I remember not so long ago having a conversation with then-Indianapolis Chief of Police Troy Riggs. We spoke candidly to one another about a variety of topics that particular day, but one aspect of the conversation that is relevant today was our chat about the incidences of unarmed Black men being shot and killed by police officers.
I specifically remember telling Riggs, “When, not if, but when this happens, the City and IMPD have to be willing to be fair and transparent” regarding investigations, possible officer misconduct charges and any subsequent follow-through. Riggs assured me that he was committed to fairness across the board.
I was accurate in my assertion to Riggs: Indianapolis would have an instance when an unarmed Black man was killed by police officers. Unfortunately, that tragic instance occurred June 29; the victim was 45-year-old Aaron Bailey.
The questions are endless at this point. However, what we do know is that the Black community is united in demanding answers. The Recorder, along with 10 other Black businesses and organizations, including the Indianapolis Urban League, the Circle City (IN) Links, 100 Black Men and Indiana Black Expo, issued a joint statement that read, in part, “We will redouble our efforts to ensure that there is a just outcome… We are working with other concerned citizens on the broader issues of training, transparency, engagement and accountability. We are also calling for an independent investigation by a committee composed of law enforcement, civic leaders and concerned citizens.” Other entities like DON’T SLEEP and IndyCAN have organized rallies to demand justice. It is great to see Black organizations join together for a common cause. It is necessary for us to remain united.
I have been pleased with the responses from new Chief of Police Bryan Roach and Mayor Joe Hogsett. Both seem committed to discovering the truth.
Earlier this week, during IBE’s Mayor’s Breakfast, Hogsett spoke about Bailey’s death. His remarks were reflective, sincere and action-oriented. The mayor’s words rang of a speech that Robert Kennedy would have given had he been in Hogsett’s current position. I am so impressed with Hogsett’s speech that I wanted to share excerpts of it with you:
“… Underlying what happened that night lies a much broader and deeper and no less important question: ‘What broader set of circumstances must we see, must we understand, and most importantly, must we acknowledge in considering what happened that night?’
“Circumstances that involve race and history in America. …
“And in being or becoming an American, we all inherit that history. And we inherit all of it.
“Prejudice, poverty, humiliation, hate, pain, loss, slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, mass incarceration, assassination. All perpetuated by the relevant, contemporaneous authority in America.
“As a nation and as a city, we must acknowledge that history. All of us. And the fear and the distrust that comes with it. If a community does not bear witness together, if it chooses to look the other way, it risks its very soul. …
“As I consider and determine the broad course of action we take as a community, I will not be persuaded by posturing.
“In response to the events of June 29, I have heard some in our community, not many, but some who have suggested in full confidence that as tragic and as unfortunate as the situation may be, nothing, at least fundamentally, is wrong. That while unfortunate, nothing needs to change. …
“In my mind, advocacy of the status quo ante is unfortunate and serves only to underscore the distrust that many feel. If we truly care about the rule of law, in law and in order, then I would strongly suggest that such voices cannot prevail.
“But neither can we stand silent while some others, in immediate response to the events of June 29, demanded the immediate criminal indictment, prosecution, conviction, termination and other sanctions of all of those involved. Again, not a single person knew all of the facts, with formal inquiries not even begun, and yet conclusions had already been drawn.
“My friends, perceived justice, borne of historic injustice, is not justice at all. It is nothing more than revenge. And it threatens to drown out those who seek, truly, what is real, what is right. …
“On June 29, 2017, an unarmed African-American man was shot and killed in the city of Indianapolis. I happen to be the mayor. I cannot undo what occurred on June 29 anymore than I can remake our past. But I must be held accountable for what happened on June 29, 2017. And I am accountable.
“I must acknowledge that when lights come on in the rearview mirror, a fear and distrust borne of years of incontrovertible prejudice and abuse exists. And I do acknowledge that.
“I must commit to doing everything in my power to change whatever is wrong wherever it exists, with no sacred cows. And I will. …
“I’m not certain we can make this country or this city perfect. But I do believe, deep in my heart, that we can and will make it better. More just, more safe, more prosperous.
“I do believe deep in my heart that we can give our children a better life than we inherited. I do believe, deep in my heart, we are one city.”