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. This has only led to more violence. The Mayor's answer is to add more police officers to the point we now have more than a quarter of the entire police force assigned to maintain order during the event, an exercise that costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
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. Both shooters escape despite the enormous police presence, with one of the shooters remaining at large. Numerous eyewitnesses and surveillance cameras helped police quickly identify Shamus Patton as the chief suspect in the shooting of nine victims at two different locations. With the unwitting help of Patton's family members, police were led to him on the City's westside almost two full days after the shootings. 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.
Frankly, I found nothing impressive about the work of police in capturing Patton. What this weekend's events proved was the ostentatious show of police force at the event did nothing to curtail the worst type of criminal activity from happening and failed miserably to lead to the quick apprehension of the shooters before the shooters had a chance to dispose of the weapons they used to commit their acts that could help link them to the shootings. Police were under orders to patrol the downtown so passively that would-be criminals accurately perceived they could commit heinous crimes in full public view with TV news cameras all around and escape without capture.
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. Not surprisingly, Saturday night's shootings are being linked by police to criminal gang activity despite Straub's protestations to the contrary when he was first asked about that possible link during a press conference called on Sunday.
Straub talked tough during yesterday's press conference about holding criminals responsible for the crimes they commit, but his answer to dealing with criminals is to deprive law-abiding citizens of their civil rights. We've got to get the guns off the streets he says. Straub is unapologetic in his support of a ban on handgun ownership. But for the Supreme Court waving the Second Amendment in his face, he would confiscate every handgun from every citizen, whether criminal or law-abiding, if he had it his way. With that option off the table for now, Straub's answer is to impose upon every one's civil liberties to roam about downtown freely without police interference, including those licensed to carry concealed weapons. He 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." "By promoting a secure atmosphere with a safe zone, Straub said he hopes to divert fights from crowds of innocent bystanders," the Star reports. Straub's safe zone didn't get a ringing endorsement from the ACLU's Ken Falk. "I have the right to walk Downtown without being searched," Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, told the Star. "A plan like a safe zone, he said, is still subject to the Constitution if it occurs on public property."
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.
Now do you see what's wrong with this picture? Someone tell me where the leadership is in all of this.
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:
Let's be honest.If you want to read more silliness in the Star about a task force to look at the issue, click here. We know what the solution is. It's too bad nobody in this community has the fortitude to lead the way.
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 . . .
Tuesday morning, leaders from Black Expo, the city and several black churches called the media to the Downtown Artsgarden to talk about the future. They announced a plan to create a task force to see what could be done to prevent problems like last weekend's.
I walked away disappointed, feeling that the fear of hurting Black Expo was getting in the way of a meaningful conversation. Everyone wanted to separate the violence from the Expo. Or convince people that the shootings were an aberration. Or broaden the problem to include other big Downtown events . . .
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.
In a statement after the shootings, the mayor insisted the gunfire did not reflect on Indianapolis. That's like a man saying his affair does not reflect on his marriage.
Incidents such as this one define cities. That's why this city has to be willing to have an honest conversation.