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Critics questioned lack of community members on IMPD panel discussion

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Community members shared criticism of a moderated discussion between author Marc Lamont Hill and several Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) officers on social media.

Former IMPD officer and Steward Speakers Series founder Matt Steward hoped “Bridging Conversations” on April 24 would help the community relate to the police department. However, with eight IMPD officers on the panel and no representation from Indianapolis residents, criticism came quickly.

“Obviously, the best way to build trust with the community when you can’t understand why they don’t blindly respect you is to continue completely cutting them out of anywhere they can express their very serious concerns,” one Twitter user wrote.

Local activist Mmoja Ajabu took issue with the intent of the panel.

“In our community the police are still on slave patrol, so anything goes,” Ajabu wrote on Facebook, where the panel was streamed live. “Their history is our present-day nightmare. … All this sounds good onstage, but this humanity is not the reality of their behavior on the streets. Let’s keep it 100!”

The panel, which came just four days after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd, started with a question about the officers’ reaction to the verdict.

“[Floyd’s murder] felt like a punch in the gut, I felt horrified like everybody else,” said Madeline Green, community resources officer for the northwest district. “When the verdict came through, I felt like, OK, it’s been decided, and he will get his punishment. Now it’s time to do our work and engage with the community.”

Both Green and Kimberly Evans, community relations officer for IMPD’s downtown district, said IMPD has been taking steps, including internal conversations and policy changes, to prevent a similar incident from happening in Indianapolis.

In an interview with the Recorder before the panel, Steward said the public knows very little about the efforts being made within police departments around the country to minimize instances of police brutality.

NiSean Jones, activist and founder of Black Out For Black Lives, however, said the community doesn’t know about changes because of a lack of transparency from police departments and the IMPD-only panel didn’t help to answer many questions.

“We haven’t seen any changes from the summer when they were tear-gassing protesters,” Jones said. “To show us that they’re really changing, they can actually start holding not only themselves but their counterparts accountable. When they start being more vocal about the things they do that are wrong, like we would as civilians, that’s the first step.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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