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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

President Obama’s civil rights czar visits Indy; promises enforcement of civil rights laws

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Quietly, the Obama Administration has ramped up its enforcement of civil rights legislation.

Last week, eight days after President Barack Obama signed legislation that increased federal prosecution of hate crimes and assistance to states and localities to pursue hate crimes. The new head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division came to Indianapolis to witness three Hoosiers sentenced to 12 – 15 months federal prison time for burning a cross on an African-American Muncie family’s lawn.

Thomas Perez, a former career Justice Department prosecutor, is now the Chief Civil Rights enforcer for President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

In an exclusive interview on WTLC-AM1310’s “Afternoons with Amos,” Perez talked about the Obama Administration’s commitment to enforcing civil rights laws in Indiana.

“When you compare (Indy’s FBI office) to offices of a similar size,” Perez told me, “(Indy) has the fifth largest volume of cases involving hate crimes and civil rights issues. This FBI is very aggressive in prosecuting civil rights violations. And you have a U.S. Attorney’s Office that’s committed to the pursuit of these cases.”

Perez continued saying, “There’s, regrettably, going to be a lot of work (here) and we will be here to do that work. And you have a civil rights division that will be here. And we are committed to investing the resources (needed).”

In our interview I learned Perez is familiar with Indianapolis, “I had the privilege 10 years ago when I was the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights of actually overseeing the section that was working on the Indianapolis desegregation case.”

This key deputy to Attorney General Eric Holder says protecting civil rights in education is an important priority for his department, “Access to education is one of the fundamental building blocks of self sufficiency and of our strength as a nation. And we will continue to work hard to insure that we’re tackling the challenges not only in the K-to-12 setting but also in the higher education setting. Enforcing civil rights law to insure that everybody in Indiana has equal access to equal educational opportunities.”

I asked Perez about the current consent decree signed by Indianapolis and the Justice Department that may have the effect of reducing the numbers of Blacks and minorities on the Indianapolis police and fire departments.

“I’ve been on the job for 28 days and I’m just beginning to get briefings,” said Perez.

“I’m generally familiar with the issues surrounding the hiring and promotions of police and firefighters. But I haven’t had a full briefing in those cases (including Indianapolis).

But Perez added, “We have a very vigorous program of enforcement of cases involving police and fire departments. And ensuring that the entry-level hiring, the testing and the other job requirements as well as the promotional criteria are not discriminatory. And that is our charge. That’s the mission that we are going to continue to carry on.

It’s disturbing that civil rights cases in Indiana are high, but comforting that the FBI takes them seriously and that this Justice Department does as well. Our community should accelerate taking cases of discrimination and civil rights violations to the FBI.

What I’m Hearing

in the Streets

Stunning. Unprecedented.

Those words describe the breadth of the success of the Wishard Hospital Referendum. It was the most successful referendum in Indianapolis history as every city/county precinct voted “yes.” Some 30.8 percent of the county’s 590 precincts, a total of 182 precincts voted 90 percent-plus for Wishard. In 34 precincts the vote was unanimous!

Every neighborhood, even the most conservative, voted “Yes!” Wishard’s campaign benefited from unprecedented unity among politicians, civic, business and religious leaders. Something we’ll probably never see again on a public policy issue.

The few opponents of the Wishard referendum were flummoxed by the results, especially bloggers. They refuse to believe any precinct voted unanimously. They decry the referendum’s wording as confusing and disingenuous.

The opponents insult the intelligence of Indianapolis! Everyone knew the question involved Wishard spending $700 million to build a new hospital. They knew what a yes or no vote meant.

The most vicious Wishard opponent, whom I called the bigoted blogger in our October 29 column, was flummoxed by the results. The bigoted blogger is so beloved by those living in his trendy, upscale downtown neighborhood, that they voted 87.3 percent for Wishard!

After blasting his neighbors for being in the tank for Wishard and IU, the bigoted blogger then returned to his usual racial and religious hatred, which characterizes this Limbaugh/Beck wannabe as one of the most spiteful men since Senator Joseph McCarthy.

A surprising referendum winner was the Beech Grove Schools. It had been expected that the school funding referendums would lose. They were defeated two-to-one in Franklin Township and by a surprisingly narrow margin in Perry Township. But Beech Grove’s refreshing honesty about what wouldn’t happen if the referendum didn’t pass (“your kids will walk to school”) and community pride carried the day as the referendum won 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent.

Rough times though lay ahead for local schools. The continuing shortfall in state revenues, now down $350 million in the first third of budget year, means budgeted school funding increases next year might not happen. That will put even more pressure on local schools to hold the budget line and/or cut people and programs.

The shortfall in state revenues only imperils the general funding of schools. The impact of property tax caps affects school systems’ construction budgets and more ominously their transportation budgets.

In the wake of the Franklin Township’s referendum defeat, the district is considering cutting back transportation of students to and from school. And in a district with few sidewalks and numerous winding street subdivisions, the thought of kids being transported to school by parents is daunting.

Unlike a hospital that everyone could utilize, only households with children are impacted by schools. And in Indianapolis, households with children are the minority.

Suburban districts have greater percentages of households with children, 45 percent in Hamilton Southeastern and 40.2 percent in Carmel-Clay and Franklin Township.

But just 23.3 percent of households in the Washington Township district have children; 24.9 percent of IPS households, 29.7 percent in Pike and Perry Townships, 34.1 percent in Lawrence.

Unless local schools can make the case, to the majority of households and voters of local school districts throughout the Indianapolis area could be in for some rough financial hardships ahead!

See ‘ya next week!

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