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‘We have the capacity to lead’: Black leaders feel excluded from the city’s public safety partnership

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Local Black leaders say they were caught off guard and felt disrespected when Mayor Joe Hogsett announced a new public safety partnership with the Criminal Justice Lab at New York University’s School of Law earlier this month.

That’s because the city didn’t consult them beforehand, leaving the impression that the mayor’s office would rather turn to an outsider to learn how to address the systemic issues that plague Black Indianapolis.

“We have the capacity to lead, and for whatever reason, he’s not interested in seeking out community response before he makes an announcement on how he’s going to spend money or how he’s going to study us,” Indy10 Black Lives Matter organizer Jessica Louise said of Hogsett.

Louise said this is another example of why there is distrust between the community and city.

A group of Black leaders had a phone call with Tim Moriarty, special counsel to the mayor, and Deputy Mayor David Hampton to discuss their concerns within a few days of the announcement.

Toby Miller, director of the Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network, was on the call and described it as a “frank, candid, brutal, honest” conversation about the mayor’s office not consulting Black leaders before getting involved in a partnership to address public safety.

Black leaders on the call laid out a list of demands, according to Miller, which included embracing a Black agenda developed in 2019, reviewing the civilian complaint process and reestablishing the Indianapolis Commission on the Social Status of Black Males.

The city-county council and Hogsett recently announced a proposal to reestablish the commission, which will identify factors such as education and employment that act as barriers for Black males.

Marshawn Wolley, policy director for the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, wrote in a recent Recorder column the partnership was “met with a clear, unmistakable rejection” by Black leaders.

Wolley, who helped spearhead the effort to establish a Black agenda last year, said in an interview city officials have local answers waiting for them.

“In order for the city to have credibility, they need to do the things the Black community has asked them to do first,” he said.

Among those requests is a use-of-force board, which Hogsett and former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Bryan Roach said they could create following the police shooting of Aaron Bailey in 2017. (There is currently a proposed use-of-force board, but some Black leaders say it doesn’t include enough civilian participation.

Ashley Gurvitz, CEO of the Alliance for Northeast Unification, said the announcement was “kind of a shock” but that she does think the city chose a good partner.

“My ultimate goal is to see that, whether it was intentional or not, that we’re all in alignment now,” she said. “We can’t go another day with the chaos that’s happening right in our own backyard.”

None of the Black leaders the Recorder interviewed for this article said the city consulted them prior to announcing the partnership.

Taylor Schaffer, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said the office was in contact with Black community leaders and organizers “throughout the past several weeks” but didn’t directly answer questions about if those conversations specifically included the partnership.

Schaffer said members and leaders with the city-county council were briefed before the announcement.

City-county council President Vop Osili did not respond to an interview request.

Leroy Robinson, chair of the city-county council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee, also didn’t respond to an interview request but tweeted at Hogsett: “Shouldn’t the ‘partnership’ be with our ‘local’ activists, community organizers & grassroots leaders? (Asking for a friend.)”

Part of the city’s partnership with NYU includes bringing together “stakeholders” from public health agencies — including community members, educators and law enforcement — to create a new definition of public safety and justice.

But Black people in Indianapolis say they’ve seen enough of these sorts of task forces and committees.

“We done had enough studies,” said Derris Ross, founder of The Ross Foundation, which serves the east side around 42nd Street and Post Road.

Ross said it doesn’t matter that Ann Milgram, who led the disbanding of the police department in Camden, New Jersey, in 2012, is founding director of the Criminal Justice Lab and part of the partnership.

“It doesn’t matter what accolades and titles you have,” Ross said. “That will never measure up to people who are actually living in oppression.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Community members discuss what should be included in a Black agenda at an October 2019 event at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. (Photo/Tyler Fenwick)

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