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Monday, June 21, 2021

It’s time the federal Justice Department monitors IMPD!

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I agree with the Baptist Ministers Alliance, the family of Brandon Johnson, and I dare say most of Indianapolis’ 250,000 African-Americans plus thousands of like minded non-Blacks.

All the officers involved in the Brandon Johnson incident should be fired or receive long term suspensions without pay.

The one officer fired, Jerry Piland, shouldn’t be the only one.

Piland was off duty when he responded to the incident. According to the narrative provided by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Paul Ciesielski, Piland hit Johnson with knee strikes to the body and “open hand slaps” (i.e. punches) to the face and head. After two other officers had control of Johnson, Piland continued to beat the youth, according to Cielsielski.

Piland wasn’t the only officer who beat Johnson. Officer David Carney, according to Ciesielski’s narrative, was the first to hit Johnson in the face repeatedly with “open hand slaps”.

The so-called Internal Affairs “investigation” doesn’t answer why tasers or other non-lethal weapons (pepper spray) weren’t used. Ciesielski’s narrative says Sergeant Josh Shaughnessy aimed his taser at a threatening bystander, keeping him at bay.

I also disagree with just a reprimand for Officer Stacy Lettinga who arrested a bystander protesting the arrest while standing on his own property. That sort of wrongful, illegal behavior by IMPD occurs all the time and it’s time officers are seriously sanctioned for it.

Over the months, I’ve received numerous calls and e-mails from residents complaining bitterly that they were arrested, for no reason, just because they questioned police tactics or behavior.

Ciesielski and Public Safety Director Frank Straub say IMPD now has a “zero tolerance policy” for police brutality. Yet the other officers involved in the Brandon Johnson incident, including Officer Jake Clouthier, allowed Piland’s brutality to begin and continue. They allowed an illegal arrest to be made. They couldn’t handle teens, living in a nearly all-Black enclave in an otherwise white-majority neighborhood, exercising their First Amendment right to protest.

Yet, all but Piland get off with virtually no punishment.

Our community is asked to accept the Internal Affairs Report. What report? All the community’s seen is a 3½-page, single-spaced “narrative” Ciesielski read at last Thursday’s (June 10th) press conference.

That’s not a “report.” A report would document what witnesses and police saw, heard and said. A “report” would’ve described the scene and provided background on the officers and civilians’ past disciplinary and/or encounters with police.

IMPD preaches “transparency.” To me and our community, “transparency” means providing details and information, not a warmed over summary.

Straub wants our community to trust that he will do right by our African-American community. When he first arrived, Straub impressed the only Black leaders he met – ministers. But now Straub’s stock with Black ministers has fallen faster than BP’s.

Straub angered a broad spectrum of clergymen last week when, at a meeting in a church, he used the epithet “you people” and some profanity.

It doesn’t help to build trust when Straub’s staff is noticeably monochromatic; all white except for a security man. The lack of Black staffers could explain his church faux pas and other perceived insensitivities.

Straub promises a panel of community folks will advise IMPD on improving training and community relations.

But Indy’s been there, done that.

The 1982 Tanselle-Adams Report, compiled after a rash of police action shootings, made training and community involvement recommendations for police.

The 1988 report by the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee’s Human Relations Task Force also recommended improved training, greater community involvement and a police civilian complaint board, which in 2010 is a failure and a joke!

IMPD brags that police complaints are down. But you wouldn’t know it from the many complaints I receive.

The police complaint system is onerous, cumbersome and un-user friendly. Other police departments take complaints online. Indianapolis should accept police complaints (and compliments) via the Internet and text messaging and place complaint forms in area libraries and community centers.

Then there’s the case of our missing Mayor Greg Ballard. He wanted control of police, but has been invisible during this crisis. He released a statement after the Internal Affairs “report” was released. But he should’ve said something a month ago.

Black ministers condemned the mayor’s silence saying he was “more concerned with capital improvements” than this issue.

But that’s not the only example of the Ballard administration’s inept handling of this crisis. I’m told at a meeting of the city’s Race Relations Task Force, a senior Ballard Administration official attacked the group, demanding they say nothing about the incident. This mayor minion’s shrill attack angered and dismayed the multiracial group and marked the first time any mayor tried to keep the race relations group from examining a police/community relations issue.

I’m also hearing that the Ballard administration nixed a new IMPD recruit class, allegedly for budgetary reasons, that would’ve been at least a third Black.

After a slow initial response from the NAACP to the ministers and to Black elected officials, Indianapolis’ Black leadership is now alive with determination and anger. But, unfortunately, the Urban League sits on the sidelines because of the conflict of Urban League President Joe Slash, who also sits on the Police Merit Board.

That conflict is keeping one of our community’s historically strong voices against police abuse of power quiet.

Black leadership’s demands include new federal monitoring of IMPD. Why?

When you have a police department with no new Black recruits over two years, no new Black sergeants and lieutenants, no Blacks on the police academy’s faculty. A police department, where complaints about nasty comments and boorish behavior by cops is increasing. When the prevailing attitude of many cops is that when it comes to Blacks, they’re an army of occupation, not a force to protect and serve, then it’s time for the feds to monitor.

Our community agrees with “zero tolerance” for police brutality. We also want “zero tolerance” on police abuse of power, police disrespect towards Blacks, Hispanics, persons of color and the poor in Indianapolis. We want zero tolerance against those cops who lash out with no fear of facing discipline at those peacefully, verbally protesting police actions. We want zero tolerance against the refusal of IMPD, and the mayor who controls them, to hire and promote Black officers.

It’s time for the federal monitoring of IMPD. Now!

See ‘ya next week!

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