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.