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Archive: To vote or not to vote: Is that really the question?

A friend and former coworker of mine made an odd statement to me one day that really grabbed my attention. He said, "A decision not to vote in an election is a politically legitimate choice." Against my protest, he went further to say "the sacrifices made to secure the right to vote for African-Americans did not require voting as civic responsibility." Since he was a former campaign worker and strategist for the Democratic National Committee, I was genuinely surprised to hear him say this. I disagreed, shaking my head to register my strong disapproval, but continued to listen. He often took views contrary to Black middle class "common sense" but was also one of the most intelligent and "down for the cause brothers" I knew, so I kept my cool and listened further.

"When African-Americans feel that voting is ineffective and that the political system has failed them, it is very reasonable for them to

opt out as a way of showing their rejection of the system," he asserted. He went on to note that it was neither foolish nor immoral behavior. At that point, I set aside my knee-jerk reaction to his comments and thought about his point. It was straightforward enough. He was arguing that AfricanAmericans and others who are not served by the political system need not invest their time and energy into something that consistently fails them. In his view, not voting as a political act was an exercise in civic responsibility. I found that hard to swallow and pointed out that their "political act" had real consequences in their daily lives. "From education to economics, the political system structures and determines the world we live in," I maintained. He countered by acknowledging that it was true in theory, but then asking whether it was true in fact.

At that point, a light went on in my head. I had confused the theory of democracy and the "right to vote" with the reality of selecting from a group of candidates who often lack the commitment, the insight or the skill to improve the lives of America's disaffected. "If the political system only provides candidates who despise you or disregard your interests," I thought, "how can voting be a civic or moral obligation?" I saw then that elections could be used to create an illusion of legitimacy for an illegitimate system. I realized he was right. I conceded, "Of course ... elections could be shams that people reject by not voting at all to show that they do not buy into the charade. I agree that their choice to do so can be a political act." With that, I changed my view of the voting process and elections. I no longer romanticized or exalted voting as a moral act or civic virtue. Instead, I saw it for what it is: a tool to achieve political outcomes.

When you see voting as a tool, then you recognize that, like a hammer or a screwdriver, its value is in helping to accomplish goals. It should never be confused with the goal itself. The political dysfunction that grips our country today results from most of us lacking social goals and visions that we are working toward. Instead, we want the world to be better, and we vote with the hopes that it will happen — much like playing the lottery. We then blame the people elected if it is not "better" for us. We fail to realize, though, that the world has been made better for someone as a result of elections and the entire political system. The question is, who has the world been made better for and how can we enter and expand that group?

The answer is that we can use elections along with lobbying, protesting, organizing, etc. to do so. Deciding that politics does not matter and opting out gives control to others who will continue to make the state and city work for them. If we want the system to work for us, we have to work the system. Like any tool, it responds to the skill and the effort that we put into it ... nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Carlton Waterhouse is a professor of law and Dean's Fellow at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

Police have a legitimacy problem to address first

Lauryn Smith sat on the sidewalk during a sit-in on Indiana Avenue earlier in September and thought about whether it's actually possible for police to have a good, trusting relationship with the community.

It is possible, she decided, but not likely.

"How do you want to form a relationship if we can't trust you? That makes no sense," she said.

Therein lies the problem for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department as it tries to add more officers and sell the community on its "beat policing" model. There's a legitimacy problem that has to be addressed first.

Why is the answer more police?

IMPD has a staffing goal of 1,743 officers but is consistently short of that — currently by about 85 officers. The department's proposed 2021 budget, which would be a $7.3 million increase from 2020, includes the money to reach that goal.

The idea is IMPD needs more officers in order to shrink the geographic size of patrol areas from "zones" to "beats." Despite still being short of its staffing goal, the department recently announced a move from 78 beats to 106. This process began in 2016.

Mayor Joe Hogsett said in an interview the beat policing model allows for officers to build relationships with community members in ways that just aren't possible with zone-based policing.

This way, Hogsett said, residents can go to police officers they actually know because officers are supposed to have more time to get out of their cars and get to know the communities where they patrol.

If those officers don't spend their whole shift responding to calls, the thinking goes, they can get to know residents' concerns and earn the trust of people who have information about crime activity.

IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said mistrust comes from things that have happened in the past and currently the department "does a great job with citizens."

"I don't believe anyone in the community has always has bad experiences with the police," he said in an interview.

Two IMPD officers were recently indicted on charges including battery after they were caught on camera beating a woman in May during protests that were sparked in part by the fatal shootings of Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose. These incidents often hurt the relationship between the police and community.

"We're not gonna be able to change overnight," Taylor said, "because the injustices have happened over a period of time."

IMPD Deputy Chief Josh Barker used to be a beat officer in the area of 10th and Rural streets in the early 2000s and said he took pride in getting to know the residents and business owners.

"I think that those interactions are happening, but it's definitely been a process to get back to that style of policing," he said.

Hogsett said he's just trying to help the department get back to where it was before Indianapolis Police Department merged in 2007 with the sheriff 's department to become IMPD. The department took on more responsibilities and couldn't keep up with staffing — plus there was a hiring freeze during former mayor Greg Ballard's administration — which led to a zone-based model.

"For too long we have lived in a city where in too many neighborhoods they don't really know their officers," Hogsett said.

'I see that as shady'

Monique Buckley, standing outside of her car near 42nd Street and Post Road, shook her head no when asked if she could see herself having a conversation with an officer.

"I see that as shady," she said.

After going back and forth on whether it's realistic to think police and his neighbors can have a good relationship, Diondray Owens, standing next to Buckley, thought about all the possible ways that interaction might go sideways.

What if he moves too quickly and the officer thinks he's reaching for a gun?

It's these types of fears that have to precede any kind of conversation about trust and cooperation with police.

Gallup published a poll in August that showed 48% of respondents have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in police, which marks the first time in 27 years it's been below 50%. About three-quarters of Black respondents said they have some or very little confidence in police. Another July poll from Gallup showed 80% of Black respondents want police to spend the same amount of time or more in their area, but what these responses don't capture is an apparent generational divide.

Smith, who said police can't hope to build a relationship without trust, is a 20-year-old college student at IUPUI. Her generation seems more likely to outright reject these attempts by police to make inroads with the community.

Then there are those like 53-yearold Anthony Fultz. His father still works in the Cook County Sheriff 's Office in Chicago, where Fultz is from, and his mother is retired from there. He moved to Indianapolis in 2011.

"All cops ain't bad, but they all ain't good either," he said.

Fultz is clear that he doesn't believe police are going to transform any high-crime or violent neighborhoods for the better — he's much more optimistic about the community getting resources to help itself — but that doesn't mean police are the "enemy," he said.

What's the impact on crime?

Indianapolis saw a decline in homicides last year for the first time in nearly a decade, but there were already 127 homicides this year through Aug. 29. There were 159 homicides in all of 2018, which was the last recordsetting year for Indianapolis.

The city's murder rate in the late 1990s and early 2000s was better than it has been in recent years, but it was also much lower in 2011 and 2012 when there were fewer officers.

Taylor said it's possible that even if all goes well, the department's strategy could just lead to a reduction in low-level crimes and not violence. Violent crime outside of homicide has declined this year.

The department will look for "small victories" in the short term, Taylor said.

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

City leaders, community members disagree on demilitarization

When protesters came face to face with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) officers downtown May 30, the anger and confusion from the crowd was palpable. "Why are you dressed like that?" one protester shouted toward the officers, who were covered in riot gear: protective helmets and gloves and armed with batons — and as protesters would soon realize — tear gas canisters. When someone in the crowd, as IMPD alleges, threw a water bottle, the officers responded with tear gas — a chemical agent banned in war — and chaos ensued, resulting in an injured

officer and civilian deaths.

It isn't just about riot gear and weapons, but the militarization of policing is also about the violent tactics and intimidation used to subdue suspects, experts said. Thomas Stucky, association professor of criminology at IUPUI, said there is an "inherent contradiction" between the military and policing that makes the militarization of police potentially problematic.

"The military is very much a group setting and involves a specific objective they work together to meet," Stucky, a former police officer, said. "Police work is very different. It involves discretion and individual choices on the part of the officer."


The militarization of police, however, is not new, and certainly not unique to Indianapolis. While the War on Drugs in the 1970s and the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s was notorious for an increase in police militarization, the process actually started during Prohibition in the 1920s. To combat bootlegging and mafia activity, police throughout the country began stocking up on semiautomatic weapons and tactical vehicles.

In recent years, the militarization of police has made headlines in Ferguson, Missouri, when officers showed up to protests following the death of Michael Brown in tanks and tactical gear. In Indianapolis, activists view IMPD and Indiana State Police (ISP) officers arriving to protests with riot gear as proof officers are trying to escalate situations.

While police say they want better relations with the community they're sworn to protect and serve, residents say such tactics do little to build trust and a positive relationship.

"They came trying to start s**t," one protester said May 30, referencing IMPD officers near Monument Circle. "We don't have helmets and s**t, we just got on regular clothes. We aren't trying to start anything."

Stucky said the most effective course of action to bridge the gap between officers and civilians would be to have conversations and building better relationships.

"I'd like to tell you I have the blueprint for how to do that," Stucky said. " ... Relationships are built over time and nurtured and developed over time. Good relationships recognize that experiences may be different."

Stucky said both parties, police departments and communities, need to work together to come to a mutual understanding.

"It's absolutely clear that within the African American community, their perspectives and experiences have been very different than majority communities," Stucky said. "We would all be well served to start from a place of trying to understand different perspectives. That discussion has to start with an open mind and requires hard work from both sides."

Stucky said, however, he understands why civilians, particularly Black civilians, would feel a heightened sense of danger when police show up to protests in riot gear.

Mat Davis, the leader of the Indiana Racial Justice Alliance (IRJA), frequently reminds anyone at protests that "Police don't de-escalate a g*****n thing." This belief has led Davis and the IRJA to call for defunding IMPD and reallocating funds to community organizations to prevent crimes before they happen by addressing the root causes.


Despite calls from the community and Indy10 Black Lives Matter, Mayor Joe Hogsett proposed earlier this year that IMPD would receive more funding in the 2021 fiscal year. Next year, IMPD will receive $261 million, roughly $7.8 million more than the department received in the 2020 budget.

While nothing in the budget confirms any of this money will go toward tactical gear, some community members have expressed concern that more funding will ultimately lead to more militarization of the police — and more civilian deaths — in Indianapolis.

Before Hogsett's 2021 budget was released, the ACLU of Indiana released the following statement:

"IMDP's budget makes up more than 30% of the city's budget. As Mayor Hogsett works with the city council to begin the 2021 budget process, we must shift resources away from law enforcement and towards Black and Brown community-based initiatives that support true safety, health and well-being. ... We can demand that our local officials, including city council members and mayors, stop allocating funds for more officers and more militarized equipment."

Statistically, when police are more militarized, Black and brown communities are more likely to be negatively impacted, according to a 2018 study by Northwestern University.

In the study, researchers found "militarized police units are more often deployed in areas with high concentrations of African Americans, even after adjusting for local crime rates and other community rates. ... But there is no firm evidence that SWAT teams lower an agency's violent crime rate or the rates at which officers are killed or assaulted."

However, the study did find that the more militarized the police are, citizens are more likely to engage negatively with police and have a distrust of officers.

Stucky, the IUPUI professor, said he isn't surprised by the findings, arguing that by showing up in riot gear, police are implying they are "ready for a fight" and view the public as a threat.


Dr. Carrie Dixon, a psychologist and member of the Indiana Association of Black Psychologists, knows firsthand the impact police brutality and a fear of police in general can have on the mental health of Black individuals. Moreover, she said police officers, particularly white police officers, have a fear of Black people ingrained in them.

"History has shown that white officers do not perceive compassion as readily when they're dealing with a Black person as they do while dealing with white people," Dixon said. "Black people, they see as dangerous, whether conscious or unconscious. White policemen are more apt when they see someone in mental health crises, they are more apt to see that person as being dangerous if it's a Black person. It's just in their DNA."

The issue of mental health and military-style policing has come under scrutiny following the death of Daniel Prude, 41, in Rochester, New York. Police were initially called to respond to Prude's mental health crisis in March. After an altercation — which included Prude having a bag placed over his head as he sat naked in the street — Prude died a week later from complications from asphyxia. A day before his death, Prude had been in the hospital following another mental health episode.

Many organizers throughout Indianapolis, including NiSean Jones of Black Out for Black Lives, voiced concern about the training individuals go through before becoming police officers.

"It should take longer to become an officer than it does a beautician," Jones told a group during a protest. On average, a cosmetology license takes 1,400 hours, whereas police officers need just 672 hours of basic training to join the force.

Part of that training, according to Dixon, should include how to best handle mental health issues in those they are apprehending to avoid unnecessary injury or violence.

"Policemen need to learn to understand mental illness and how to de-escalate the problem," Dixon said. "They can't do that by yelling and threatening someone who is already out of control. They need training on that, along with training of how to respectfully restrain a subject, especially one who is under mental duress."

In a previous interview with the Recorder, Indiana State Police (ISP) Superintendent Doug Carter conceded officers are expected to be "superhuman," but getting changing the current style of policing to one community residents are advocating for would take decades.

Many in the community don't feel they can wait decades, however.

"If you want to see change happen for the better," Stucky said, "continuing to do what you've been doing may not be the best approach."

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

IU School of Medicine to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trial

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine will be looking for volunteers to receive a tworound COVID-19 vaccination when the trial resumes in the United States.

The trial comes to the school via a partnership between biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine, AZD1222, is one of only four vaccines currently in the third — and final — stage of clinical trials to prevent COVID-19. The trial has been temporarily halted in the United States due to one patient getting sick, although it is not yet known if the vaccine caused the illness.

"Throughout this pandemic, our doctors and researchers have been on the frontlines, working to treat those suffering from COVID-19 and investigating ways to stop its spread," said Dr. Jay L. Hess, dean of the IU School of Medicine. "Never has that work been more important, and our leadership continues with this crucial study taking place right here in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers who participate will have the chance to be part of a study that, if successful, could help scientists turn a corner on combatting this disease." Dr. Cynthia Brown, the lead researcher for the trial, said volunteers will be closely monitored to test the effectiveness and the risks of the vaccine. Researchers are also looking to make sure the test group is representative of the community. However, Brown said she understands why Black and brown communities would be skeptical of a vaccine, especially one that was developed so quickly.

"I hear your concerns," Brown said. "Historically,

there has been mistreatment of minorities in trials, absolutely. But patient safety is first and foremost in any clinical trial."

Brown said recipients of the vaccine will meet with a researcher 28 days between the first and second round of the vaccine, and again 90 days after the first dose. Patients will also be able to speak on the phone with doctors about any possible side effects from the vaccine.

"I think this definitely has been a faster process in drug discovery and development," Brown said. "The government put a lot of money in development, and regulators are going to have to take a careful and close look."

Much of the early work for this vaccine was done in the United Kingdom, where 500 people received the vaccine in July. Researchers in the UK found a second dose of the vaccine boosted response. Brown said some of the most common side effects were standard for most vaccines, swelling or pain at the injection site and fatigue. Thirty thousand Americans are expected to participate in this trial.

To be included in the study, participants cannot have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past. Although there are still many unknowns surrounding the virus, it's believed that if you've had it in the past, you likely have some degree of immunity.

When enrollment resumes, researchers will use All In for Health to find registered volunteers. Brown said they're looking to bring in volunteers as quickly as they can and to get a sizeable, diverse enrollment.

"Historically, minority populations have been underrepresented," Brown said. "Looking at our sample of volunteers, we're trying to oversample Black and Hispanic people to bring more minorities in. In the big picture, Black and Hispanic communities have had greater complications [from COVID-19]. And, our recruitment team has a good background, and we're going to try to focus in on those communities early on."

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


vaccination study

To sign up as a volunteer on All IN for Health, visit https://allinforhealth.info/