out plan for use of federal funds
The city of Gary received $80.3 million through the American Rescue Plan, and Mayor Jerome Prince unveiled how his administration wants to spend the funds.
During an appearance at a meeting of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, Prince listed several priorities for the first half of the allotment of the funds.
The mayor requested $10.15 million be deposited in the city’s general fund to make up for revenue lost during the previous year.
Six million is to be allotted for pension and pay for employees, with $3 million going to the pension fund, and $3 million for essential workers.
He also wanted to use $25 million to support several programs, including improving the city’s broadband infrastructure and utilizing $750,000 for the city’s Guaranteed Income Validation Effort, GIVE, and $200,000 for a summer youth program.
The mayor also asked for $13.6 million to repair and upgrade the city’s sewer system.
Clifford D. Johnson is sworn in as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana
Clifford D. Johnson was officially named the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. He was sworn in by Chief U.S. District Judge Jon E. DeGuilio at the federal courthouse in Hammond.
Johnson was nominated by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., on July 26, 2021, and unanimously confirmed by the Senate on September 30, 2021, for the Northern District of Indiana United States Attorney’s position. President Biden signed Mr. Johnson’s commission on October 5, 2021.
West Side basketball star commits to UNC
During a press conference surrounded by family, friends, administration, media and a host of well-wishers, West Side Leadership Academy’s Jalen Washington signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of North Carolina on a full scholarship.
“I’d like to thank my amazing parents, coaches, family, friends and everyone who helped me get to this point,” said a soft-spoken Washington.
National conversation sparked by Rittenhouse verdict
Outrage filtered in from across the nation following the not guilty verdict of Kyle Rittenhouse on Friday, November 19. Rittenhouse shot three men, killing two, at a protest of police brutality following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The now 18-year-old Rittenhouse was charged with first-degree reckless homicide; first-degree intentional homicide; attempted first-degree intentional homicide; and two counts of first-degree endangering safety.
Mayor and deputy test positive for COVID-19
City of Gary Mayor Jerome A. Prince and Deputy Mayor Trent A. McCain announced on December 1 that they tested positive for COVID-19 and were experiencing very mild symptoms.
Prince and McCain maintained their full ranges of duties and responsibilities, including attending all of their meetings remotely.
GCSC and Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement on New Contract
The Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC) and Gary Teachers Union (GTU) announced a tentative agreement on a new teachers’ contract, reaching a deal after negotiations went to mediation earlier this month. GTU members ratified the tentative agreement on Friday, December 17, GCSC Manager Dr. Paige McNulty said at a meeting of the Distressed Unit Appeal Board (DUAB).
The tentative agreement calls for a three-percent increase in teachers’ base pay. In addition, teachers will receive up to $7,000 if they reach their performance-based incentives and benchmarks related to attendance and retention. For the incentives, teachers will have flexibility to choose from among a list that GCSC and GTU agreed to during negotiations.