It was an event for lawyers — a social occasion for those of us who have chosen careers devoted to interpreting and upholding the rules that civilized people use as a substitute for settling our differences by force. A dinner companion turned to me, almost angrily, to ask "Why isn’t the ICLU doing something about these thugs on…
It was an event for lawyers — a social occasion for those of us who have chosen careers devoted to interpreting and upholding the rules that civilized people use as a substitute for settling our differences by force. A dinner companion turned to me, almost angrily, to ask "Why isn’t the ICLU doing something about these thugs on our police force?"
I didn’t know how to answer him. Oh, the ICLU will represent people who have been mistreated without provocation. We will sign the statements issued by various civic groups, deploring each new "incident." We will join those asking that a special prosecutor investigate allegations of wrongdoing. No doubt we will continue to be involved in discussions between the Chief of Police and concerned community representatives. But the truth is, none of these actions matters much. The "incidents" that make the headlines are like the rash that accompanies an infection — an outward sign of a less obvious but far more serious problem.
Over the past few years, Indianapolis police seem to have developed a culture of contempt — contempt for the citizens they serve, contempt for the rules they enforce, and utter contempt for the old-fashioned notion that a policeman should be a behavioral model for the young. The majority of police officers do not partake of that culture, and it would be unfair to suggest that they do. But there are enough cowboys and "good ole boys" to infect the policing process and breed disrespect for the entire system. There is no evidence that this administration has made any sustained effort to control or censure them. If public safety is a high priority for the city — and it must be — failure to direct and control the police must be counted as a failure of significant proportions.
It would be a mistake to assume that the only victims of this situation are minorities, or a few women or gays unfortunate enough to encounter some partying off-duty cops. A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a panel discussion with a neighborhood organization. We heard from a group of mothers who had grown tired of getting no response from IPD to their complaints of drug dealers and vandals in their neighborhood. They organized themselves and took what they called "direct action" confronting dealers and combating the gangs trying to recruit their children. They did a remarkable job of reclaiming their neighborhood, and they did it without much help from IPD. When asked why she thought the police weren’t responsive, the spokesperson
shrugged. "They made it pretty clear they think our neighborhood is just poor white trash. We don’t have nobody that donates to the politicians. " Everyone from her neighborhood nodded. True or not, fair or not, they believe the police respond to those with political clout.
After the last "incident," the Indianapolis Star interviewed a black man, who said "You know how an older white woman with cash on her feels when she sees a couple of black teenage boys? That’s the way people in my neighborhood feel when they see a policeman. "
I don’t know what we can do. But this can’t go on.