Throughout July Martindale-Brightwood Weed & Seed, in conjunction with City-County Councilors Jackie Nytes and William Oliver and East 91st Street Christian Church, have been hosting the Community Having a Talk (CHAT) initiative with Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
This series of meetings has offered residents a chance to share concerns with area police officers.
Comments exchanged during last week’s CHAT meeting at Oasis of Hope Baptist Church gave insight into the critical issues being discussed.
Martindale-Brightwood resident Don Wilkerson said it seems like officers have “always been around when no one needs them” but ignore his attempts to share tips on potential criminal activity.
“I just don’t feel like they respond when you try to pass on leads or tell them what’s up with something,” said Wilkerson.
An undercover IMPD narcotics investigator, whose name cannot be publicly released, explained that officers do appreciate leads and pursue them whenever possible for urgent cases, but limited manpower prevents officers from addressing all of them at once.
“Hundreds of complaints or leads come each month into my office alone,” said the investigator. “So it’s not that we’re putting you off, we’re just short on staff like everybody else right now, even as we do all we can to respond to the needs of this entire community.”
That exchange of information between was one of several that materialized at last week’s meeting. Residents were able to talk about negative experiences with allegedly insensitive or rude officers, and express their desire to “be approached as citizens, not as criminals” during routine encounters.
Officers, in turn, were able to provide explanations to residents. At the same time they expressed their own desire for residents to partner with them in crime fighting efforts, respect the authority of decent officers and refrain from judging all police by the misdeeds of a few rogue officers.
Residents in attendance were asked share key events in their lives that changed how they view police, for better or worse.
Marshawn Wolley said he remembered, as a graduate student, being pulled over “for driving while Black” by police in Bloomington, and now feels uneasy when a cruiser pulls up behind his car in Indianapolis.
“I’m concerned about whether or not they’re reading my plate and think about what might happen,” he said. ““Honestly, anytime anyone sees an officer behind them it is natural to tense up a little bit.”
Patrol officer Yolanda Maddrey explained that law enforcement personnel simply undergo a routine procedure that applies to anyone they’re driving behind. Information from the car’s license plate is run to insure that the car is not stolen and that there’s no warrant out for the registered owner.
“It’s a common procedure,” said Maddrey. “We don’t stop you unless we see something bad or discover you have a stolen car. If you put the wrong plate on the wrong car, for example, most officers won’t write you a ticket, they’ll just tell you what you did. Its a crime fighting measure that helps police catch criminals.”
Some residents also expressed their concern about the upcoming Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration this month. They asked how the city could prevent another incident such as the one that took place during last year’s event, when a 17-year-old was allegedly kicked by an IMPD officer.
The officers at the meeting admitted that some of their peers incorrectly overreact, but added that the burden for peace also rests on the shoulders of citizens who should cooperate with officers trying to keep order among the traffic and pedestrian congestion during Summer Celebration.
“Everything possible will be done to ensure a safe event,” said patrol officer Mike Bragg. “We want everyone to have a good time and enjoy our city.”
The officers in attendance, including the narcotics investigator, Maddrey, Bragg and patrol officer Romeo Joson, noted that the Faith Based Patrol, a group of local pastors, will be on hand to help keep peace during next week’s Summer Celebration.
Rev. Frank Alexander, pastor of Oasis of Hope, took a moment to praise officers who truly “protect and serve” the community and don’t abuse their power. Other residents in attendance, including those who had complaints, followed Alexander’s lead in praising hardworking, upstanding police.
Residents and police officers both agreed that the CHAT provides a forum for dialogue that is sorely needed. For over 20 years an undercurrent of mistrust has existed between police and residents of predominantly African-American neighborhoods following a series of fatal shootings involving law enforcement and Black suspects.
Alexander is hopeful that CHAT meetings will provide a useful forum to help citizens and officers better understand each other.
“I’m excited about this opportunity,” said Alexander. “I think one thing that needs to happen is that the police must be seen as human beings. Officers who do their job deserve our respect. In the end, it’s going to take all of us respecting each other as human beings for progress to made.”
The next CHAT meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 22 from 6-7 p.m. at Oasis of Hope Baptist Church, 1701 E. 25th St. For more information call (317) 925-6972.