Local Black leaders say they were caught off guard and felt disrespected when Mayor Joe Hogsett announced a public safety partnership with the Criminal Justice Lab at New York University's School of Law earlier this month.
That's because the city didn't consult them beforehand, leaving the impression that the mayor's office would rather turn to an outsider to learn how to address the systemic issues that plague Black Indianapolis. "We have the capacity to lead, and for whatever reason, he's not interested in seeking out community response before he makes an announcement on how he's going to spend money or how he's going to study us," Indy10 Black Lives Matter organizer Jessica Louise said of Hogsett. Louise said this is another example of
why there is distrust between the community and city.
A group of Black leaders had a phone call with Tim Moriarty, special counsel to the mayor, and Deputy Mayor David Hampton to discuss their concerns within a few days of the announcement.
Toby Miller, director of the Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network, was on the call and described it as a "frank, candid, brutal, honest" conversation about the mayor's office not consulting Black leaders before getting involved in a partnership to address public safety.
Black leaders on the call laid out a list of demands, according to Miller, which included embracing a Black agenda developed in 2019, reviewing the civilian complaint process and reestablishing the Indianapolis Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.
The city-county council and Hogsett recently announced a proposal to reestablish the commission, which will identify factors such as education and employment that act as barriers for Black males.
Marshawn Wolley, policy director for the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, wrote in a recent Recorder column the partnership was "met with a clear, unmistakable rejection" by Black leaders.
Wolley, who helped spearhead the effort to establish a Black agenda last year, said in an interview city officials have local answers waiting for them.
"In order for the city to have credibility, they need to do the things the Black community has asked them to do first," he said.
Among those requests is a use-of-force board, which Hogsett and former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Bryan Roach said they could create following the police shooting of Aaron Bailey in 2017. (There is currently a proposed use-of-force board, but Black leaders say it doesn't include enough civilian participation.)
None of the Black leaders the Recorder interviewed for this article said the city consulted them prior to announcing the partnership.
Taylor Schaffer, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, said the office was in contact with Black community leaders and organizers "throughout the past several weeks" but didn't directly answer questions about if those conversations specifically included the partnership.
Schaffer said members and leaders with the city-county council were briefed before the announcement.
City-county council President Vop Osili did not respond to an interview request.
Leroy Robinson, chair of the city-county council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, also didn't respond to an interview request but tweeted at Hogsett: "Shouldn't the 'partnership' be with our 'local' activists, community organizers & grassroots leaders? (Asking for a friend.)"
Part of the city's partnership with NYU includes bringing together "stakeholders" from public health agencies â€” including community members, educators and law enforcement â€” to create a new definition of public safety and justice.
But many Black people in Indianapolis say they've seen enough of these sorts of task forces and committees.
"We done had enough studies," said Derris Ross, founder of The Ross Foundation, which serves the east side around 42nd Street and Post Road.
Ross said it doesn't matter that Ann Milgram, who led the disbanding of the police department in Camden, New Jersey, in 2012, is founding director of the Criminal Justice Lab and part of the partnership.
"It doesn't matter what accolades and titles you have," Ross said. "That will never measure up to people who are actually living in oppression."
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.
Indiana has filed a lawsuit against IMPD on behalf of Indy10 Black Lives Matter in hopes to ban the department from using tear gas and other chemical weapons on protesters again.
Ken Falk, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, said the use of tear gas infringed upon citizens' rights to protest.
"The First Amendment is not always quiet," Falk said. "Our right to protests means we have the right to be loud, especially when we are feeling so strongly about issues. The reaction, then, simply cannot be to indiscriminately use chemical weapons on people practicing their constitutional rights."
Throughout the three days IMPD used tear gas on protesters, unintentional targets â€” including a church group worshipping at Monument Circle â€” were tear gassed.
While IMPD concedes it is nearly impossible to target tear gas, representatives argue the effects are shortlasting and non-lethal. "There are few immediate alternatives to the use of CS [tear gas] for riot control," IMPD said in a statement. "And while our preference would be to work with our community members to prevent large-scale violent events, once riots have begun, law enforcement officers need tools to quickly disperse violent individuals in a way that does not cause long-term harm to the residents they serve."
IMPD also cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say the effects of tear gas are short-lived.
Jessica Louise, an organizer for Indy10, was tear gassed several times and said IMPD is downplaying the seriousness of tear gas.
"Trying to negate that trauma would be like describing a heart attack as a short-lived event," Louise said. "[Tear gas] is alarming, it creeps up like a slow fog, and then the air changes and you start getting anxiety. We were seeing a range in responses from people having a light cough and rubbing their eyes because it was a little itchy, and other people were brought to their knees and screaming because of the pain."
Louise also takes issue with IMPD using tear gas in the midst of a pandemic that affects the respiratory system. Throughout the country, there have been reports of disrupted menstrual cycles among people who have been tear gassed, and 22-year-old Sarah Grossman died of an asthma attack two days after being tear gassed in Columbus, Ohio.
"I have experienced some disruption to my personal reproductive health and have spoken with medical professionals who have expressed outrage about tear gas being used," Louise said. "I'm interested in seeing the long-term effect it has on Black and brown people, who it largely affected."
On June 22, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced an independent review board, which consists of a three-member Response Review Committee (RRC) to examine IMPD's response to protests.
"This review will give our community a clearer understanding of the events that transpired at the start of this month, and will be a guiding document for tailoring law enforcement responses in the future," Hogsett said in a statement.
The findings from the RRC will be made available by the end of the year, but Falk hopes the lawsuit results in swift action from the city.
"The best case scenario, the city agrees to sit down with the plaintiffs and work out a result to make sure this never happens again," Falk said. "There is no need to spend the next year or more litigating this case. It's about more than just promising this isn't going to happen again, but also creating other methods to deal with protests. We want a clear resolution to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.
When the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) fired tear gas at protesters May 29, the smell — and the burn — lingered in the air.
For the following two days, people walking downtown could still smell — faintly — the chemicals that sent protesters running for cover the night before. While the tear gas has long since dissipated from the air, the effects of the chemical weapon are still being felt.
That's why the American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) of
"Who owes us," Aahron Whitehead asks a crowd assembled in Military Park on June 19.
"IUPUI," the group responds emphatically. Whitehead, 20, organized a protest as part of the Indianapolis Racial Justice Alliance to shine a light on the troubled history of IUPUI, as well as the disparities he says Black students still face on campus.
When Indiana University and Purdue University began accumulating property in Indianapolis — even before their 1969 merger — the neighborhood where IUPUI sits today was predominately Black. Through strategic legal maneuvers, the creation of IUPUI led to the displacement of neighborhoods and gentrification that continues to this day.
In recent years, IUPUI administration has been frank about the school's unsavory history. Lectures, symposiums and plays have all been hosted on campus to discuss the past, present and future of IUPUI in terms of race relations.
But protesters say simply acknowledging IUPUI's history isn't doing anything to dismantle the systemic issues they say are still in place.
"Where IUPUI is built today, there once stood a strong Black community," Whitehead said. "IUPUI has exploited that community and broke it apart. They exploited and broke apart Haughville, Indiana Avenue and Lockefield Gardens."
Whitehead, who is in his third year at IUPUI, said the school ought to make more of an effort to partner with Black-owned businesses, and students should be able to use their Crimson Card — a student ID which can be used in certain stores downtown — to shop at Black-owned businesses in the area. Further, he said IUPUI should offer scholarships or freshman year tuition deferments to Black residents of Indianapolis' west side.
"We want IUPUI to basically repay the community for their actions," Whitehead said. "They need to help and reinvest into the community to help it grow to become a more urban and innovative environment."
Sha-Nel Henderson, a senior at IUPUI and president of the school's Black Student Union (BSU), also helped organize the event, which attracted a group of roughly 45 people.
Demands from the IUPUI BSU are very similar to Whitehead's demands. The group's top demands of IUPUI are to require history classes to discuss the gentrification that took place, to partner with more Black-owned businesses, more funding for research into health disparities throughout the Black community, and for the creation of a Black community center on campus, separate from the multicultural center on campus.
In response to the demonstrations, IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar issued the following statement:
"... I am proud that our students are engaged and active in the community, and I am equally proud of all that IUPUI has done to recognize, respect and tell the story of the neighborhood that once stood where IUPUI now exists. We have been vocal in our opposition to the violence that has been perpetrated against African Americans and other people of color and through words and actions will continue our longstanding efforts to combat systemic racism that leads to such violence."
Outside of University Hall, where Paydar's office is located, the protesters chanted "We're the change," as they headed toward Taylor Hall.
As the march continued through campus, with chants of "Unity in community" reverberating off the buildings, it became apparent the demonstration was about more than IUPUI. Chants of Dreasjon Reed, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd's names echoed through the crowd. The group stopped outside of Taylor Hall to take an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence in memory of Floyd, the exact amount of time Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck, resulting in his death late last month.
"They take our culture, our slang, our music," Whitehead said. "And then they take our lives."
After the moment of silence, the floor was open to anyone who wanted to speak. Will Horton, a senior at IUPUI, reflected on his experiences with law enforcement.
"I've been pulled over seven times over the past few years," Horton said. "Each time could have been the end for me. ... We need to take this time to plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize. We'll rise together, by any means necessary."
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.