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Homicide rates increase in Black community
2019 Indianapolis Homicide Rates

For the first time since 2012, the overall homicide rate in Indianapolis dropped. However, the city's Black community faced an increase in homicides, with 75% of Indianapolis victims in 2019 being Black, up from 73% in 2018.

According to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), there were 153 reported murders in 2019, down from 159 in 2018. Out of the 153 murders in 2019, at least 115 victims were Black.

The city's homicide rate has been a dark cloud over Mayor Joe Hogsett's admin-

istration, with the number of homicides hitting an all-time high in 2015, Hogsett's first year in office.

"While I am heartened that overall crime is trending down in Indianapolis and last year saw a decrease in the number of homicides, there is still more work to be done," Hogsett said in a statement. "Together with our public safety agencies and grassroots community partners, we begin this new year with a continued dedication to making our city a safer place for all."

In an interview with the Recorder, Hogsett cited initiatives such as the Peacemakers program as the most important investment the city has made to reduce violence. The Peacemakers are a group of individuals who work in neighborhoods to prevent conflict before it turns violent. But the most important change Hogsett believes is necessary to continue to decrease violence is a return to beat policing.

"We have attempted to change the IMPD into a truly 21st century police department whose job it is to protect and serve the people throughout our community," Hogsett said. "When we return to a community-based, beat-oriented policing, officers have more of an opportunity to get out of their cars and interact with residents and merchants and retail establishments, and hopefully that not only allows law enforcement professionals to be more proactive to prevent crime, but ... also increases the amount of respect and trust that the community has for IMPD and vice versa." Recently-appointed IMPD Chief Randal Taylor sees the importance of beat-policing in decreasing violent crime.

"We can make arrests, and the detectives do their job, and they hunt down leads, and they build probable cause and they get warrants for people who've committed crimes, but there's always someone there to take their place," Taylor said. "When you start looking at beats ... your goal is to start building the relationships prior to people making those poor decisions of going off and pulling triggers. Hopefully, you're being an encouragement and a sign of hope for that young kid that needs someone to listen to him and being in those beats allows you to do that to some extent."

And while Hogsett has significantly increased the number of police officers on patrol — with a net increase of over 150 officers over the past four years — policing may not be the only thing needed to decrease crime in the Black community. Community advocate and Recorder columnist Marshawn Wolley believes crime will only be decreased with a focus on one of its root causes: poverty.

"Beat policing can be impactful, but really what you're dealing with is the economic indicators, food insecurity, housing and the lack of hope," Wolley said. "Those are the challenges you have to figure out how to address."

Census estimates from 2017 found that Indianapolis has a poverty rate of 20%, but an estimated 28% of the city's Black population lives in poverty.

According to Environmental System Research Institute (ESRI), "people living in households in the U.S. that have an income level below the federal poverty threshold have more than double the rates of violent victimization compared to individuals in high-income households."

To combat poverty, the Hogsett administration has implemented several programs and initiatives that focus on employment and education, including Indy Achieves, which helps individuals get a postsecondary education.

"The Indy Achieves model is not one of our making," Hogsett said. "We actually became aware of a successful scholarship aid and grant completion program out of Georgia, and simply investing in young people and their opportunity to have more than a high school diploma ... moves the dial in terms of racial disparities in their communities that existed prior to those programs being made."

Hogsett said violence in Georgia didn't stop altogether after the education program was implemented, but the rates of violent crime — both in terms of the victims and the perpetrators — was more reflective of the community.

"Georgia experienced more balanced representation in people who chose to engage in violent behavior," Hogsett said. "The statistics were more reflective of their community as a whole, but not disparate over and against one race compared to others. Obviously, the goal would be to end violence in every neighborhood, but we have a profound commitment to make sure that the type of violence we experience does not disproportionately affect one community over others."

As of Jan. 13, there have already been 10 homicides in 2020. At the time of reporting, at least five victims were African American.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-459-8747. Follow her on Twitter @ BreannaNCooper.

Chief Taylor takes his tall task in stride

Those who look at anger and outrage to gauge how much a public official cares about violence in his or her community will probably be unimpressed with new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Randal Taylor.

He's said since being appointed by Mayor Joe Hogsett on Dec. 31, 2019, he's an even-keeled guy who doesn't express a lot of emotion. Taylor said he learned that from his predecessor, Chief Bryan Roach, whom he described as "a cool and calm customer."

"I won't say I don't get mad from time to time," Taylor, 55, said in a recent interview with the Recorder, "but really, I'm trying to come up with whatever's going to be the best solution."

Indianapolis is in need of solutions.

There were 153 criminal homicides in 2019, according to data from IMPD, down from 159 in 2018. It was the first time since 2012 that the number of criminal homicides did not reach a new record high. Still, 75% of victims last year were Black.

Nearly 80% of deaths were caused by a firearm.

While the number of criminal homicides overall dropped, the number of victims younger than 18 went from seven in 2018 to 15 last year.

A common sentiment both inside and outside of the police department is police alone cannot solve or prevent violence. It was something Taylor — who's the third Black police chief in the histories of former Indianapolis Police Department and IMPD, created when Marion County Sheriff 's Department and IPD merged — reiterated multiple times at his introductory press conference.

Robin Bankhead, who lives on the north side,

said she knows police "can't solve everything." But she does still have some criteria for what she expects from IMPD under a new police chief, including better communication and having more respect for the community.

Bankhead has a personal example of what this looks like. She said a neighbor called the police on her 89-year-old aunt, who has dementia, for taking the license plate off of his car. The officer who responded talked calmly to Bankhead's aunt and said he understood what was going on because his grandpa also had dementia.

But Bankhead wondered what might have been different if that officer didn't know how to communicate with her aunt. "I just want someone who's responsive and listens and cares about the community," she said.

Taylor said he's been building those relationships since being appointed assistant chief in 2016 by going to the funerals and viewings and meeting with victims' families.

Now, as the man in charge, it's part of Taylor's job to evoke that same sense of community from his officers.

"I think that's gonna be a big part of us having some victory over some of these numbers that we're trying to reduce."

Taylor, like his predecessor, has touted the implementation of smaller police beats, which leave officers responsible for a smaller geographical area and ideally allow them to get to know the people in those communities.

The department is currently short of its goal of having 1,743 officers, but Taylor said that should happen "fairly quick," though he didn't specify when because it depends on the sizes of the next couple of recruiting classes.

Taylor explained when he says "we can't police our way out of it," he means there isn't a specific patrol plan that's going to drastically cut the number of criminal homicides, for example.

But Taylor hopes more officers in smaller beats results in them getting in front of incidents before they happen.

"I mean, we can make arrests," Taylor said. "... But there's always someone to take their place. When you start looking at beats and those things, your goal is to start building the relationships prior to people making those poor decisions of going off and pulling triggers."

That's part of what Katrina Lewis is hoping comes under Taylor's leadership.

Lewis, 41, lives on the far east side and said the policing that happens in her area is more like "harassing." That said, Lewis also wants more officers to help deal with crime.

"I would like to see ... a police force that understands that area and that can police that area in a way that's not so confrontational," she said.

Taylor has been hesitant to articulate goals when it comes to reducing the numbers of homicides and non-fatal shootings and so on. He admits it's probably unrealistic, but Taylor said he'd like to see those numbers cut in half.

"But I'm a realist from that standpoint," he said. "I don't know that that'll happen. I expect us to move in a progressive manner and for those numbers to continue to drop. Some of that is gonna be in our control, but a lot of it's not. If we can't get ahold of people and help them to change their mind, then those numbers may go the wrong way."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Alternative birthing options could save African American women

Hoosier women are less likely to survive childbirth than women in Iran and the Gaza Strip, according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Factbook.

The CIA Factbook estimates in 2017, 16 Iranian women out of 100,000 and 27 women in the Gaza Strip out of 100,000 died as a result of childbirth. The maternal mortality rate among white women in Indiana is 41.4 out of every 100,000 births, according to America's Health Ranking and Indiana's Department of Health.

For Black women throughout the state, the disparity is even worse. Black Hoosier women die at a rate of 53.4 out of every 100,000 births.

These jarring statistics are part of what led Indianapolis resident Joi Barnett to use a midwife for the birth of her fourth child and become a midwife shortly afterward.

Midwives have on average two years of medical training and help guide expecting mothers through pregnancy and labor and help her deliver the baby.

"With my midwife, my [prenatal] appointments were about an hour long, face to face," Barnett said. "I often had a comfy couch to sit on, there was tea if I wanted something to drink. We went over everything, not just the baby. We talked about how I was doing from head

to toe; she dealt with my brain."

After three days of labor — an experience she assures wasn't terrible — Barnett gave birth to a healthy daughter. This experience was a stark contrast to the birth of her third child.

After giving birth to her third child — a daughter — in Lexington, Kentucky, Barnett complained of pain. She said nurses at the hospital ignored her and didn't check for blood loss, disregarding standard procedure. When Barnett stood up, the issue was clear: she was hemorrhaging.

Not being heard

After a stint in nursing school, Barnett knew what medication to ask for, massaged her pelvic area to alleviate the blood clot she felt when she stood. The birth of her daughter was traumatic from the start, with hospital staff breaking her water without consent.

Despite the negative experience, Barnett could have faced a worse outcome. According to Community Health Network in 2018, African American women die at three to four times the rate of white women nationwide due to childbirth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that roughly 60% of these maternal deaths can be prevented with better health care and communication.

"What happens a lot of the time is that we're just not listened to," Barnett said. "We go to a doctor with a concern, and we aren't taken seriously, so intervention options are limited because we're written off."

Not listening to Black women is often a result of racial bias in the health care system and the cause of disparities in national maternal mortality rates, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In addition to her experience, Barnett cited the death of Kira Johnson in 2016 as an example of the consequences of ignoring Black women.

Johnson, 39, went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for a scheduled cesarean section. After delivering her son, doctors ignored Johnson's complaints that something was wrong. During emergency surgery hours later, doctors discovered her bladder was nicked during the C-section.

Johnson died of internal bleeding just 12 hours after giving birth. Her husband, Charles, became an advocate for better maternal health polices nationally.

"Simply being listened to goes a long way," Barnett said. "When Black women complain of pain, we're ignored, we're overlooked. It could be as simple as a headache, or as extreme as leaving her [Johnson] lying there in a hospital bed bleeding out."

As a midwife, Barnett hopes to close the gap in maternal and infant mortality rates between white and Black women in Indiana. After nearly two years of training, she follows the JJ Way, a method started in Florida, a state that has significant racial and socioeconomic disparities in birth outcomes, according to the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs.

"The program has had some really phenomenal results," Barnett said. "In 10 years, the practice hasn't lost a mom or a baby, and all of the babies have been appropriate birth weights. Those are my goals."

Reducing deaths

In 2019, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced an initiative to decrease both infant and maternal mortality throughout the state — Indiana has the seventh highest infant mortality rate in the country.

In 2016, 623 babies in Indiana died before their first birthday, according to Community Health Network. To put that into perspective, it is roughly 42 school buses at maximum capacity. Black children made up the plurality of those deaths that year, at 14.4%.

Community Health Network found many of these infant and maternal deaths were caused by issues such as hospitals not having universal protocols for obstetrical emergencies and a lack of adequate postpartum education and follow-ups.

Doulas are another tool to help reduce the number of maternal and infant deaths. Doulas typically do not have medical training and are there to guide mothers through pregnancy and labor, which can include being an advocate for expecting mothers during hospital visits.

"Having a doula is really helpful because they're there for support and are great sources of information," Barnett said. "You can't necessarily call your midwife for every little thing, but you can have a conversation with a doula. They can't give you medical advice, but they can tell you if you need to contact your care provider and can sometimes go with you to appointments, not to speak for you, but to help you get your voice heard."

Ajaya Divine has been an active doula for one year. After completing a six-week course in Dallas that focused on working within the African American community, Divine, 33, now works in Indianapolis. Taking on one to two clients at a time for full doula services, Divine provides expectant mothers with prenatal care, tips on how to deal with pain and other pregnancy symptoms, as well as preparing women for birth, either at home or in a hospital. "A healthy woman can have a baby at home," Divine said. "Hospitals are relatively new to birthing. We [Black women] are not as believed when we report symptoms, and inherent racism within the medical world makes birth play out differently for us.

Doulas are a great advocate for mothers who may not know what the doctor is talking about," she continued. "... A doula is a protection barrier to catch all of the mistakes and other issues that can fall through the cracks during birth."

Doulas can also provide postpartum care that many hospitals cannot.

While it ultimately depends on what the mother wants and needs, Divine aims to visit her clients twice in the six weeks after birth. During these visits, she can talk to the mother about issues related to motherhood, physical pains, or even help run errands.

"Postpartum care is valuable in that adjustment period," Divine said. "Mothers need support, and I believe that a doula is very valuable for mothers who don't have huge support systems after they give birth."

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.