What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Advance Indiana, July 20, 2010

Today’s [Indianapolis] Star had this photo of Mayor Greg Ballard, Public Safety Director Frank Straub and various law enforcement officers congratulating each other on the capture of 17-year-old Shamus Patton. He’s the person suspected of opening fire during Saturday night’s Black Expo Summer Celebration and shooting a total of nine young victims between the ages of 10 and 19 at two different locations before escaping a police net comprised of 500 police officers surrounding downtown. {snip} I for one think they should have all been holding their heads in shame for their failed leadership in the wake of this past weekend’s milieu.

Nobody should have been surprised at what happened this past weekend. Indianapolis residents have become all too familiar of the news that comes out during the second weekend of Black Expo. This year’s shootings make five separate shootings that have occurred at Black Expo since 2006. Downtown business owners dread the coming of this event every year. What could otherwise be a profitable summer weekend with lots of out-of-town visitors becomes one of the summer’s worst weekends. Out-of-town visitors and local regulars avoid downtown like the plague during the second weekend of Black Expo. Bar and restaurant owners complain that their employees don’t want to work this weekend and fear for their personal safety. It got to the point a few years ago where a number of restaurants actually closed down. Business owners now say they have been ordered by the City to stay open during Black Expo or risk action being taken against them by the City, such as yanking their alcohol permits. Notwithstanding the ICVA’s incredulous claims that IBE pumps $23 million into the downtown economy, I challenge you to find any business owners downtown who will back up that claim.

Despite years of experiencing the same sort of violence and general mayhem during this event, Ballard, Straub and IBE’s leadership professed shock at what happened and insisted it was isolated from, and had nothing to do with IBE sponsored events. Baloney. IBE lures a mob of unsupervised teen-agers every year to downtown this second weekend by promoting their Teen Bling event, the name for which itself arguably invites the worst elements of the community. When former Mayor Peterson turned his police force loose to crack down on lawbreakers a number of years ago, the African-American community rose up in protest. As a consequence, police have been ordered not to arrest anyone unless they are committing a serious or violent crime. {snip}

What good has that show of police force accomplished? Two separate shooters draw guns and fire on ten victims with police on foot, bikes and horseback and riding in police cruisers. {snip} The second shooting suspect, who waited to take his shot at his victim a full 90 minutes after Patton allegedly opened fire on his victims, has yet to be identified by police and is still on the streets.

{snip}

In the case of Patton, he had particular reason not to fear the police. Despite numerous arrests over the past couple of years, including crimes ranging from disorderly conduct, intimidation and criminal trespass to resisting law enforcement, illegal possession of a handgun and evidence of criminal gang association, the 17-year-old was able to go downtown Saturday night armed with a gun. Based on his comings and goings over the past two years, we can assume he served no sentence in a juvenile detention center for committing numerous crimes. Either police or prosecutors, or perhaps both, have failed to deal with this individual with appropriate punishment, which led to him being on the street and having the opportunity to shoot nine young victims. {snip}

Straub {snip} wants to enclose downtown with barricades and only allow persons to enter the downtown district during IBE and other events through police checkpoints after being searched for weapons. He calls this creating “safe zones.” {snip}

If downtown business owners don’t rise up in protest for these planned safe zones for dealing with this problem, then they deserve all of the economic losses they will most assuredly incur if Straub’s plan is implemented. Instead of removing the problem event from its downtown locale, Straub is simply pandering to the ones who brought about this problem in the first place and who are costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra policing for an event that is known for welcoming only African-Americans, in sharp contrast to other ethnic, community and gay pride events that welcome all and don’t require a massive show of police force. Straub’s plan punishes innocent business owners, and it punishes the vast majority of Indianapolis residents who object to what this annual event is doing to harm our downtown.

{snip}

UPDATE: I’m pleased to see that the Star political columnist Matt Tully gets it. His column today is one of his best in recent memory:

{snip}

black-expo

Barbara Turentine, the mother of Shamus Patton.


Let’s be honest.

If the shootings that occurred Downtown last weekend had been tied to the Indiana Plumbers Expo, or one of a thousand other conventions, the follow-up discussion wouldn’t be so difficult.

We all respect plumbers, of course. But if their annual convention required hundreds of city cops patrolling our compact Downtown on a Saturday evening, and if shootings and fights and other incidents outside the convention had become all too common, we would question whether the plumbers expo was worth the trouble.

But we’re talking instead about Indiana Black Expo and its annual Summer Celebration. So any discussion about the monumental problems tied to it gets bogged down in the treacherous issue of race.

{snip}

{snip} [We] can’t let the delicate nature of this subject, or the words of a few racists, prevent us from finally having an honest, and perhaps painful, discussion about the ongoing problems related to Black Expo. Fear of having a blunt conversation, and fear of being labeled a racist, likely has prevented the city from adequately addressing this ongoing problem before now. {snip}

{snip}

There’s no doubt about that. Black Expo has a wonderful history and is filled each year with important seminars and health screenings and speeches. But to act like the average person doesn’t associate Black Expo with public safety problems is naive.

We have to ask whether the current Expo leadership is up to addressing the problem. We have to be willing to acknowledge that these types of problems have not been associated with other conventions. We have to ask about the expense to taxpayers of securing the event. And we have to ask why this city buckles in fear of offending the National Rifle Association, so much so that it has refused to aggressively tackle the deadly issue of illegally possessed guns.

{snip}

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