The Outstater: True Crime

February 6, 2020

(For the use of the membership only.)

“This recent shooting took place in a food desert area. We must take the blinders off and recognize that if the city continues to ignore the core problems, the gun violence will be the new normal.” — statement from the Baptist Minister’s Alliance and the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis following a quadruple murder this week

THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR has wrapped up a year-long series of articles on crime. The series carried the snappy title, “The Toll,” the kind of journalistic product written primarily for the eyes of the Pulitzer Committee. That is, it covers every aspect of the subject that is politically correct, ignores the rest and recommends some new law or policy.

But murdering your neighbor is already against not only Indiana law but every social and code and more of any state or nation. It has been for a long time. (Yes, the ancient Norse were allowed to kill their neighbor if they could afford the fine, but we will not be distracted here.)

The issue overlooked by the Star is this: Can Indiana cities summon the resources and the will — mostly the political will — to do something about it.

A friend sends me a heartfelt open letter from an Indianapolis pastor. It reads: “Indy, in the last 89 days 177 people have been shot, 59 people have been stabbed and 51 people have been killed. In the first 37 days of 2020, Indy, we have had 24 criminal homicides. Indy, we have a public-safety crisis, and we must address this together. We cannot ignore this fact.”

It is dollars to donuts, however, that the pastor has joined others in his community in insisting on a solution that does not involve the impolite arrest or even questioning of suspects in numbers disproportionate to the demographic makeup of the city generally.

In the case of Indianapolis, those proportions at the last census were 62 percent white, 28 percent black and the rest “other.”

Hypothetically then, police in the most dangerous area of the city, investigating the most serious crimes, could question less than a quarter of the suspects/witnesses if they hope to defend themselves against political criticism for “profiling” or engaging in “stop-and-frisk,” let alone an old fashioned dragnet. That leaves a lot of homicidal recidivism wandering around out there.

Let’s narrow it down further. As an old police reporter, I have never known a policeman who wasn’t trying straightforwardly to do his or her job, to honor the oath with the time and resources available. Prosecutors, though, are a different matter.

They fancy themselves clever enough to do the back-of-the-hand calculation that it would be cheapest and easiest to hold hands with some pastors and bemoan a spike in murder statistics. It is certainly easier than: 1) drilling down into the evidence; 2) pursuing full prosecution regardless of the race of the defendant; 3) campaigning for the staff and money to do the job; and 4) taking the resultant public beating from the local media and activists, one that will likely attract a well-financed opponent in the next election.

So, best case, plea bargain down to a drug or weapons offense. Isn’t that why we have drug and weapons offenses — as bargaining chips to get prosecutors off the political hook?

OK, This too serious for sarcasm. A family friend who lives in one of those dangerous places tells a story. He can sometime tell it without tears. His son died some months ago walking home after drinking beers with a friend, only a few blocks away from the safety of the home in which he was born. He was killed in a shooting, a random shooting, not even a robbery.

IndyPolitics reported in “Murder by the Numbers” that that 50 percent of the identified murder suspects in its sample had a previous weapons arrest, 70 percent had a previous drug arrest and 65 percent had a previous crimes-against-persons arrest.

With such bad company, maybe our friend’s son shouldn’t have been walking home alone at that time of night? Had discrimination prevented him from getting a better job so he could move to a safer neighborhood? And what about the killers? What were the root causes of their anger? Did the shooting occur in a food desert? Had there been sufficiently funded peer initiatives to help deescalate conflict? How about investment in grassroots organizations? Were the assailants troubled, emotionally scarred in various ways? Abused maybe?

Who cares? It is no comfort to our friend that a legal system allowing murderers to run loose is sensitive to the plight of the less privileged or emotionally troubled. This is life and death, not juice break at yoga class. He lost his only son.

If a summary is needed it is that there is no reason — no reason — that any section of our city should be less safe than any other section. That holds regardless of the resources that must be reallocated and refocused on the high-crime areas, and regardless of what that might do to the racial balance of a particular night’s police blotter.

And we needn’t wait for the Indy Star to win a Pulitzer to get started.

— Craig Ladwig


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