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Monday, April 22, 2024

I’m just sayin’: Now is the time to engage the entire community

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It seems like we are taking one step forward only to take two steps backward.

The politics of homicides and all of their ugliness have been on full display since the tragic shooting death of Kimari Hunt, Braxton Ford, Jalen Roberts and Marcel Willis.  

This past week a bi-partisan group of mostly white legislators decided they were going to host a press conference without engaging the Black community.

Yes, a bunch of politicians announced the creation of a “citizen” driven commission to look at violence happening in the city. This was good — sort of.

The bi-partisanship was positive — it’s a signal that the political parties are prepared to work together — but a basically all white press conference led by an organization that acted against the Black community during the Aaron Bailey shooting and politicians who have actually passed legislation that hurt the Black community (Rep. Mike Speedy is why we can’t raise a minimum wage in Marion County) — yeah that was ill conceived implementation to say the least. 

That they had too few “citizens” — especially Black citizens with them was more than problematic for a “citizen” driven commission.

So, the community showed up and asked pointed questions both about representation, inclusion and their plans — hopefully the lesson learned is you might want to talk to more Black people, not just the Black folks that are willing to speak with you when working on initiatives that disparately impact our community.

And until that happens perhaps you might want to chill out on press conferences and plans — especially if they require Black community buy-in.

But at least they are doing something —Black leaders seemed absent last week with the notable exceptions of Earl Phalen and city-county council President Vop Osili.

One of the few Black leaders at the press conference was unfairly targeted at the event. Pastor James Jackson has been doing the work of the community for years outside of the limelight. He’s been employing youth in the summer for years and advocating for Black business development.

Community advocates would do well to recognize that they aren’t the only one’s out here doing work or having meetings.

I’m really sick and tired of the politics surrounding the violence happening in our community.

Of all the issues it would seem that both sides would have a vested interest in not politicizing people dying in our city.

Do we need to study violence in our city? Of course we do. Simple answers like poverty, drug use, food insecurity don’t actually explain the disparate level of violence happening in the Black community.

Nearly half the county is living pay check to pay check. The truth is large swaths of the community live in food deserts. White people use drugs just as much as Black people.

And we actually have a white poverty issue in the community.

None of these factors taken by themselves or as a whole explain why the vast majority of homicides and non-fatal shootings are happening in the Black community.

We also need to figure out why judges have so many defendants whose only charge is resisting law enforcement. Is our electronic monitoring regime working for all parties involved? Can it be fixed?

We need a crime prevention taskforce, not just because we don’t know why violence is occurring in some communities and not others, but also because we need the opportunity to all be together so we understand who the enemy is and who it isn’t.

Right now it seems like politicians just can’t get out of the way enough to not be viewed as partly part of the problem.

In addition, and to the mayor’s credit, the community needs to take the time to learn about all of the efforts the city is doing — which is actually quite a lot.

A community crime prevention taskforce with community, business, nonprofit and civic leaders would empower the community with knowledge and sets of actions we can take beyond calling 911.

Right now, the business community, major nonprofits, and various institutions have not been enlisted by city leaders to fight this fight. They’ve not been given marching orders.

I need my marching orders.  

What I am hearing …

We need to do more to protect Black mothers and SB 342 is a first step in the right direction. The bill calls for an interim study committee to look at pregnancy and childbirth accommodations in Indiana.

According to the March of Dimes, the preterm birth rate for Black women is 13.1% while the white preterm birth rate is 9.4% in Indiana.

Marion County has seen some improvement in infant mortality moving from 8.7% in 2016 to 7.5% for all races in 2017. The Black infant mortality rate in Marion County was 11.6% versus 4.5% for white mothers in 2017.

Between 2013 and 2017 there were 603 infant deaths for all races and 292 of them were Black babies.

According to the CDC, Indiana’s maternal death rates is more similar to countries like Iraq and Vietnam.

Too often we ignore the policy concerns of Black women in our community. This is an issue where I hope our community can agree that we all need to find solutions to addressing this problem.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at marshawnwolley@gmail.com.

Marshawn Wolley

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