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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

I’m Just Sayin’: ‘Start asking different questions’

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Are we fighting hard enough? What has been the fruits of our fighting? 

Systems have had their knee on our neck for far too long. While Indianapolis isn’t Minneapolis, what happens to one of us someplace else isn’t disconnected from systems we fight here. 

The pattern here is we have a police-action shooting and we demand reforms and in some cases we get them. 

But do we actually become stronger as a community? Do we improve our capacity to preempt police even coming into our communities? Do we increase our capacity to police ourselves?  

The personal and community accountability question is a third rail in our community.  

A lot of the challenge of the question is the recognition that systems are in place to undermine our community — even our capacity to resist. The attacks on our community by systems such as mass incarceration, government social welfare policies that undermined Black families, an education system that too often fails us, financial institutions that leave our communities and do not invest in us; it goes on. 

More than just writing about them, we have called out these systems in this space and leveraged the attention of the moment to drive conversations leading to policy change from police reform (the dismantling of the police state) to prioritizing the racial achievement gap in education to institution building. 

But this hasn’t been enough. 

To be Black is to get up every day knowing that you’ll probably have to fight again for yourself and maybe your family. Some of us fight for our community too. 

But are we all collectively resisting these systems coming at us effectively? 

A nostalgic gaze obscures other issues, but if I am to believe the elders in our community, there was a time when we were closer even — as we withstood systemic assault. 

Each writer wrestles with the challenge of over overstating the current crisis of their day. 

We’ve relied on numbers to show how our community has been under assault and has experienced a decline economically, mentally and physically. This situation has been more than numbers — there are stories of trauma, frustration and sadness behind them. 

We’ve also been clear about the role government must play in addressing these issues — more than words we’ve engaged on the issues of fighting for solutions.

Community conversations led to posting of general orders so our community could know what rules officers use for engagement. The community asked for this but have enough of us read the general orders? 

Implicit bias training was another outcome of that effort, but are we exploring our own biases? I have had the privilege of learning about mine, and it is a challenge not to succumb to the hardwiring of my mind daily. 

The community asked for a searchable police complaint database, and a 2011 city-county council ordinance was passed to produce the product — but here we are again. 

We got the changes we asked for, but did we get the change we needed?  

Have any of these changes resulted in a feeling of improved police and community relations? 

We have to start asking different questions. 

This year IMPD is in a year of a contract review. I submit we need a new community contract with IMPD and ourselves. 

We need to get 500 community leaders to go through the IMPD’S Citizen Academy so that we could have the knowledge to both understand police procedures, but also to ask better questions aimed at reform that are meaningful to the Black community. 

Over the next few months, we will need to discuss our community’s social contract as well as a Black agenda — and we may need to ask better questions of ourselves. 

Just like the “Street Lights Are On” initiative, we need to be daily accountability for the activities, plans, whereabouts and interests of our young people — especially our Black males.  

As we’ve said there is more work to be done on police reform, but community activist and leaders should acknowledge that a 95% reduction in police-action shootings is movement in the right direction — even when the goal remains zero.

Acknowledging the need for improvement, we’ve spent quite a bit of time improving IMPD, but Black homicides are occurring at a level that should shock the conscience.

We have to address both.   

One of my favorite Black philosophers Tommie Shelby, raises the idea that we often fail to see Black agency — or Black folks operating in a strategic fashion in combatting systems. 

An example might be choosing to eschew formal employment because wages are just too low. Outsiders view this as pathological, but he argues that under certain conditions this is a just response to an unjust labor market. 

My point is beyond the recognition that systems are in place that hurt us — we all get that — Black people have always found ways to be subversive. We’ve figured out how to survive and be resilient, maybe even build a Black Wall Street, or a Harlem, or Indiana Avenue back in the day.

Our community must recognize its strength and its responsibility to improve. We have to.   

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.


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