Editor’s note: This article is part of a week-long series examining race in Grant County through the lenses of history, the judicial system, religion, activism and law enforcement.
On May 29, 18-year-old Trinidad Alfaro and her friend Lauren Flynn stood alone on the Grant County Courthouse Square demanding justice for George Floyd, who had been killed by police earlier that week.
Seven days later, more than 300 community members were following Alfaro and four other young women around the courthouse, demanding change.
“People thought it was going to stop and it’s not stopping,” she said.
Protestors have been met with resistance, Alfaro said.
“Because we’re trying so hard, it’s creating more tension,” she said. “We’re not attacking the community, we’re trying to educate the community. We’re trying to end a war. We’re trying to love and not hate. We’re trying so hard to remain peaceful. Who doesn’t want to fight hate with hate? That’s the easiest route.”
Torri Williams, local activist and pioneer of Marion’s newly established Black Lives Matter chapter, said community engagement has changed since the initial protests.
“People are looking for next steps and how to actually effect change instead of just showing up for an event,” she said. “I think the next step is gathering information.”
In an effort to gather information, Williams created a survey for community members regarding possible improvements to local law enforcement, including increased community engagement and implementation of implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training.
“There are some pretty easy, tangible changes that can happen,” she said. “I refuse to give up on the idea that we can actually do some stuff together.”
More than 800 community members responded to the survey.
According to Williams, many people do not understand what the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement stands for.
“It’s a beautiful movement, but all you hear is the extreme criticism or misinformation,” she said. “In order to do this work you have to make sure you are defining what’s happening or other people will tell you what your group is about.”
According to the Black Lives Matter Marion Facebook page, “Black Lives Matter Marion is committed to serving, uplifting and building a more just community. Our work is centered on fighting against injustices committed against Black lives, and by extension, all people.”
Williams said the group plans to organize events such as a canned food drive and other fundraisers to help those in need.
At any local BLM protest, you can find Britanni Flowers with a megaphone in her hand leading protestors in chants and sharing her story.
Flowers said she hopes the protests motivate law enforcement to require further training to protect those with special needs from excessive force.
“I have a special needs child and that does kind of scare me,” she said. “What someone might see as him trying to walk away is he just wants to get out of the area. He might not be doing anything wrong, but he might come off as nervous to you or like he is hiding something.”
Keeping the protests peaceful is important to Flowers, she said.
“My personal mantra, what I believe, is that love conquers all,” she said. “If someone comes at you with hate, coming back at them with hate only adds fuel to the fire. I love everyone. I love my community. I love this place. Nobody ever changes the world without stepping outside their comfort zone.”
Richarh Tyson, activist and CEO of Channel 27 News and Entertainment, organized a prayer vigil at the beginning of June at Marion City Hall in which law enforcement and the community joined in prayer for peace and justice.
“We’re working things out. I applaud them for that. I applaud (Marion Police Department) Chief (Angela) Haley for putting forth the effort. As far as our local law enforcement, we’re just going to continue to build. We’re trying to do some preventative stuff,” Tyson said. “I want to see everybody come together.”
Katara McCarty, an author, activist, speaker, podcast host and emotional well-being advocate for Black, Indigenous, women of color, spent almost 20 years in Marion.
“Marion is home,” she said. “I raised my kids there. I raised a church there. I have a special place in my heart for Marion.”
McCarty said she works “to cultivate cultures of belonging” for Black and Indigenous women of color, including transgender, queer and nonbinary people.
“Just being born in a brown body, wherever I show up, I have to face racism every day,” she said. “I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand.”
While McCarty said she experienced racism in Marion, she said Marion is not exceptional.
“Everywhere I go I face (racism) in our nation,” she said. “There were times I had to advocate for my brown daughters who went to a predominantly white private school, things that were said that were completely inappropriate.”
As a black female leader of a church, McCarty said she watched people leave the service when they realized her white husband was not preaching that day.
“I believe that black people wake up every day knowing what we are going to face and we just do it,” she said.
McCarty said she does not think improvements to the systems in place in America are enough.
“I think it’s a dismantling,” she said. “If we try to improve the systems that we have, it’s not going to work. There is a dismantling of white supremacy and racism that has to happen. We cannot build anti-racism on top of racism. It started off on the wrong foot. It started off with enslaved people.”
While McCarty believes a dismantling is necessary, she said she does not think it will happen in her lifetime.
“That makes me really sad, but there’s also that mandate that I feel to do the work anyway,” she said. “If we can do the work then we can pass the baton to the next generation and they won’t have to do as much.”
According to McCarty, the problem will continue until white people see racism and white supremacy as a problem they have to solve.
“Until the collective grabs ahold of that and says this is not just a Black issue, this is a problem I have to be a part of solving, then we will just keep perpetuating and upholding systems that oppress some and benefit others,” she said.
Dr. Gin Love Thompson, a 1988 Marion High School graduate, author, psychotherapist and activist, was a volunteer assistant to the lead PR manager of the Trayvon Martin case.
“That was in 2012. It’s 2020. Why did it take 8 years of having video of black men, women and children being murdered by the police?” she asked.
Thompson said she is impressed with Alfaro and the younger generation.
“They stood out there alone, not knowing if others would join. That’s the true heart of a world changer,” she said. “As a native of Marion, I couldn’t be prouder. Generation Z is not playing.”
As a white woman, Thompson spoke about what she believes should be the role of white Americans.
“Becoming an ally is a buzzword right now. More is required than going on social media and saying you’re against what’s going on,” she said. “It’s a time of reckoning for white America, to take responsibility to do the work that needs to be done.”
About those who claim to be colorblind, Thompson said, “I know they are well meaning, but it’s destructive to say that you’re colorblind. If you’re colorblind, get a referral to a good ophthalmologist. That mind frame is a cop out. It’s dangerous because it keeps whites from doing the work that’s required. Of course we see color. Respect it.”
Three trees at the intersection of Butler Avenue and Indiana 18, where a fatal crash killed 18-year-old Katie Maynus on June 20, were removed Tuesday.
The Oak Hill student reportedly disregarded a stop sign obstructed by trees when her car collided with a semi tractor trailer.
“We are so thankful that this intersection has been taken care of,” said Katie’s parents Jami and Dave Maynus in a statement. “God has truly blessed us with friends and family to stand up for us and with us in this.”
Shortly after her death, Katie’s friends, family and teachers met with city officials regarding the trees obstructing the stop sign.
After a company was unable to remove the trees on Monday due to equipment issues, Grant County resident Nick McKinley sprang to action.
McKinley said he contacted the City of Marion, Katie’s aunt Amanda Cruea, the property owner and A Cut Above Tree Services and organized the removal of the trees.
“I just kind of connected all the dots,” McKinley said. “I was a police officer before, and I used to diagram fatal car accidents, so I understand the severity of the situation.”
When McKinley contacted Junior Stone, the owner of A Cut Above Tree Services, Stone said he dropped what he was doing that day to remove the trees.
“I have four children and seven grandkids. I can’t imagine something that tragic happening to one of them,” he said. “There’s nothing more important than your kids and grandkids.”
Stone said the general feeling on Tuesday was “sorrow” as Katie’s family watched the trees come down.
“I have the deepest sympathy for the family, and I hope anyway anyone can help them out, they do,” he said. “They’re very great people, and my heart just goes out to them.”
Although Cruea was unable to be there Tuesday, she said the day was emotional.
“... but we’re happy to see it done,” she said. “We’re looking at it as a victory.”
McKinley said it was important for him to be present while the trees were removed, and he was able to meet Katie’s family.
“I was there when the last piece of wood was cut,” he said. “There was nothing bittersweet about it. Nothing that happened out there will ever bring her back, but maybe it can prevent any further accidents.”
Jami and Dave Maynus said the tree removal was “the first of many steps we plan to see through to make our city a safer place,” and they plan to sit down with the Marion Mayor Jess Alumbaugh to discuss further improvements.
At a city council meeting on Tuesday, Council President Deb Cain invited Katie’s friends and family to stand and be recognized.
“We would like to commend your actions and campaigning for something you believed in getting the trees down at Butler and Fourth to make that intersection a safer intersection, so the city does not have to experience what you are going through,” Cain said. “I am very sorry for the grief that you are experiencing, and you are in my prayers and thoughts. I also want to thank the city, the mayor for coming to a decision that was appropriate for everyone. So thank you very much, and I appreciate the time that you came tonight.”
The efforts by Katie’s friends and others in the community showed Cruea how loved Katie was, she said.
“Katie was loved. If you knew Katie, you loved Katie. That’s just the way it was. This just proves it,” she said. “I 100 percent give her friends the credit for the trees coming down as quickly as they did.”
Cruea described Katie as funny, quirky, introverted and a lover of reading.
When asked what Katie would say about her community’s efforts, Cruea said, “I think she would be a little embarrassed by it, just because she was such a quiet, introverted person, but she would be amazed. She would say thank you. She was an activist at heart. She was a world changer, so she would be right beside people fighting for what is right.”
Cruea said she encourages others to keep an eye out for other unsafe intersections.
“We’re not done making change. This is just the beginning. In Katie’s honor,” she said.
On Tuesday, Roger Sims received his typical email reminder that he had an appointment at Marion General Hospital’s (MGH) Upland Health & Diagnostics location the next day. When he arrived for the appointment Wednesday, he was informed his appointment was canceled because MGH was closing the location.
“Everybody is like what’s happening,” Sims, of Matthews, said. “Everybody is asking what’s going on ... It’s still so strange.”
In a press release issued Wednesday afternoon, MGH stated it has suspended services at the Upland location, 1809 S. Main St., effective July 9. Sarah Evans of MGH said the location is closing because Dr. Shannon Riegle and Dr. Helen Riegle, the primary care providers who practiced there, “are no longer employees of Marion General Hospital.”
In addition to the two general practitioners, the Upland location also held outpatient diagnostic laboratory, radiology and rehabilitation services. In the press release, MGH states laboratory services are still available at the Gas City, South Marion, 330 Building and Northwood locations, and radiology and rehabilitation are also available at the Northwood location.
Evans said Sandy Wright, the nurse practitioner who worked at the Upland Clinic location and also worked at the Taylor University Student Center, has been relocated to MGH’s Gas City location, and other primary care providers are being additionally scheduled in Gas City “to better serve our patients.” Other MGH staff members who worked in Upland will be relocated to Gas City and the hospital’s main campus, she said.
When asked why patients like Sims were not notified of the plan to close the Upland location, Evans said all patients will be notified by mail in the coming days and patients with scheduled appointments were contacted by phone “as soon as the circumstances allowed us to notify them.”
Sims, who had a scheduled appointment, said as of Thursday morning he had not received a phone call from MGH and has heard from at least three other neighbors that they have not been contacted either.
Sims said setting aside the lack of communication from MGH, the fact that there will be less access to medical care in Upland and the surrounding communities is the main problem the closure creates.
“Whether they’re here or there or in space somewhere, it doesn’t make any difference. What becomes of the people in this area who need medical care? There’s hardly a doctor around here that’s a (general practitioner) that will take any patients,” Sims said. “So it just puts a pretty black eye on the community. I mean we’re out of luck. We can’t get internet...the forgotten part of the county.”
The Upland location closure will also make it more difficult for Taylor students to receive care close to campus, Sims said.
“The students after going to the campus medical center always were referred to Dr. Helen or over to right across the street. I saw them, they’d always come over there because they’d get further review by a doctor,” Sims said. “So it’s really bad for the whole community.”
The press release states patients who went to the Upland location can receive care from other primary care providers throughout MGH’s network of locations. Those seeking an appointment can call 765-660-6444.
“Marion General Hospital remains committed to providing health care services to the Upland area and we appreciate their support and continued patronage as their preferred health care provider,” she said. “Plans are under development for MGH’s future presence in the Upland market.”
Seats are still available in Grant County On My Way Pre-K programs for this fall, according to United Way of Grant County Executive Director Alicia Hazelwood. Children must be 4 years old by Aug. 1 and families must meet other eligibility requirements for the program. Families can apply online at www.onmywayprek.org and call 800-299-1627 for more information.
The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) reminds Hoosiers that the state’s Rental Assistance Portal will be available beginning Monday, July 13 at 9 a.m. The application can be found by visiting www.indianahousingnow.org.
“The application portal is designed to help Indiana renters adversely affected by COVID-19 living outside of Marion County avoid eviction by connecting them with programs that can help them cover monthly rent payments or past due rent,” said Indiana Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, who serves as board chair of IHCDA.
Last month, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb announced $25 million in relief for renters through the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program. This, combined with other funding sources including the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG), will provide Hoosier renters that have been affected by COVID-19 with a variety of resources after they have applied through the Rental Assistance Portal.
Hoosiers that are homeless, in a housing crisis or in need of immediate assistance should call 2-1-1 and ask to connect with a navigator.
Homeowners in need of assistance paying their mortgage payment should visit: www.877gethope.org.
The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) Thursday announced 521 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state total to 49,575 cases. A total of 2,546 Hoosiers have died of COVID-19 with another 193 probable deaths reported.
As of Thursday, nearly 38 percent of ICU beds and 84 percent of ventilators are available. To date, 542,292 tests have been reported to ISDH, up from 535,857 on Wednesday.
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Central Indiana, which operates in several counties including Grant County, was recently awarded $23,640 in state funding for fiscal year 2021.
A total of $300,000 in state funding will be distributed to 11 Indiana food banks to provide assistance and services to Hoosiers in need. The funding came from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, through the Indiana General Assembly.
On Thursday, Gov. Eric J. Holcomb announced Indiana’s statewide community resource referral agency, Indiana 211, is now part of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).
Indiana 211 is a free service that connects Hoosiers with assistance and answers from thousands of health and human service resources. When they dial 2-1-1, Hoosiers are connected to a a team of community navigators who are skilled at identifying needs and providing referrals that best meet those needs.
Gas City Police Department (GCPD) Chief Tim Eckstein died Wednesday at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital.
Eckstein, 54, likely died of natural causes, according to the Marion County Coroner. He served as a police officer for approximately 30 years, working at the Marion Police Department before being hired at Gas City in June of 1993.
Gas City Mayor Bill Rock said he has known Eckstein since their sons played coach’s pitch baseball together as kids and he has always been a “valuable part of this community” through the years.
“He was a caring individual. He cared about the community, he cared about the citizens, he cared about keeping people safe,” Rock said. “He was very intelligent, he was very articulate and he would come, I mean he would make you look at things with vision and he will be really, really missed by me because I leaned on him heavily for his input.”
Rock said Eckstein was not afraid to “keep the mayor in line” and offer his input and opinion on various issues.
“Not only was he our police chief, he was a true friend of mine that just cared about the police department and wanted things to go smoothly,” Rock said. “We couldn’t have had a better chief than what Tim was and he will be missed very much so in our community. I can’t explain how much he meant to the citizens here.”
Eckstein loved to fish and being outdoors, and while he always took his duties seriously, Rock said he could always lighten up a room and was known as a jokester. Rock recalled this past April Fool’s Day when Eckstein asked the mayor to tell the city court employees they would be in charge of the tedious work of handling camping and golf cart registrations this year.
“Their eyes were like deer in a headlight. Tim sat back and giggled and laughed about it, and then we finally said April Fools,” Rock said. “He just did that, he was just a great guy to be around. He had a very great personality. He knew when to be serious, he knew when to sit down and talk to people.”
Many local public safety agencies and community members have taken to social media to offer their condolences.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Gas City Police Chief Tim Eckstein today,” Mill Township Fire/Rescue/EMS posted on its Facebook page. “Tim was a superb human being, and a valiant leader.”
“Our sincere condolences and prayers go out to the Gas City Police Department as they mourn the sudden loss of Chief Tim Eckstein,” the Upland Police Department posted on Facebook. “Chief Eckstein served the Gas City and Grant County communities for many years and his impact and influence will be felt for years to come. Tim, thank you for your service.”
Rock said for now GCPD’s two captains will rotate handling the chief’s duties until a new chief is hired.
“I haven’t given that any thought at all just because the fact that we’re going to take our time when making a decision because he’ll be a real hard person to replace and I want to try to find somebody as close to his personality and caring for the community as I can before that would even be given a thought,” Rock said. “Right now we’re going to mourn the loss of him, we’re going to remember him and we’re going to do what it takes to help that family out so that they can adjust to the loss of a great man.”
Rock said information regarding funeral arrangements and other plans the city will make to pay tribute to Eckstein will be forthcoming.
“The only thing I can do is just pray for (his wife) Anita, pray for his family, pray for the community and we’ll continue to move forward although he will be missed and remembered for sure,” Rock said.