View Of The Badge Reflects Racial Divide

Tim Evans, Indianapolis Star, August 13, 2006

A stronger police presence would make home life significantly better, a majority of Marion County’s black residents said in a new Indianapolis Star/Indianapolis Recorder poll.

The poll found that 56 percent of blacks rate police protection as “fair” or “poor.”

While 80 percent of whites say they think of police as their “friends,” 56 percent of blacks gave the same answer. And 15 percent of blacks, compared with 4 percent of whites, say they see police as “enemies.”

Young blacks, such as 18-year-old Brandon Hughes, are most likely to feel that way, with almost one-third of those 35 and younger identifying police as enemies.

Hughes said opinions about law enforcement are shaped by bad experiences he and many other young blacks have had with police.

“They do a lot of unnecessary stuff,” he said, citing examples of what he considers harassment and racial profiling. “They classify us basically as ‘the bad people.’ “

Twice as many blacks as whites, 24 percent vs. 12 percent, say they choose to avoid interaction with police.

That disconnect is dangerous and troubling, particularly at a time when so many young black males are dying in homicides on the city’s streets, said Mark Russell, a housing counselor and grant writer for the Indianapolis Urban League.

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He said that worsens an already precarious situation, one created by perceptions and the reality that blacks are disproportionately represented in Indiana’s criminal justice system.

Former IPD officer Rickie Clark, now publisher of the Indiana Minority Business Magazine and Directory and a radio personality, said police officers must spend more time out of their cars interacting with black residents. Interaction builds positive relationships that can pay dividends in the future in the form of increased respect and cooperation, he said.

Despite concerns about their relationship with police, more than six out of 10 blacks say a stronger police presence would significantly improve their communities—a sentiment shared by 45 percent of whites.

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