It is nearly impossible these days to turn on a television news station or even scroll down your Facebook timeline without seeing something related to Ferguson, Mo. The shooting death of Michael Brown was one of the latest in a long line of unarmed African-American males who have lost their lives to the hands of law enforcement. The protests that followed in Ferguson have become the topic of scrutiny and praise simultaneously. Though it may seem to some that what is happening 251 miles away has no direct correlation to Indianapolis, history proves otherwise.
“It has happened here before and it can happen again,” said Rev. Charles Harrison, senior pastor of Barnes United Methodist Church and president of the Ten Point Coalition. “There are tensions all over the country that are historical between African-Americans and the police departments. I think that Blacks not just in Ferguson, but in cities across the country feel harassed. They have experienced police brutality and feel like there is a lack of sensitivity.”
In 1995, the city of Indianapolis experienced what then Mayor Stephen Goldsmith referred to as a “mini-riot” following the alleged beating of Danny Sales by a police sergeant while in custody.
“It sparked outrage in the community, particularly the Black community. Much like what we’re seeing in Ferguson today,” said Preston Adams, senior pastor of Amazing Grace Christian Church. Adams, who in 1995 served as assistant pastor of Light of the World Christian Church alongside Bishop T. Garrott Benjamin Jr., spent time on the ground during the “mini-riot” speaking with those who were inflamed by the situation. “It actually caused a need for community leaders and others to rally support for the purpose of bringing peace back to the city,” said Adams. “Because the city was committed to restoring peace as well as committed to providing solutions, we were able to see some meaningful resolutions come out of it.”
IMPD Public Information Officer Kendale Adams said in an electronic correspondence that significant changes have been made since the 1995 incident.
“One the most important changes, was our response to incidents of this type. We learned that we cannot respond without the aid of the community, in non-life threatening situations, to help us quell community unrest. We cannot fix a crisis when we are in a crisis and that’s why the chief has continued to speak on the need for our agency to put chips in the bank.” He also added that the tactical things IMPD learned are not for public consumption, mainly to safeguard their response.
When asked how his organization is prepared to handle protests, both peaceful and otherwise, Capt. David Bursten of the Indiana State Police said “The Indiana State Police are available to augment the resources of local police agencies when needed. The primary goal in any situation involving protests is ensuring the rights of protestors as well as non-protestors are not infringed.”
During one service, Adams invited the Black males in his congregation ages 3 years old and older to stay behind after their morning worship service to have a discussion about current issues and solutions. “I wanted to specifically deal with those young Black males to help them understand two things; one, you do live in a very dangerous society where unfortunately young Black men are still profiled, not just by police. I am a well educated pastor, professional, and community leader and even I am profiled,” said Adams. He also spoke with them about how to interact with authority figures and invited law enforcement officers from his congregation to participate in the conversation. “The most important thing you want to do is move past the situation without causing yourself unnecessary grief,” said Adams.
“I think the bigger issue is that we have police departments that do not reflect the makeup of the community. There certainly needs to be more diversity that is more reflective of the populations they are serving,” said Harrison. “Ten Point, as well as other faith organizations, have a great relationship with the command staff of IMPD – I think the problem we have had is more with the rank and file officers that are patrolling the neighborhoods.”
When asked if officers are required to undergo cultural sensitivity training Capt. Bursten said that since the 1990s the ISP has provided a four-hour block of instruction on cultural awareness for all new enforcement personnel. Officer Adams shared that IMPD is currently training one of the most diverse recruitment classes in the organization’s history.
“IMPD has continued to take steps to ensure our department reflects the community in which we serve,” said Adams.
Did you know?
What is the proper protocol for officers to follow prior to reaching the point of using deadly force?
There has been much speculation concerning the right of officers to employ deadly force against citizens. The following is an excerpt from the Indiana State Police Standard Operating Procedure.
The use of deadly force against persons by employees shall be restricted to the following:
1 The officer reasonably believes the force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the officer or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony;
2The officer reasonably believes the force is necessary to affect an arrest for a felony, and the officer believes that;
- The crime for which the arrest is made involved conduct including the use or threatened use of deadly force or serious bodily injury, or
- There is a substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily injury if apprehension is delayed.
3 The officer should give a warning, if feasible, to the person against whom the deadly force is to be used.
4 An officer who has an arrested person in custody is justified in using deadly force to prevent the escape of the arrested person from custody only if the officer:
- Has probable cause to believe deadly force is necessary to prevent the escape from custody of a person who the officer has probable cause to believe poses a threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or a third person; and
- Has given a warning, if feasible, to the person against whom the deadly force is to be used.
NOTE: Officers shall take into account the potential risk of injury to innocent persons when considering the use of deadly force.