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Saturday, September 18, 2021

A closer look at the Johnson/IMPD incident

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The incident involving Brandon Johnson has garnered media attention and community backlash from the very beginning.

For the past few weeks, the Indianapolis community has seen various images of Johnson’s bruised and blood-stained face from the beating. Such an occurrence should have never happened, however, it wasn’t the first and unfortunately, it won’t be the last.

Although Indianapolis doesn’t see nearly as many instances of police brutality as, say Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, one incident is enough for us to demand change and actually institute policies and procedures that evoke it.

I often talk about the importance of getting to the root of problems. Oftentimes, we discover an issue and suggest a solution based on emotion – a solution that may lead to some immediate change, but not a conducive permanent modification. Solutions need to be carefully considered and examined from various perspectives. Regarding the instance of Johnson, solutions can’t solely benefit him, nor can they solely benefit IMPD – there has to be policies put in place where both parties can learn from and institute positive change. And in order for tangible solutions to be implemented, it’s important for all entities in any situation to take accountability for their respective wrongdoings as well as be fully committed to correcting any mistakes or bad behaviors.

Some people may not like what I’m about to say, but I’m never one to hold my tongue for too long, so I’ll say it anyway. To some degree, Johnson was wrong. I simply can’t buy the notion that Johnson calmly and respectfully asked the officers about the arrest of his brother, void of any aggression or frustration. It’s natural for us to get upset when someone we love or are protective of is in an adverse situation. Exemplifying calm respect in such a situation can be challenging for a 15-year-old youth.

Some will claim that Johnson had a constitutional right to voice his concern and I agree, however, as one Black IMPD officer told me this week, in certain instances “you can’t hold court when emotions are that high.”

As parents, we have to teach our children to respect authority – and that authority includes parents themselves, teachers, and yes – officers of the law.

Make no mistake about it, nothing Johnson said or did constitutes the level of brutality he was subjected to – nothing. However, given the fact that he’s a child, it would have been more appropriate for him to either get an adult to assist, or wait until the situation was diffused to probe.

With that said, the police officers were wrong on varying levels. In an effort to limit redundancy and save space, I defer you to Amos Brown’s column for some specifics, however, I will say that the officers involved in the Johnson instance should have exhibited a higher degree of tolerance.

There’s something about that uniform and holster and even the distinction of driving a car with sirens that make some officers abuse their power. Some officers seem to think that because they carry a badge, they don’t have to exercise certain courtesies and restraints. I remember a few years back when a family member of mine who was assaulted stopped a police officer for help. I was with this family member and witnessed the officer speak to her in a very condescending and disrespectful manner. The female officer even told the assault victim she was wrong for calling the police (because the assailant was also a family member). When I tried to respectfully offer my eyewitness account of what occurred, the female officer began to yell at me.

Clearly, the behavior of that specific officer was an example of how one can abuse their power for no apparent reason. But I digress – back to solutions.

I don’t have the magic answer for the Johnson incident, but I will say that a start would be to have IMPD’s officers more reflective of the community.

An IMPD Workforce Demographics report from May shows a breakdown by race. Check out these numbers:

Out of 1,666 on the force, only 224 are Black, 30 Hispanic, two Asian, and 18 “other.” At 1,392, whites lead the force in numbers. There is one Black assistant chief, one Black deputy chief, and only two Black commanders. On the streets, there are only 174 Black patrol officers compared to 1, 202 of their white counterparts.

There also needs to be more diversity at the IMPD Training Academy. Currently, there are no Black trainers at the academy. No wonder why some of these white officers behave as they do.

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