Indianapolis has seen a rise in racial tensions this summer. First an African-American teenager accused police of brutality for wrestling him to the ground after he intervened in his brother's arrest for breaking and entering. The teen also tried to incite nearby watchers to riot and attack the officer. A couple of weeks ago during the annual Black Expo, nine people were shot downtown at the festival by a teenage gang member.
The Indianapolis Police Department has warned officers that false claims of police brutality have risen sharply this year, but this stunt takes the cake. After inviting Sgt. Matthew Grimes to give a presentation at a an anti-violence youth symposium, James Harrington, a pastor at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, staged a fight between two young black men at the back of the room to see how the white officer would respond. The officer was hurt trying to break up the altercation.
Police brutality is a serious issue not just in Indianapolis but across the nation. While African-Americans are frequent targets for police harassment, other minorities - like LGBT people - are often singled out as well. While most white kids are taught to implicitly trust the police, minority groups often teach their children to keep a wary or even distrustful eye on the cops. Still, the reckless and irresponsible reasoning the minister uses to justify his scam is truly outrageous.
James Harrington, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, said he set up the scenario to test a white officer's reaction to a fight between two black men.
"Their job is to protect and serve, and even though they have families and children, that they don't put any regard to their safety," Harrington said. "I don't think it was dangerous because it was in a controlled environment."
Harrington denied that the officer was injured.
"We are trying to do anything that we can to save the lives of our children," he said. "We have to have live demonstrations of violence carried on by professional actors who are trained to do what they do."
Willard Gupton, a park manager who police said had advance knowledge of the plan, was suspended in the wake of the incident.
"I can basically say we didn't do anything wrong," Gupton said Friday evening. "It was simply just trying to make a teachable moment, to try and teach young people about violence."
What exactly were they trying to teach these young people? That if you get into a fight in front of a police officer during an anti-violence symposium that you can reasonably expect that the officer will intervene? That there's the chance the cop will use excessive force and if you bait him into doing so, you'll "save the lives" of children?
This base and callow justification rings false and sharply hollow. I'm not sure what Bible this "man of God" reads from, but I surely never found the part where Chris recommended violence as a solution to any problem. If I remember correctly, his teachings all involved sitting down with those you have problems with, those you wouldn't normally associate with, and those who need your help to make life better.
Details of the altercation incensed Marion County Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who called the ordeal disturbing and disappointing, indicating that a few activists are trying to bait officers.
"Totally inappropriate ... and it's reflective of a very small group of people that won't engage in constructive conversations but want to keep this rhetoric going," Straub said. "We are wrong as a city to allow a single incident to define the city or define the police department."
Straub said Saturday's incident wasn't the only indication that some people are intentionally stirring the pot. There have been multiple incidents of officers being fired upon in recent weeks, he said.
"Stop, act like adults now. You made your point. We got it. We're moving forward, and we're going to make fundamental changes that will make this a better police department," he said. "That was insulting. It was incredibly disrespectful. Somebody got hurt unnecessarily, and more people could have gotten hurt."
I'm not going to try and argue that the Indianapolis police are angels who never use excessive force or racial profiling in making an arrest. In our neighborhood it's pretty damn common to see officers pulling over cars for "driving while black." I can see our African-American and Latino neighbors pulled over constantly in my area of Indianapolis but I can't remember the last time I saw a white person getting a ticket.
The police investigated the Brandon Johnson brutality case that brought Al Sharpton to town to speak to the very same churches sponsoring the anti-violence symposium. One of the five officers involved was fired from the force. Shamus Patton, the teenaged Black Expo shooter, faces 100+ years in prison for his crimes after being swiftly apprehended.
Sharpton said there were "a few bad apples" in the bunch at IPD and it's true. The force has been rocked by scandal over the past few years. The answer, however, isn't to fake violent situations and hope you can catch a cop in a "gotcha" moment. That's sheer lunacy and one of the most dangerous and stupid ideas I've ever heard of.
After the Brandon Johnson case, the Black Ministers Alliance and "March for Peace" organizers put out a list of demands of IPD that echo the same things I suggested the force do to better work with the LGBT community - including diversity training, civilian oversight and involvement, and a community liaison that understands our issues and concerns.
While Indiana Equality had a meeting with then Public Safety Director Scott Newman after a murdered transgender woman was treated disrespectfully, nothing ever materialized. I have a feeling the Black Ministers Alliance's demands will meet the same fate - especially after a stunt like this.
"We have seen an increase in false complaints about police brutality and those type of things," [Indianapolis Metro Police Chief Paul] Ciesielski said. "We are proving (them) to be false through our own investigations, and people have to realize, we're not the bad guys, we're not the enemy."
And therein lies the rub. The police investigate themselves, find no wrong doing and then tell us to trust them. Sadly, for many minority groups that trust has already been broken. They may not be "the enemy," but they're not our friends either.