In the wake of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper looks at the next steps; Hoosiers weigh in on how the not-guilty verdict affects African-Americans; a consideration of what’s next for Ferguson, Mo. and the country; and preventive measures happening here in Indianapolis.
Next steps for Blacks
Local African-Americans offer their insight on how the end result of the events in Ferguson, Mo. have affected Black people, and how the community and nation can heal.
Dr. Thomas Brown, former pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, president of the Indiana Christian Leadership Conference, and former director of national campus coordination for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
How does this affect Blacks?
“This has given a wake up call to the Black community in respects to showing that there is a large white community that stands beside one another. What I recognized coming out of the protest movement of the late 1950s’ and 60s’ and the various riots that have happened, the Black community has a new opportunity now to understand social protest from the non-violent perspective. The violence that was perpetrated is really a reflection of the violent spirit of America in general. Blacks participate in violence at the same magnitude that the whole nation does. It’s a new awakening of ‘where do we fit to bring about change,’ but do it nonviolently and strategically.
“But when you look at it, what were they violent toward: property. In the 1950s and 60s we had violence upon us as human beings. These folks committed violence against property. Insurance pays those big bills. The system says ‘we protect people and property.’ Which one does the law give more credence to: people or property?”
What should Blacks do next?
“We need a unity movement amongst ourselves where we respect one another and unite as a strong economic and political base and not get caught in divisional games.”
Dr. Terri Jett, associate professor, Political Science Department at Butler University
How does this affect Blacks?
“The lack of the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. to find cause to indict officer Darren Wilson…be considered from an intersectional standpoint of both race and economics, in the midst of the relationship between law enforcement and people of color that seems to transcend economic status…We have a young, African-American man who lives in an economically marginalized community seemingly policed by individuals, such as officer Wilson, who are unfamiliar with the environment, other than from a hostile standpoint, and yet who are also in positions of power and authority over these environments/neighborhoods of which they have no other connection. But there is a broader issue of suspicion and hostility that governs the relationship of law enforcement to people of color, regardless of status – we are always followed, and the worst is always suspected of us in these types of encounters so much so that we have to exaggerate our cooperative behavior, in some instances, just to stay alive.
“Given the societal context of which we have to navigate our day-to-day existence, the ‘end result’ of this case is simply a reaffirmation of what we’ve already known – we need to continue to have ‘the talk’ with our children when it comes to their encounters with law enforcement. Even if they have done something wrong, they and we must fully understand our rights. And yet we should never stop insisting on justice, at the very least a fair due process, when we have been subjected to harm at the hands of a public servant who we should expect to be properly trained to ‘protect and serve.’”
What should Blacks do next?
“If we are to come together as a collective to address some of the lessons learned from this tragic incident, and the subsequent lack of justice that many of us were seeking, we need to make sure our memberships with organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League and the ACLU is paid up. At the very basic level we should demand that law enforcement officers have a connection to all the neighborhoods they serve that goes beyond a negative standpoint that does not see the humanity of those who live there, especially our children. We can create a peaceful society but we all have to work at it and I can’t emphasize enough how we need to focus all of our resources on taking care of all of our children – returning to the village model that served many of us well in the past. There are too many homeless, hungry and suffering children in this community, this state, and this nation – especially children of color and we have the power and resources to do something about it, this is a moral imperative.”
Sgt. Curtis Hanks, vice president of the Minority Police Officers Association
How does this affect Blacks?
“I grew up in Alabama and a lot of these types of situations African-Americans are aware of. I’ve worked in the judicial system for almost 32 years. I’ve found that we need to become a part of the judicial system rather than fight to affect change. Change is what we need, but in order to do that we need to become a part of the system rather than be an outsider. As a people we haven’t played an active role in this judiciary system we’re all subject to.
“Here in Indianapolis, I think the Ferguson ordeal made some people examine their convictions. This has been pretty intense and people have taken sides one way or another. Emotion takes control of all of us, but in the end, you have to look at the facts then decide.
What should Blacks do next?
“We have to become involved and engaged. We have be elected officials, judges, lawyers and others who interact in the system and make policy decisions.
We have to vote! The last voting turnout we had was atrocious. Until we become agents of the system all we’re going to be doing is protesting like we do. Sometimes these protests get out of hand, as we’ve seen, when the time to be involved is on the front end.”
Next steps for Ferguson, the nation
More Ferguson investigations
The Associated Press is reporting that additional Ferguson investigations remain.
The FBI and the Justice Department are continuing to investigate the fatal shooting for potential civil rights violations, determining whether it can be shown that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. The Justice Department is investigating the practices of the entire Ferguson police department, including stops, searches and arrests. Also, Brown’s family could file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wilson.
End Racial Profiling Act of 2013 (ERPA)
According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, S. 1038/H.R. 2581, known as the “End Racial Profiling Act” or ERPA, would place a national prohibition against racial profiling by law enforcement.
The End Racial Profiling Act has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Cardin of Maryland and in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.
The End Racial Profiling Act comprehensively addresses the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement on five levels: it clearly defines the racially discriminatory practice of racial profiling by law enforcement at all levels; creates a federal prohibition against racial profiling; mandates data collection so officials can fully assess the true extent of the problem; provides funding for the retraining of law enforcement officials on how to discontinue and prevent the use of racial profiling; and holds law enforcement agencies that continue to use racial profiling accountable. It would authorize the Attorney General to award grants and contracts for the collection of data relating to racial profiling and for the development of best practices and systems to eliminate racial profiling.
White House reaction
“I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to that area, and is not unique to our time, and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color,” said President Barack Obama. “The sense that in a country where one of our basic principles, perhaps the most important principle, is equality under the law, that too many individuals, particularly young people of color, do not feel as if they are being treated fairly.”
In August, Obama ordered a review of federal funding and programs that provide equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies (LEAs). Recently the Obama Administration released its review titled “Federal Support for Local Law Enforcement Equipment Acquisition.”
Consistent with the recommendations in the report, the President instructed his staff to draft an Executive Order directing relevant agencies to work together and with law enforcement and civil rights and civil liberties organizations to develop specific recommendations within 120 days.
He also issued and Executive Order to create a Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Task Force will include, among others, law enforcement representatives and community leaders and will operate in collaboration with Ron Davis, director of Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office. The Task Force will build on the extensive research currently being conducted by COPS; will examine, among other issues, how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust; and will be directed to prepare a report and recommendations within 90 days of its creation.
Pres. Obama also proposes a three-year, $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies, add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement.
What’s next for Indy
There have been nationwide protests, walkouts and demonstrations in support of Michael Brown and his family and to show their outrage in the grand jury’s decision to free Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. Though some local officials declare “We are not Ferguson,” one local group is working to ensure equality in Indianapolis.
Grassroots organization Indy 10 is calling for systemic change and have been holding protests in downtown Indianapolis.
The group is also asking for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department to look into law enforcement wearing body cameras.
Sgt. Kendale Adams, media relations with IMPD, said the department is exploring their options with the deployment of body worn cameras.
“It’s important to note we were exploring this option long before any singular incident sparked discussions of wide-spread use,” said Adams.
Potential benefits include: unbiased documentation of officer/citizen interaction; training opportunities with documentation; and documentation of facts not readily available or not known to the involved officer.
The downside: potential equipment failure; unintentional/intentional missed opportunities to document the incident; and unrealistic expectations of both officers and civilians.
The Greenwood Police Department (GPD) is getting ready to order a camera for every officer. Greenwood, a town southeast of Indianapolis, has been testing cameras on four officers this year.
Greenwood officials have deemed the trial run a success, and have thus far allocated $45,000 to order a uniform or glasses camera for every officer.
Greenwood Police Asst. Chief Matthew Fillenwarth said police officials understand the camera’s limitations.
However, Fillenwarth adds, that the wearable camera option is approximately one-third of the price of a dash-cam and has a much wider, more mobile field of vision.
“It was a win-win for us,” Fillenwarth said in a previous interview.