Disturbing Questions

We woke this morning to news reports that five teenagers had been shot while walking along Indianapolis’ downtown canal. The shots evidently came from the parking lot of the Historical Society–where a wedding was taking place at the time.

As I write this, little is known except that two of the teens are in critical condition and no one is currently in custody.

It may be that this was one of those random acts that no city, no matter how safe or well-run, can prevent. We deceive ourselves if we believe that police can guard against every sudden eruption of violence. But this shooting, in the heart of our city and next to the canal that so many of us routinely walk or bike, raises sobering questions.

First, what is the relationship–if any–between the recent “discovery” of fiscal shortfalls in public safety and what some people living along the canal claim was a diminished police presence? (The fiscal situation itself raises very troubling questions about the honesty of the Administration’s budgeting process during an election year.)

Second, if there were fewer police in the area, was that due to deliberate decisions about deployment, and if so, what were those decisions and why were they made? One story suggested that a number of officers were called to a brawl at the fire station at West and Ohio; do we have so few police that an incident in one place necessarily leaves other areas unprotected?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, and asking them is not meant to assume the answers. But the questions need to be asked, because this event will have repercussions far beyond the personal tragedy it represents.

Civic and political leaders have been nurturing the rebirth of downtown since the 1970s. The canal is one of the “jewels” of that effort–a jewel that has been sadly neglected the past few years, as I have previously noted. It is an important amenity in a city without oceans or mountains. Developers have been enticed to make significant investments along its banks; museums and public buildings adjoin it. Maintaining it and keeping it safe for the residents and tourists who enjoy it is an important responsibility and should be a high priority of the current Administration.

When the media is filled with stories of shootings, when on-camera interviews feature onlookers declaring they no longer feel safe in the area, the result is to undercut years of painstaking effort, and to reinforce inaccurate stereotypes about the “dangers” of downtown.

Perhaps this was one of those random events that even the best policing couldn’t have averted. Perhaps it was the result of public safety mis-management.

Or perhaps we are seeing the inevitable results of the anti-tax zealotry that added tax caps to the Indiana Constitution–tax caps that are starving local governments and decimating public services.

Whatever the answer, we need to find and fix it.


  1. There is nothing to lead us to believe that this was a result of bad parenting. I believe this occurred before curfew and even the best parents get lied to by their children. We need not lay blame on parents for this without reason.

  2. Yes, this question goes well beyond “bad parenting.” I believe everyone does the best they can with the tools available. The bigger question is: how can we reclaim (if we ever had it) a culture in our city that doesn’t turn its back when incidents like this occur and begin to look into our own tool boxes to work at the core problems of poverty, education, and the elevation of drug dealers and other criminals as role models. Government spending isn’t the only answer. What can you or I do?

  3. I first heard this news on a national news program. It seems that we were the only city that could not maintain order on St Patrick’s. It says something about us.
    All the positive images created by the successful “Super Bowl” were lost last night.

  4. I’m in agreement we spend too much on Super Bowls, bounty for parking meter pirates, and Pacer scoreboards to be happy about a funding shortfall in public safety. Wasn’t public safety formerly considered “job one” ?

    On the other hand, our societal tolerance and subsidation of dysfunctional parenting isn’t working out. So say associated rates of graduation, incarcetation, repetition of the cycle of poverty, and child abuse headlines.

    I suggest you or I can volunteer for the needy, adopt, donate money, and try to elect candidates who seem to have a grasp of reality. I confess, I’m having better luck with the front end of that list than finding and electing the reality-graspers.

  5. Maybe a letter from 20 concerned state senators doing something positive for a change might help.

  6. A random event, bad parenting, not enough police protection; all of these play a part in the problem we saw last night on the Canal. Add in the lowering quality of education in public schools, educated people are not participating in drive-by shootings nor are they part of groups of young people roaming downtown streets. Where do they have in their neighborhoods to go for safe activities and healthy entertainment for teens and pre-teens? They cannot afford to attend the expensive Colts and Pacers games which is where too many of our tax dollars are going. These incidents always seem to involve teens or early twenties, not responsible adults. Last night is indicitive of a many-faceted problem in Indianapolis and many big cities as well as small towns. There seems to be only questions, no solutions as long as our elected officials are allowed to squander our tax money where they see fit; usually a sports venue as the primary source of entertainment.

  7. So, Abdul, is your point that we shouldn’t have adequate policing because crime is the result of “bad parenting”?

  8. David – I don’t think that’s what Abduhl is implying……one can probably argue back and forth concerning whether or not more/differenc police presence (on every street corner?…..maybe six officers per block around the canal?……maybe several police helicopters overhead?…the combinations are endless even if the funds probably are not) would have prevented this particular incident. When a community seeks to resolve such a problem as this one, some reasonable combination of individual parental responsibility and the role of law enforcement is always involved. The challange is always to try and have a civil discourse without the usual hype in either extreme direction.

  9. Thanks to the NRA and the Republican Party, every nut in Indiana now has a gun or ten. Then you NRA.
    We are SO MUCH SAFER now that every nut is packing heat.
    God Bless them for making us so much safer.
    I thank God for the NRA and the Republicans.
    Now we will get the God Squad out there prayin to Jesus on Monday. That will help too.

  10. Pat McC :Thanks to the NRA and the Republican Party, every nut in Indiana now has a gun or ten. Thank you NRA.We are SO MUCH SAFER now that every nut is packing heat.God Bless them for making us so much safer.I thank God for the NRA and the Republicans.Now we will get the God Squad out there prayin to Jesus on Monday. That will help too.

  11. Might remember that we didn’t place a constitutional cap on all forms of taxation. We could, in fact, raise our own property taxes. Our council could vote to raise income taxes.

  12. Contrary to popular belief, the city has been nurturing this problem for several years now. Juveniles gathering after the mall closes on the weekends, both in the vicinity of the mall and the canal area, has been an ongoing issue for quite some time. Also, this was most certainly not a random event.

    To their credit, Simon Property Group attempted to institute a chaperoning rule, wherein a juvenile in the mall after a certain hour must be accompanied by a parent. A similar rule has worked extremely well in Cincinnati, but when the ICLU threatened suit (on what grounds I don’t know) they relented.

    The city has even gone so far as to order in bus after bus, AFTER the last bus run of the day, to provide these children FREE rides home because they were essentially abandoned by their parents. At this point, if a parent isn’t familiar enough with what goes on downtown after the mall closes, I would have to agree with Abdul that they are in desperate need of either remedial training or a bill for services rendered. Additional manpower has been allocated downtown every Saturday night during the summertime since early last year to deal with the juvenile problem, but police in America are much more limited in what they can do to solve these types of problems.

    One could argue that IMPD’s budget woes contributed to this, but then you would have to prove that they can somehow change the hearts and minds of small children in the face of what obviously appears to be bad parenting, which simply isn’t going to happen. True, there are budget problems (where are the savings from the merger?) but this has been an ongoing problem since before the budget questions arose. It simply took that long to fester to a point where it made the news. Don’t believe this is a parenting issue? We’ll see how long it takes for juveniles to begin congregating downtown on the weekends again.

  13. Or maybe people should spend more effort teaching their children right from wrong instead of hanging out in a bar trying to pick up someone and make more of them.

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