Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Does Indianapolis’ Black community need an agenda? There seems to be a growing chorus that the answer is “yes.”

During the Indianapolis Business Journal/Indy Chamber post-mayoral debate news conferences, both incumbent Democrat Joe Hogsettand Republican challenger Jim Merritt were asked if they will have a “Black agenda” should they be in office come Jan. 1. Merritt said yes. Hogsett said no. However, in fairness to Hogsett, he also added that African Americans should benefit from the plans his administration already has on the table.

In the past, some groups have attempted to outline a “Black agenda.” The African American Coalition of Indianapolis, a collective of various Black organizations, has reportedly put together a proposal and the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus at the start of every session outlines an agenda as well. And you can now add me to the list. My agenda is based, in part, on a recent poll conducted for Indy Politics by Mason Strategies. We surveyed several issues — crime, education, infrastructure, etc. — and the responses given by African Americans. Embedded in these suggestions is my firm belief that if you empower individuals to take control of their own destinies, you will get a much better result for society overall.

So, with that said, here are a few items from my “agenda.”

CRIME AND VIOLENCE

Tougher penalties for crimes committed in certain areas.

Since Blacks in low-income areas are more likely to be victims of crime than other parts of the city, local leaders should work with state officials to create “economically challenged” zones and increase the penalties for offenses committed in those areas.

Creative post-conviction sentencing. 

The city should work with the criminal justice system and implement a program where non-violent, first-time offenders are sentenced to school as part of their probation. A judge under state law (IC 35-38-2-2.3), as part of probation, can order a defendant to “work faithfully at suitable employment or faithfully pursue a course of study or career and technical education that will equip the person for suitable employment.” This will be cheaper than incarceration, and the long-term result is a productive citizen who is repairing homes and automobiles instead of breaking into them.

Increase investment in proven anti-violence initiatives.

In our survey, crime and gun-related violence were the No. 1 issue of African Americans. Organizations like the Ten Point Coalition have a proven track record in reducing homicides in the areas they patrol, so the city should make sure they are adequately funded.

EDUCATION

Increase opportunities for school choice.

Our survey showed 63% of Blacks supported school choice and vouchers, which was 10 points higher than the general population. Education attainment is a crucial indicator of success.

Increase opportunities for post-secondary education attainment for adults who did not finish school.

The city should partner with the state and Ivy Tech Community College and promote the Next Level education program, which gets Hoosiers back to school to finish their degrees. Also, Ivy Tech is implementing a program geared toward single mothers so they can go back to school and complete their education.

Increase after-school opportunities.

The city should partner with the not-for-profit, faith-based and local college and university communities to create “after school” zones where children can study, get mentoring and tutoring in a safe and productive environment. The city would provide the financing, the faith-based communities and not-for-profits would provide the facilities, and the colleges and universities would provide the mentors and tutors.

ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT

Increase opportunities for small business creation.

The city should focus on growing small businesses in economically challenged areas that will make individuals self-sufficient. The city should partner with the Indiana Department of Commerce, the Indy Chamber and the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce to help create, grow and develop Black-owned and operated businesses, particularly in economically challenged communities of color.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Create the equivalent of an infrastructure-based tax incremental finance system for roads in economically challenged areas. The city should work with the state to capture a portion of the gas tax collected in certain economically challenged areas that would be dedicated to roads, streets and sidewalk repair.

ATTAINABLE HOUSING

Encourage developers who receive city tax incentives also to build, where feasible, in select areas that have economic challenges.

Work with state lawmakers to protect long-time homeowners from skyrocketing increases in property tax assessments due to gentrification by freezing their assessments in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification until the home is sold or transferred.

I think when you address these issues, you take care of the collateral issues such as the achievement and economic pay gaps, food deserts, etc. And for the record, this works for the broader community also.

Now, part of this is an individual responsibility component. And African Americans have to understand that no “agenda” can solve all the problems that plague specific segments of the community. But I do think that the creation of a more productive and safe environment for some of our city’s residents can go a long way to making life better for all of us.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney, political commentator and publisher of IndyPolitics.org. You can email comments to him at abdul@indypolitics.org.

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