A Not-So-Subtle Candidate

It’s primary election season, and in Indianapolis, the parties are wrapping up their races for the Mayoral nominations.

Indianapolis–like every urban area over 500,000–is a majority-Democratic city. When I first became politically active, it was a reliably Republican stronghold; I served as Corporation Counsel in a Republican administration headed by four-term Mayor William Hudnut. That GOP dominance lasted for thirty years.

Times–and Republicans–have changed.

Our current Mayor, Joe Hogsett, will be running for a third term. He’s a Democrat, he has lots of campaign money and he has the advantages that come with incumbency. (Of course, he also has the disadvantages that come with incumbency; in his case, a widely-criticized faintheartedness that his opponents are honing in on.) He’s widely favored to win the Democratic primary–and, given the significant Democratic tilt of the electorate, the general election.

The Republican primary is dominated by two candidates–Abdul Shabazz, a lawyer, media figure and longtime political pundit, and Jefferson Shreve, who is using a significant portion of the millions he made when he sold his business to blanket the airwaves. And when I say, blanket, I mean blanket–his ads are unavoidable. (I watch very little television, but I’ve seen what seems like thousands of them.) The ads ignore his primary opponent and focus on the Mayor, who–in Shreve’s telling–has presided over the “crumbling” of the city.

Shreve talks a lot about “leadership” (which he doesn’t define).  When I saw his spots the first few hundred times, I found them basically content-free, with the single exception of wildly exaggerated claims about crime–a problem that he proposes to solve with “leadership.”

Crime is the only actual issue raised by Shreve’s ads. Fair enough–it’s a real problem here as well as across the country, although we are hardly the hell-hole his ads describe. Shreve’s approach to the issue, however, is troubling. He will “let the police do their jobs.”

In an interview with Axios Indianapolis, Shreve was asked whether police reform has gone too far or not far enough. His response was instructive.

We don’t need police reform to make Indianapolis safer, we need more, better-paid police officers.

What that means comes through loud and clear.

Indianapolis, like all major cities, needs to police its police. There are many admirable officers in IMPD, and the force has made consistent good-faith efforts to educate its members about cultural differences and language barriers. But–again, like most cities–we’ve had episodes where officers have engaged in aggressive and/or inappropriate behaviors–times when they have acted in ways inconsistent with their training.

When I listen to the Shreve commercials, what I hear is “when I’m Mayor, I’m taking the restraints off. In my administration, the police will always be right. I’ll have their backs no matter what.

Perhaps that is an unfair reaction, but several other people I’ve spoken interpret it the same way. That is, I know, totally anecdotal, but it does reflect national differences between the parties on issues of policing.

The Republican emphasis on law and order has gone hand-in-hand with reflexive and uncritical support for the police. Republican politicians warn that even modest efforts to restrict police tactics will make communities less safe. They also tend to attribute criminal behavior to minorities–and to focus on street crime rather than corporate or other white-collar criminal behavior.

Democrats have been more supportive of criminal justice reform, increased police accountability and transparency. Democratic candidates tend to express concerns about police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive use of force, and to call for the implementation of policies to address those issues.

Criminal justice scholars tell us that aggressive policing approaches have been disproportionately applied in communities of color, and that, politically, “law and order” policies  purporting to be tough on crime are particularly appealing to White Republicans who hold negative attitudes towards minorities and immigrants. A 2018 study by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that White Republicans were more likely than other groups to believe that police officers treat whites and minorities equally, despite almost daily disclosures to the contrary.

Republican politicians are far more likely to frame crime and violence as problems caused by minorities and immigrants– framing that has been shown to motivate the GOP base. Maybe I’m unduly cynical, but that’s the actual message I hear conveyed–a message underscored in the accompanying, grainy videos– by those unending Shreve advertisements.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m just overreacting to the sheer number of those fatuous commercials….Maybe there’s more to this candidate than his promise to “let the police do their jobs” and his assurances that such unquestioned support defines “leadership.”

Unless Abdul beats him on May 2d, or he runs out of money, I guess we’ll find out.


  1. Nationwide we have far too many police stops. They stop black folks for minor vehicle issues like a tail light or an air freshener and the next thing we have dead citizens. Just STOP with all the harassment traffic stops. A broken tail light is NOT a capital offense – well at least it should not be.
    The Republican that Sheila speaks of is promising MORE dead citizens. NO to that.

  2. Many police officials under his watch will see it as leadership or protection from all the liberals on the left. It will be interesting to see how voters will react. My guess is it will bolster Shabazz’s numbers.

    I understand most police contracts are concrete, so “police reform” reform is not a legitimate topic these days.

    We do not need aggressive police! Quit the opposite. However, the unions prevent such transformations, so there is no sense in discussing it. Let the voters have their way with him.

  3. I have also seen the Shreve campaign ads but ignored their slams at Mayor Hogsett, a Democratic Mayor in the capitol city, dead center of a bright red Republican state. Like Sheila; I worked for 20 years in Indianapolis Republican City Government, 16 of those years under Mayor Bill Hudnut, the last real Republican in this city and probably in this state. The election of Steve Goldsmith to replace Mayor Bill was like the “transition” from President Obama to Donald Trump.

    I Googled Jefferson Shreve and that Axios interview; he agreed with all problems in questions put to him, saying something needs to be done about that and that “he is the best qualified to do something about that”. A wealthy former business owner and sometime City Councilor he was given an opportunity on the Council to do “something about that” but now complains that those same problems continue and “something needs to be done about that” and he is qualified to be that someone to do it. He intends to resolve the police abuse of power problems by “the police will always be right. I’ll have their backs no matter what.” Parroting one of Trump’s first speeches as president that police need not bother about protecting criminals heads while forcing them into their patrol cars.

    “Republican politicians are far more likely to frame crime and violence as problems caused by minorities and immigrants– framing that has been shown to motivate the GOP base.” I have an E-mail I sent to Indianapolis Star reporters in 2010 (which was ignored) about a severe police abuse of power against my white daughter, her white daughters and granddaughters by white Indianapolis Police Officers which included macing her white German Shepard inside her home when the problem was in her front yard. Yes; it was 2010 but in the 1970s I worked with an abused women’s group at the Near Eastside Multi-Service Center (now John Bonner Center) and the problems of abuse of white women by white police was enforced then and continues today. I am not taking away from abuses of their targeted Blacks or immigrants as victims; I am pointing out that it is a basic problem within most police forces against women and children but one that never seems to make the news.

    Power and control over women is evidenced in this county all the way to the Supreme Court; let us not allow it to return to the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office or to the Presidency!

    Shreve is “not-so-subtle” in his accusations but is mute on what his solutions are to resolve anything other than to get himself elected Mayor.

  4. I support police and their accountability! I do not support a police state!
    It’s the guns.
    The police are outgunned and until they go out there and announce it to the public, the police will continue to shoot first and ask questions later. Just like the public is copying right now. Why wouldn’t they? If the police had any backbone, they would insist that weapons of war be removed because they don’t belong in your neighborhood. The Louisville shooter proved how easy it is to out gun the police! What more evidence do you need?
    It’s the guns!

  5. I think you’re on point with the implied message. Just to reinforce the attitude that crime is committed by “those people” and not rich white guys, you may have missed the story where the original TV ads Shreve ran for showing riot scenes in Indianapolis, he was using copyrighted photos without the author’s permission. Those were abruptly pulled and new ads with different images soon replaced them.

  6. gee crime? did anyone suggest a living wage? or a move to share the profits? seems the same ol same ol. cops, did anyone figure more cops to mingle,among the citizens? seems the calls for agressive enforcements are just a call for a bigger police state,via justified violence against the citizen. now mix that with cheap rehetoric,some fox soap box,and giving away guns to any untrained/unrestrained idiot. the cops are now wondering when they will be in the cross fire. from the first attempt to cut taxes,via a republican named reagan,and his goal of curbin that buck, mix in some social media,and we now have what we are given in the new name of law and order. maggots.
    the cops and law enforcement have lost the respect because of the lack of one on one interaction. the fact that tax breaks for the rich,and shit wages have cut a tax base to support a fair civil goverment. instead we have armoured the cop car,and explained to him a blue line will always have your back. many a cop/sheriff are given their first encounters working the lock-ups, that alone breeds a racists attitude to the percentage of whos being locked up.no reason as why/just lockem up.. overall its a game of who has the most toys,and it seems the citizen today is in the basement of the penthouse when trump like asswipes flush their toilets.

    commondreams.org ,piece,today want a look how shareholders,demand their money>
    “the right embraces shareholders activism in war on so called woke capitalisim”
    by Juliana Broad. seems shes very aware of the issues,and where the money goes.

  7. If the republican politicians ever stopped to think about the meaning of the words “social contract,” and tried to improve the ways its components are applied, they might change the societal causes of many of the crimes that are committed in the city. But that would mean admitting that the power relationships in government are more important to them than the conditions under which a substantial number of the residents live.

  8. In the succinct interview that Axios Indianapolis did, Shreve redirected several questions (on auto accidents, economic development incentives, the proposed soccer stadium) back to crime, thus avoiding the issues. He didn’t explain the few positions he has (how giving someone the title of public safety director reduces crime, for example) but does assert that spending money on mass transit (IMHO a must for a first-class city) is a waste.

  9. I agree with Sheila’s reaction to these ads. Indianapolis is nowhere near the “hell-hole” Shreve portrays. Of late, the repetitive, pervasive ad that I have been seeing shows a “grainy” view of a news conference being held by Mayor Hogsett and casts the current administration totally out of touch and inept with regard to crime issues. It then shows a number of still shots of IMPD officers depicted in such a way that shows them “off-balance,” promising in his message to back these officers so that they can do their jobs. And finally the ad ends with a very rapid, subtle statement that asserts “no one should have to live like this.”

    By fomenting unease and discomfort with that “crime element” out there, Shreve truly plays to a white Republican base that yearns for easy answers to a terribly complex problem.

  10. Sheila, I believe you are correct about the message Shreve is conveying regarding minorities being responsible for the bulk of crime. He is using minorities as an easy target to get the attention of the racist gop voters who prefer to be told there are simple solutions to complex problems.

    The republican politician dog whistle that seems to work is “Vote for me and I will resolve all your problems quickly and easily”.

  11. I haven’t lived in Indy since January, 2009, so I have a knowledge deficit about its governance. That said, I am aware of what Republican super majorities in State legislatures do to primarily Democratic urban centers. How much authority does the local government have to solve its issues? Home rule has been run out of town in red states. To fix the cities, you need support from the states and you only get that with electoral victories.

  12. Republican politicians pass legislation that allows more and more people to get guns and then criticize Democrat politicians for increasing crime rates. I’m also waiting impatiently for the police to demand more gun control; they’re sick of all the violence too. It’s the guns!

  13. The number of commercials he has purchased for a primary election is shocking, especially since he doesn’t make any effort to distinguish himself from the other Republicans. And he has that annoying voice and says that our brightest and shiniest days are behind us. Where is the appeal and what are his other ideas besides militarizing the police? He’s just another rich Indiana Republican trying to buy public office, in the tradition of Braun and Hollingsworth.

  14. Shreve is appealing to racists and they aren’t going to vote for anyone named Abdul regardless of anything else about him. Are there enough non-racists left in the Republican Party to elect Shabazz? I hope so, but I doubt it.

  15. Sheila, et al.: you’re right in your assessments.
    Shreve is merely a rank opportunist who did not distinguish himself on the city council and, like many wealthy republican candidates, thinks lavish spending and dubious claims will win the election. I pray he’s wrong.

  16. “Social contract” and Republican thinking do not easily live together.
    Being “Woke,” and taking action that would correct the social/cultural problems
    that one would then be awakened to, is anathema to the GOP, and not just the
    current iteration of that group!

  17. I’m in Springfield IL, and while I know very little of what’s going on in Indianapolis, I do remember Abdul Shabazz. A number of years ago he was living here and a radio talk show here. He wasn’t bad as conservatives go. From the sound of Shreve, Shabazz has got to be better.

  18. The number of Shreve ads is impressive – a man with money to burn – kind of makes me wish I owned a Republican ad agency.

    The message that “now that the Democrats are in control our city/state/county has turned into a war zone” due to “failed” policies or leadership is very old. I’ve heard it hundreds of times, but Shreve is really over the top, but not the first that I’ve heard go that far.

    “Let the police do their job” is a meme from the DIrty Harry era – everything would be perfect if we only got out the the way – Police are all good and always right – Once they put on a badge, they immediately have magic vision that allows them to know a criminal on sight – no mistakes are possible.

    Oh, and we should let them beat confessions out of criminals, because we know that works – stupid Miranda rights

    Again, wasn’t it Tricky Dicky who campaigned on “orderly lawns” or whatever his slogan was?

  19. Wish I would have read this earlier.

    Republicans are pro police, unless it is the FBI or Capitol Police Officers putting down a violent insurrection by Trump supporters. I get so sick of the law enforcement hypocrisy from fellow Republicans.

    There is simply no way for Abdul to win the primary with Shreve spending that type of money. But if Shreve thinks he can win the general election simply on the issue of crime, he’s very much mistaken. Less than a year ago, Republicans hammered Prosecutor Mears on crime during his re-election bid, and the GOP candidate ended up with 41%. Shreve has more money and will do better, but 43% is a long ways from the 50% needed to win.

    People don’t realize how dominant the Democrats are in Marion County now. Marion County is the most Democratic county in most statewide elections now. In the last council race, Democrats won 20 of 25 council seats using a map drawn by Republicans.

    You will see a Democrat mayor of Carmel, Fishers and Westfield before we see another Republican mayor of Indianapolis. Democrats are much more competitive in those cities than Republicans are competitive in Indianapolis. The only thing holding Democrats back in Hamilton County is that they have been slow to develop the infrastructure and candidates yet to compete on a level playing field with Republicans. But they are getting there.

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