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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Racial tension sparks in Beech Grove

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Six months ago Orlena Warfield wanted to give her 10-year-old son a “more stable” life, so she moved from an apartment complex with rising crime on the Westside of Indianapolis to a quiet neighborhood in Beech Grove.

Warfield, who is white, did her homework. She explored the city and visited schools and parks to make sure the environment would offer a nice adjustment for her son Brandon, who is biracial.

“The goal was to move to an area that would be comfortable,” Warfield said. “We didn’t move here just to cause trouble.”

Trouble, however, is what she received last Sunday following a series of events that led to an intense racial confrontation and the hanging of a noose on a nearby tree.

The conflict began with a fight that took place between Brandon and another boy in Warfield’s front yard, which resulted in the fracture of one of the boy’s teeth. The mother of the boy, who lives a few houses down from Warfield, arrived and the two mothers agreed to ensure that another fight wouldn’t take place.

At noon the next day the woman, who spoke to Warfield on friendly terms, stopped by and mentioned that the boy’s fractured tooth would require dental work. Warfield offered to pay for the procedure.

The woman asked Warfield to assure her husband, who was upset over seeing his son’s “first” fight. Around noon the next day Warfield, her son and her roommate (who witnessed the fight) proceeded to walk down the street.

Suddenly the father, standing outside with his son, allegedly shouted out to Brandon, “So you think you’re a tough kid and a bully now.”

According to Warfield the man got upset while talking, pulled his son’s lip down to angrily show the broken tooth and said to Brandon, “You little nigger bastard if you ever put your nigger greasy hands on my kid again I’ll kill you.”

He then turned to his own son and stated, “If you ever let another nigger beat you up I will kill you and disown you.”

Both boys began crying and Warfield explained that she didn’t want trouble, but the man kept shouting, calling her “nigger lover” and other racial slurs. Warfield said he “reeked” of alcohol, and continued to scream epithets at her and her family from his property throughout the day.

A white neighbor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “I heard that man shouting and making threats for at least four hours.”

Warfield said the police were called, but only briefly talked to the man, saying he had a right to freedom of speech and there was nothing they could do. They offered to arrest the boys as a solution and told both the man and Warfield to go in their houses.

At 11 o’clock that evening the angry man started shouting again, this time with four or five other men also shouting racist remarks. Warfield contacted family members and sympathetic neighbors who gathered in her yard. The police were called again, and the man was arrested for public intoxication after walking off his property.

Days later Warfield’s best friend, who is white, arrived in the neighborhood with her husband, who is Black. The angry man, who was in the street playing basketball with friends, walked up to the car and shouted, “We told you we didn’t want no nigger monkeys around here.”

The police were called again, but Warfield said they only criticized her friend for not yielding the right of way to pedestrians and approached her son, who was riding his bike, saying, “You know this will all go away if you leave that kid alone.”

Warfield said that over the weekend someone hung a figurine with an afro wig and noose around its neck on a tree in the yard of a neighbor friendly to the man who said the racist comments.

Now Warfield is afraid for her son’s safety, and has received a mostly unsatisfactory response from the Beech Grove Police Department.

“Whenever we called they wanted to first know what we did to the man,” she said. “I was told we needed to be quiet and quit making a mountain out of molehill. But there has to be something that can be done to keep this man from harassing us on a racial level.”

Warfield was eventually directed to Deputy Chief Kellan Malloy, who she said is the only officer who really seemed to care about what happened to her and Brandon.

“We take this matter very seriously,” Malloy told the Recorder. “The thing is we have had plenty of African-Americans live and visit who have never experienced a problem like that here.”

Beech Grove, a city of nearly 15,000 residents southeast of Indianapolis, has a 96 percent white population with Blacks making up one percent, according to census figures.

Malloy said he encouraged Warfield to file a report if the man continues to harass her so that he can actually be prosecuted for violating harassment and intimidation laws. Malloy and Warfield have also consulted school officials and Brandon’s bus driver to ensure his safety. Warfield has been advised to contact a special attorney in the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office who facilitates the mediation of disputes between residents.

Police say it is difficult to determine whether or not the figure in the noose was directed at the Warfield family. The Afro wig, they say, appears to be more like a Russian hat and that other neighbors have also recently hung Halloween decorations from trees.

Warfield said she realized her main challenge last Sunday after church service when her son said he wished God had made him entirely white like her instead of Black like his father, who is divorced from Warfield but stays in contact.

“At this point my back is against the wall but I will stand up for my son and let him know he can be proud of himself no matter what color he is,” Warfield said. “I’m not gonna let this bigot down the street push us out of here. I want my son to see there are ways to make this man realize what he said is not correct and that there is someone out there who will stand up for him.”

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