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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Stop pimping Black people’s pain

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Black Indianapolis doesn’t need a lecture on outrage.  

Over 400 Black people have been killed in this city in the last four years — the vast majority of them Black males. This doesn’t even include both the Black infant and maternal mortality problem we are facing in this city. 

We’ve had the funerals. 

Our city is dotted with memorials to young Black people murdered in the streets. 

As the great poet Paul Laurence Dunbar said in one of my favorite poems, “We smile, but O’ great Christ our cries.” 

To suggest there is no outrage is to be deaf to Black cries for justice — including for people like Aaron Bailey. 

But here is the difference between Black outrage and what the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police and, sadly, Indianapolis Ten Point Coalition has done. 

Black leaders developed a policy agenda based on facts. We’re coming up with a plan — and be it through our own efforts or the city’s, our objectives are being met.

Black leaders have developed the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis to address our philanthropic needs. 

We also are training our own as part of The Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League’s Fellows Program so that we can build a cadre of leaders who will leverage all sectors of the city for the benefit of our community. 

There’s now a fund at the city dedicated to addressing food insecurity. 

Black folks were on the city’s community development block grant committee and weighed in on where crucial federal dollars should go. 

Black leaders have presented policy concerns not only to the mayor but to the city-county council leadership.

And we do not march in the streets every day because we have to be about the business of living — and trying to figure out ways to survive in a city that forces us to exist in absurdities.  

Absurdities such as: How can we have the largest Black population in Indiana and experience both the level of violence and abysmal economic realities and not have piqued the intellectual curiosity of the media in a serious way (The Toll by the IndyStar being the notable exception), nor city leadership? 

Only recently have we even heard city leaders say the word “Black” despite all the data that suggests it might be a good idea to pay attention to what is happening in our community.  

We cry, but we also do the work that is unheralded, unseen, hard and unglamorous — away from cameras and known mostly by those working with us. 

But what we won’t do is develop plans that include locking more Black people up in jail for longer periods. What we won’t do is call for stricter bail standards for poor Black people. 

That ain’t on our agenda.  

There is no quarrel with respect to keeping dangerous predators off the streets. Black victims matter to Black people. 

But too often, Black people are preyed upon by a criminal justice system that locks up people we are mad at instead of focusing on people who are truly violent criminals. 

The steady campaign highlighting the level of violence within the city by the FOP and leadership with the Indy Ten Point Coalition is tantamount to pimping our pain for a misguided policy agenda, and it is unacceptable.

The Black community is not for making bail more difficult to obtain, and, to be truthful, there are a lot of questions about the efficacy of what Ten Point achieves. There is a difference between correlation and causality, but I digress. 

I’m for outrage.

I’m still working, but I’ve been hard pressed to find a city that had over 100 homicides within one segment of its community that wasn’t Black. 

I can’t imagine what leaders would do if 100 white males were murdered within a city inside of a year. I suspect a governor would be engaged, but they wouldn’t be talking about bail and stricter sentencing. 

I think we need way more outrage from the larger community, but what we don’t need is people pimping Black people’s pain. 

What I am hearing…

Community activists and leaders were irritated to learn that the first action by the new city-county council would be the launching of a commission to study climate change, especially given the sustained level of violence occurring in the Black community. 

The problem wasn’t climate change per se, but rather a healthy expectation that Black issues would be on the city’s agenda. 

I hear that both community leaders connected to the commission effort, as well as councilors, are working to include environmental justice issues, which certainly does impact Black and Latinx communities in Indianapolis. 

A focus on environmental justice that might look at lead abatement — including in drinking water, air quality and even a focus on brownfields — are all positive steps. 

But this does raise the issue of the conspicuous absence of a commission on African American males… 

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

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