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Archive: Voting should not be taken for granted

If you are registered to vote, then you have unspeakable power — the power to transform your city, our state and our nation.

On Nov. 6, voters will have an opportunity to decide who will be president of the United States, governor of Indiana and the occupants of other important state and local offices that have an impact on our lives everyday.

Local community and civil rights groups strongly encourage voters to get involved during this election.

"There is a lot at stake," said Chrystal Ratcliffe, president of the Greater Indianapolis Branch of the NAACP. "Now more than ever, it is important that people get out and exercise their right to vote."

Throughout the year the NAACP has conducted voter awareness and registration drives, while also listening to the concerns of residents. Ratcliffe said there is a serious need to elect individuals who will help find solutions related to issues such as economic development, criminal justice, education, and civil rights and voting rights.

"We also need to look at health care, because we have so many people who are still without it, including students and children," Ratcliffe said. "When you look at economic development and health care, they are tied together."

Joe Slash, president of the Indianapolis Urban League, noted that every vote is needed because some candidates are in very close campaigns that might be decided by a small number of votes.

For instance, polls show that the presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as well as the Indiana U.S. Senate race with Joe Donnelly and Richard Mourdock, are in a statistical dead heat and running neck and neck in the polls.

"If you think your vote is not important, just wait until you see someone lose an election by one vote," Slash said. "There's been too many times in history that elections have been decided by very close votes, and those who stayed at home could have had an influence on the outcome."

Voting came at a price

Voters, especially African-Americans and other minorities, are being warned to never take the opportunity to vote for granted.

"Your franchise of the right to vote is second to none," Slash said. "Too many people in today's generation don't realize that we were once denied that right."

With the passage of Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, Blacks were finally made United States citizens and Black men were officially given the right to vote (women, regardless of race, were not eligible to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was passed in 1920).

Yet, some states, mostly in the South, developed special laws that created obstacles designed to disqualify African-Americans from voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests. In addition, terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan used outright violence to intimidate Blacks from voting or running for public office.

As a result, thousands of brave activists, Black and white, from the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement, sacrificed their freedom, their jobs and often their lives in the fight to hold America to its promise of the right to vote for each and every citizen.

Ratcliffe cited the three Selma-to-Montgomery marches in Alabama in 1965 as an example of what had to be endured in order for minorities to have basic voting rights.

Hundreds of nonviolent marchers were attacked and beaten by state and local police during the marches, which drew national attention to the need for voting rights and led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices and provided stronger enforcement of rights laws.

"Historically, we weren't allowed to vote because we were considered second class citizens, and voting rights came from us having to go through a bloody battle," Ratcliffe said. "We have come a long way with the Voting Rights Act."

Current shenanigans

Ratcliffe and Slash noted that while it is important to remember the challenges of the past, voters must also be ready to deal with the challenges of the present.

"It's a new Jim Crow now, and a lot of these laws disenfranchise the vote in a lot of ways," Ratcliffe said.

Slash agreed, adding, "There are a lot of efforts to turn back the clock on civil rights and a renewed emphasis on states rights, which got us in the struggle in the first place."

In recent years, for example, voting rights activists have expressed concerns about stringent voter ID laws that have been passed in several states, including Indiana. Supporters of such laws say that they are needed to prevent voter fraud, while opponents charge that they can make voting more challenging for those who might have had difficulties obtaining ID, such as low income voters, the elderly and minorities.

Nationally, Ratcliffe and Slash noted, federal civil rights laws led to an increase in minority voters and elected officials, but legislators in some states are redrawing congressional and legislative districts to reduce that political strength.

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a key provision in the Voting Rights Act that would require federal permission to change voting laws. Rights activists are also concerned about the court's 2010 ruling that gave special interest groups the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

The Center for Responsive Politics has reported that since then, more than $840 million has been spent by "super" political action committees on campaigns.

"I really have a problem with that because it means powerful interests who have tons of money can buy our candidates, and therefore, our elections," said Indianapolis voter Louis Thomas "The only way to keep the voice of the people from being drowned out is for all of us to vote."

Locally, efforts have been made to provide voters with "satellite" polling locations that make it easier for them to vote early at a location that is closer to their residence than the county clerk's office downtown. Advocates of early voting say it helps citizens avoid the possible logistical hassles of voting on Election Day.

However, when the satellite voting proposal has come up before the Marion County Election Board, it has been vetoed by its lone Republican member. "What amazes me is how we can't get people together to go and protest for the right to vote," Ratcliffe said "If you have enough people involved you can change things."

She also lamented what she has noticed is the small number of young adults involved in efforts to secure voting rights. Recently, the NAACP held a meeting for volunteers willing to help voters at polling places for $50 and free lunch. None of the attendees were under the age of 45.

"Our younger generation doesn't see the need to fight for these things," she said. "We have to look at ways to reach them and inspire them to take this mantle and move forward."

Slash agrees, saying that if the importance of voting rights is not taught to youth, the past, with its limited voting opportunities could repeat itself.

"If the younger generation doesn't pay attention we'll have to start this civil rights fight all over again," he said. "And the people of my generation don't want to have to go through that again."

Take this to the polls

Make sure you bring photo identification that meets the following requirements:

- Shows your name, which must conform to the name on your voter registration record; (conform does NOT mean identical)

- Shows your photograph

- Includes an expiration date indicating the document has not yet expired (or expired after Nov. 2, 2010, the date of the last General Election), except for certain military IDs; and was issued by the United States or the State of Indiana (a student ID from a public university is allowed, but not from a private institution).

NOTE: The address on your photo ID does NOT need to match the address on your voter registration record.

Last minute information:

Voters who have difficulty at the polls or have questions can notify the following organizations.

- Marion County Republican Party (317) 635-8881,

n Marion County Democratic Party (317) 637-3366,

For general election information, call the Marion County Election Board at (317) 327-VOTE or visit

Suicide Awareness Week and the Black community

Suicide Awareness Week, which began Sept. 6, aims to erase the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. For African Americans — who are more likely to have mental health issues and less likely to receive care — the need is greater.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults, largely due to the psychological stresses created by systemic racism. The American Psychological Association in 2019 found that viral videos of police killings and violence against African Americans can produce trauma symptoms, including those of post traumatic stress disorder, in Black people.

However, according to Dr. Carrie Dixon of the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists, current events are rarely brought up in therapy sessions, potentially leaving the root causes of someone's mental health struggles out of the conversation. "Therapists are not likely to ask you about any type of current events that are taking place," Dixon said. "So, if you're Black and your neighbor or cousin has been killed by a white policeman and that is contributing to your depression, you may not realize that it's a contributing factor, and you may not bring it up

in therapy."

While Dixon believes questions related to racial trauma should be standard for all therapists, she said Black psychologists and psychiatrists are more likely to bring up the issue than white doctors, which is why the need for representation, she said, is so great.

"There has to be more of an insistence from the community as a whole for greater representation," Dixon said.

According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit mental health advocacy group, 58.2% of African Americans living with a mental health issue in 2018 did not receive treatment. Dixon said a lack of representation, inaccessibility to health care and historical practices of doctors using Black patients as "guinea pigs" lead to African Americans in need of mental health care not receiving it.

Dixon said increasing represen tation will not only make Black patients feel safer and increase the likelihood they will seek help, but it would also prevent incorrect diagnoses.

"[Symptoms of mental health issues] are going to be interpreted differently depending on who is doing the interpretation," Dixon said. "So, if I as a Black therapist am asking a Black client questions from a standardized test, I might have to go off the script a bit to talk about connection with family and systemic racism issues and what impact that is having on the client."

Dixon said if a white therapist is unaware of cultural differences and doesn't understand the significant impact structural racism can have on someone's mental health, they are more likely to diagnose a Black patient with a severe illness and prescribe them stronger, "more toxic" medication.

Mental Health America found African Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and are less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms.

According to Dr. Dorothy SimpsonTaylor, a member of the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists, 132 Americans die by suicide each day — 1 attempt every 28 seconds. Within the African American community, suicide is the third leading cause of death in males ages 15 to 24.

And while, according to Mental Health America, Black people are less likely than whites to die from suicide, Black teenagers are over 5% more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers.

By reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and making mental health care more accessible and representative of the community, Dixon said we may be able to reverse some of the problems the Black community faces today in terms of mental health care.

"Historically, African Americans have been reluctant to seek mental health treatment and medical treatment because of mistrust and mistreatment," Dixon said, citing experiments on enslaved individuals and a lack of empathy toward Black patients from white doctors. "... We get the point with COVID. We have a disproportionally higher number of Black folks contracting and dying from COVID because of our health problems being more pervasive. ... Why is it we're more vulnerable? We haven't received the proper treatment. We have good reason to not trust the institutions to do right by us."

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

Dig Indy project could bring jobs, cleaner communities to Indianapolis

Working with sewage isn't glamorous, but the workers at Citizen Energy's Dig Indy project may make Indianapolis a cleaner — and more prosperous — place to live.

Right now, thanks to an outdated system, heavy rainfall can lead to sewage in Indianapolis being released back out into neighborhoods before it reaches a sewage treatment facility. This combined sewage overflow, which happens in predominately Black and brown communities, can lead to health problems such as E. Coli and salmonella. In Indianapolis, the current sewer system can overflow over 60 times a year.

Mike Miller, construction manager for the $2 billion Dig Indy project, said after the project is completed in 2025, 95% to 99% of combined sewage will be prevented from entering local waterways. The project, which began in 2012 in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, consists of six rock tunnels 250 feet underground stretching for 28 miles.

"The tunnels collect sewage at discreet points," Miller said. "It goes into small brick enclosures and those are basically big storage tanks ... so when it rains, the sewage will go into a tunnel and wait until the rain is done to prevent it from going into to the river."

So far, Miller said the project has collected over 2 billion gallons of sewage.

"These waterways are parts of much larger systems," Miller said. "It also benefits our friends to the north and south. ... Our combined sewage won't be impacting our downstream neighbors."

Dan Considine, director of corporate communications for Citizen's Energy, knows firsthand the impact cleaner water can have on a community. Growing up in Chicago, Considine remembers seeing signs warning against fishing in the open water, or children playing in the creek — which he described as basically an open sewer — due to sewage overflow.

Once Chicago updated its sewer system, however, Considine recalls an increase in jobs and recreation along the water, which helped to boost the local economy.

"In the 1990s when they began to build the tunnels and after 25 years, the rivers and streams in the Chicago area have really been reformed," Considine said. " ... If you go to the Chicago River today, you can catch bluegill and bass, and Lake Michigan has benefitted immensely. There have been tremendous quality of life improvements, and what used to be old factories and warehouses that closed in the '70s and '80s are now houses and businesses because the water is clean again. We could see that in Indianapolis."

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

Ex-cop who shot Black man reaches plea on unrelated charge

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — A white former South Bend police officer whose fatal shooting of a Black man last year roiled then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge stemming from an alleged on-duty sexual encounter he had a month before that shooting.

A plea agreement filed Sept, 2 calls for Ryan O'Neill to plead guilty to a ghost employment count, while prosecutors would drop a felony charge of official misconduct and a misdemeanor public indecency charge, the South Bend Tribune reported.

A probable cause affidavit filed in March with the sex ual-encounter charges states that O'Neill was in his police cruiser, in uniform, on May 16, 2019, when he pulled up next to a woman and solicited her for a sex act. O'Neill paid her $20 before that sex act, it states.

A special prosecutor filed those charges against O'Neill, 44, in March after finding that he was justified in the unrelated fatal June 16, 2019, shooting of Eric Logan. O'Neill had said he shot Logan, 54, after he refused his orders to drop a knife while O'Neill was investigating a report of a person breaking into cars.

The special prosecutor, Ric Hertel, said during a March news conference that evidence showed Logan approached O'Neill with a knife and the officer feared for his safety when he fired two shots, one of which struck Logan in the upper abdomen.

O'Neill resigned weeks after the shooting. The fallout from Logan's killing presented Buttigieg with some of the toughest moments of his bid to win the Democratic nomination for president.

Buttigieg, who ended his presidential campaign in March, stepped away from the campaign trail and faced angry residents at an emotional town hall in South Bend, a city of about 100,000 residents, a quarter of whom are Black.

A federal lawsuit that Logan's family filed against O'Neill and the city of South Bend accusing O'Neill of using excessive deadly force is pending.

O'Neill was scheduled to appear Sept. 8 before a St. Joseph Superior Court judge on his plea agreement, which calls for him to serve no jail time and serve two years of probation, although that probation could end early with no violations. He would also agree not to seek or accept any public employment, including as a police officer.

If the judge rejects the plea deal, the case would proceed to trial, according to court documents.

That affidavit filed in March regarding the sexualencounter charges states that O'Neill faces a ghost employment charge along with the two other counts but does not elaborate. Instead, it cites Indiana's ghost employment statute, which includes among its descriptions of ghost employment a public employee who accepts property from a government entity for "duties not related" to their job.