The recent Police Interaction and Accountability Forum aimed to provide information on citizens’ rights during interactions with police, but the event also prompted passionate discussion among audience members and panel participants critical of the police department.
The forum, held on Oct. 5 at the Indianapolis Urban League and organized by lawyers Adey Adenrele and Aaron Williamson, featured presentations by legal experts and a discussion with a panel of members from across the law enforcement spectrum, including the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD), Citizen Police Complaint Office and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.
Dr. Clyde Posley Jr., a senior pastor at Antioch Baptist Church, was one of the more outspoken audience members during the forum, specifically critical of the training process of police officers and its impact on the African-American community. “There is a small statistic, based on my research and writings, of police who actually have to pull their weapon and engage their firearm, and yet I hear most of the training is about how to engage, and then it becomes physical,” he said. “The bigger picture that we’re not talking about is that race is absolutely a part of every interaction between police and citizens.”
Echoing that sentiment was forum panelist Dr. David Hampton, senior pastor of Light of the World Christian Church and the deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement for the City of Indianapolis.
“If often feels that, in the African-American community, African-Americans are policed while everyone else is protected and served,” Hampton said. “It’s my personal passion that we don’t colorize criminality. Criminality has been colorized and painted as Black. If it’s Black, it’s already approached as criminal. We see this time and time again, and it is time that we’ve begun to eradicate those biases that do exist.”
As part of the forum’s framework, videos were shown simulating interactions between civilians and the police to illustrate what is within the rights of both parties. One video included a Hispanic man who was walking down the street, only to be stopped by two police officers and searched without consent. During the interaction with police, the man was asked to provide identification, and he responded by asking if he was being detained or if he was free to go. The officer said he wasn’t being detained, and the man said, “Nice chat. I have to go.” He then walked away.
Following the video, panelist and Indianapolis-based attorney Mark Nicholson questioned just how realistic the encounter was.
“If you don’t give him your ID, you’re going to get hit with refusal to identify,” Nicholson said. “In the real world, those videos are not reflective of what really happens to poor and minority people, poor white people as well. Police are given the benefit of the doubt. If you have this police encounter, and they write in the report that you cussed them out, that you pulled away, our culture is designed to give the officers the reasonable doubt, and we’re going to believe them.”
Panelist Lori White, executive director of the Citizen Police Complaint Office, stressed how important it is for people who feel they have been unlawfully treated by the police to seek counsel and file a complaint.
“We need everybody who has those kinds of situations occur to file a complaint so that the complaint board can review it, so that the department can be made aware of it, so that the public can know,” she said.
This perception of the police force was a theme throughout the forum that only increased in vigor with each passing minute. Summed up by Posley: “We are going to waste our time if we don’t talk about the real core issue, and that is, we have piss-poor race relations, and if officers don’t learn to conduct themselves better, then they are going to do their training with the same biases legally.”