The big fear any major city’s power brokers have, especially an upwardly striving city like Indianapolis, is negative national publicity. That can cost a city real dollars in lost reputation and future business.
For decades, the prime directive of Indianapolis’ civic and business leadership has been to make sure and minimize any negative national publicity. When there were major crises involving our African-American community, Indy’s business and civic leadership, spearheaded by the mayor of the day, would sit down with Black leadership and work out problems to keep Black leadership from resorting to calling in outside help.
In crises ranging from the rash of police action shootings in the 1970s, Michael Taylor’s death in 1987, the 42nd and College mini-riot in the 1990s, and the 2004 Black Expo police debacle, each of the mayors during those crises (Lugar, Hudnut, Goldsmith, Peterson) worked quickly to meet directly with Black leadership to resolve the crisis.
Only once was national Black leadership called in. Twenty years and two months ago, Black leaders looking for justice three years after the Michael Taylor case, called in Minister Louis Farrakhan.
In the firestorm since the May 16 beating of Brandon Johnson, Indianapolis business, civic and political leadership have sat on their hands, bit their tongues and left the Black community to twist in the wind.
Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce? Silent and invisible.
Mark Miles and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, Indy’s really big power brokers? Their heads are in the sand, silently doing nothing.
And the biggest silence comes from the northwest corner office on the City-County Building’s 25th Floor where the mayor of America’s 13th largest city has been silent, invisible and incommunicado in the 50-plus days since this crisis exploded.
There has been a vacuum of leadership at the top of Indianapolis, as has been shown by the clumsy attempt by city officials and the mayor’s minions to create and exploit divisions in Black leadership and Mayor Ballard’s attempt meet only with “their chosen” leaders while pointedly ignoring elected and outspoken Black leaders.
The result of this ineptitude is Sunday’s visit by Rev. Al Sharpton. Called in at the request of a united coalition of Black leadership to galvanize our community and put pressure on Indianapolis leadership to confront the absentee mayor and make him listen to and resolve the Black community’s concerns and demands.
Demands which are simple, far reaching and cost effective:
n An Internal Affairs Department in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department with civilian oversight and involvement.
n A revamped IMPD Training Academy, not just with minority instructors (including Blacks) but with a curriculum that teaches officers, in the academy and in continuing training, about the complex racial and ethnic community they serve.
n Because of the distrust within the community towards the excesses and negative attitudes of some police officers, there must be Federal Justice Department monitoring of IMPD. Even though the Ballard administration was rolled by the Bush administration and ended IMPD’s efforts to promote and hire qualified minority officers, Indianapolis is still under a federal order. That gives Washington the justification to monitor IMPD and help them end their insensitive ways.
n Finally, to restore trust, terminate all five officers involved in the Brandon Johnson case.
Other cities, faced with similar crises, have done this.
Back in March, a bunch of Houston (Texas) police officers kicked and beat a 15-year-old Black youth after a burglary arrest and unlike here, the beating was caught on tape. Houston fired seven cops, suspended five, and reprimanded 12 others. Four officers have been charged by a Texas grand jury.
Unlike here, Houston Mayor Annise Parker appeared with her police chief to inform the community of the disciplinary actions. That’s what mayors, who control their police departments, who make public safety “Job 1,” are supposed to do. That’s leadership!
Rev. Sharpton’s Sunday appearance overshadows this year’s 40th anniversary Black Expo in several ways. Sharpton’s the highest profile, substantive celebrity here during Expo time, but he’s not appearing at a Black Expo function.
Rev. Sharpton’s appearance has inflamed many whites, especially the tea party, right wing, hate Blacks at all cost crowd. His appearance has embarrassed the business community.
To them I say you only have yourselves to blame. Your leader – your mayor – has sat on his hands doing nothing, showing no leadership. After enduring condescending, insensitive treatment by the mayor’s new public safety director and under pressure from a Black populace demanding action, Black leadership had no choice but to call on someone respected in the White House and even by conservatives like Newt Gingrich.
A quarter million African-American eyes and ears will be watching Mayor Ballard this Expo week. He has several opportunities to directly address our community’s concern about his police department– at Monday’s Mayor’s Business Breakfast; Thursday’s Corporate Luncheon where Ballard’s getting an award from Expo (A decision that has many in our community seriously questioning whose side Black Expo’s leadership is on).
Our community will be awaiting whatever appearances the mayor makes on Black radio or in Black newspapers during Expo Week.
Will Mayor Ballard follow his Marine training and heritage and lead on this issue? Or will he continue what he’s done and get out of the way; making the crisis worse?
What I’m hearing
in the streets
Eight years ago, Rev. Charles Williams asked WTLC and me to join with him and Little Red Door with an idea they had for a prostate cancer fundraising and awareness event – a walk/run. Williams wanted to use his illness to increase awareness of getting Black men tested for the disease that eventually took his life.
Indy’s Black radio stations wholeheartedly embraced the annual Unite 2 Fight Prostate Cancer Walk/run, donating over $250,000 in free airtime in the event’s first seven years.
Unfortunately, Little Red Door’s new leadership eliminated the involvement by Indy’s three Black radio stations this year. Choosing instead to work with a single radio station with virtually no Black listeners and fewer total listeners.
Little Red Door’s culturally insensitive new leadership has dishonored Rev. Charles Williams legacy and set back efforts to educate Indianapolis’ African-Americans about prostate cancer. Shame!
See ‘ya next week at the 40th Black Expo!