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Friday, September 17, 2021

Indianapolis violence deja vu

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I want to thank a racist bigot for the idea of this week’s column.

Someone sent me a link to a racist website that publishes info the bigot thinks Blacks won’t like. In a post last November, this blogger, copied from the Recorder’s website a column I wrote in the Dec. 12, 1997, issue.

But when I read what I’d written then, my words ring even truer today.

Here’s what I wrote 16 years ago.

“Indianapolis has become the Murder Capital of the Midwest for the third straight year, as our city/counties set another homicide record! So far this year, 147 homicides in the city/county, up from 141 in 1996; 124 in 1995 and 139 in 1994. 

“Ninety-nine African-Americans have been murdered already this year, compared to 104 last year and 82 in 1995. Indianapolis will have more murders this year than Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Columbus, Ohio. This is a civic stain that must be cleansed! 

“Indianapolis’ record murder rate caused Mayor Goldsmith and Indianapolis Police Department Chief Michael Zunk to declare another ‘war on crime.’ There’ll be more cops on the street, a crackdown on repeat offenders and use of high tech crime fighting techniques. But it won’t work unless IPD and the city gain our community’s confidence. 

“It won’t work with the mayor only discussing the problem with a ‘handpicked’ group of community leaders. Cutting Indianapolis’ murder rate from 150 to below 100 will require a herculean effort from a large broad-based group of community leadership, professional, grassroots, civic, religious and business!

“The mayor must start regularly (not every six months or so) giving interviews with Black media and Black newspapers. Goldsmith must communicate his policies, however unpopular our community views them, DIRECTLY to our Black community! 

“Chief Zunk shouldn’t just meet with selected ministers and community leaders. He also needs to communicate his message through Black media. And IPD must build bridges with grassroots people and most importantly with the city’s young Black adults 18 to 30! 

“IPD must listen to and respect our younger Black generation. IPD can’t responsibly police unless they build trust with young Blacks; so they don’t view IPD as a harassing, occupying army. 

“Also, Black leadership should demand that our federal government immediately commit substantial resources and manpower to run the drugs out of our community! Something is wrong when more people are murdered in Indianapolis than in Cleveland or St. Louis.”

Sixteen years after I wrote those words, it seems like nothing has changed. And in some regards things are getting worse.

Even with an African-American police chief, distrust remains between the people of our community and law enforcement.

The current mayor plays divide and conquer with Black ministers; and unlike Goldsmith, openly disrespects Black leadership with his continued stubborn refusal to meet with large segments of established leadership.

Another major difference – fewer African-American police officers on our streets – at all ranks – than in 1997. Many experienced Black police officers, with knowledge and experience about our community, have left the force.

Even more dispiriting is that Indianapolis’ leadership – white and Black – is far more fragmented, dispirited, confused, divided and clueless than in 1997.

Those are facts that residents shouldn’t like. The challenge is what collectively are we going to do about it?

What I’m hearing

in the streets

For some time I’ve been queasy about Public Safety Director Troy Riggs, IMPD Chief Rick Hite and the Ten Point Coalition articulating crime statistics by Zip Codes; instead of defining crime by police beats or distinct neighborhoods.

Zip Codes were created in 1963 by the U.S. Postal Service as a system to better sort and deliver mail. Since then, Zip Codes have become the DNA corporate America uses to define and categorize American society.

Zip Codes are the commercial statistical currency of America. The territory they represent, is defined by the demographic, consumer and lifestyle habits of those living within them.

Data by Zip Code determine commercial investments or disinvestments in neighborhoods. It determines insurance rates, creditworthiness, real estate values, whether a neighborhood will move forward in economic vitality or collapse in economic stagnation.

There’s an added problem that Indianapolis Zip Codes have. They are far larger geographically than Zip Codes in other major cities.

As a city, Indianapolis has a larger physical area (396.3 square miles) than the five boroughs of New York City (302.6 square miles).

New York City has 176 residential Zip Codes. Indianapolis has 39.

Within Indy’s so-called high crime Zip Codes, there are neighborhoods where crime is very low; where neighborhoods are safe. Yet the constant recounting of crime data by Zip Codes, amplified by media coverage, runs the risk of dragging neighborhoods down into a further negative spiral which could exacerbate the conditions of poverty and joblessness that breeds hopelessness, crime and violence.

There’s no law requiring crime data to be disseminated by Zip Code.

The practice needs to end.

Use discrete neighborhoods, specific blocks of streets, even police beats, but leave Zip Code data to the marketers; not crime fighters!

Mayor Greg Ballard has chosen Black Expo President Tanya Bell and Indiana Civil Rights Commission head Jamal Smith to chair a special, allegedly bipartisan committee to examine a wide range of issues that limit success by African-American males in Indianapolis.

I’ll keep an open mind, but the fact that the group’s cochairs showed no bipartisanship, the chances the body of the committee will be truly representative of quality and commitment remains to be seen.

See ‘ya next week.

You can email comments to Amos Brown at acbrown@aol.com.

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