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Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Normally when I go cover a city budget address, I don’t expect to walk into the middle of a controversy.

Here’s what happened.  I went to the Indy City-County Council meeting Monday night to cover the Mayor Greg Ballard’s budget address.  In the Council Chambers, several Democratic Councilors displayed signs saying “Hands Up…Don’t Shoot”  And it included a stick-like figure with his hands up.  This is obviously the Councilors trying to show “solidarity” with what’s going on Ferguson, MO.

I have several issues with this.

  1. We still don’t know all the facts with respect to what happened.
  2. This was done on the day of the 10th anniversary of the death of IMPD Officer Jake Laird.
  3. Numerous young black men have been gunned down in Indy this year by other black men and no one has displayed a sign for them.

Now with that said, I did send a text message to two of the Councilors (there were about six total) who displayed the signs to find out what they were thinking.  One declined, but Vop Osili of District 15, did get back with me.  Here was his response…

“The issue of white police officer-on-black-youth homicide has pervasive nationally for generations.  So many people, me included, feel increasing sensitivity about the ease with which kids (and I am aware many are far from being angels) can be singled out, gunned down and the person responsible walk away and resume life in a fairly short time.  There is no humor here and no disrespect to the memory of our slain officer, none whatsoever.  But there is a generational fear in so, so many families and decades of public nonchalance have hardened people to the plight.”

I fully understand that in some communities there is tension between the black community and law enforcement, and I will give Osili some props for getting back with me even though we disagree.

However, and you knew that was coming, I don’t think the Indianapolis City-County Council was the right place to do this sort of thing. I think it sends the wrong message and only causes more problems than it hopes to address because I think it can be interpreted as something against all law enforcement and not one individual who might have gone rogue.

What do you think?



Some Thoughts on Ferguson

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I’ve been out of town for a few days, but even in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan my wife and I couldn’t get away from news coverage of what’s going on in Ferguson, MO.

I think I can speak somewhat intelligently on this seeing how I spent three years going to law school in St. Louis, so I am somewhat familiar with the lay of the land.

With respect to Ferguson, it is a classic example of how everything that could go wrong did.

The robbery over a pack of cheap cigars, police overreaching by arresting journalists, outsiders coming in and looting, you name it.

But deep at heart with this entire situation is the issue of relationships, particularly between police and the communities that they serve.

The Ferguson Police Department did not look like the community it represents, nor did it have the relationship with the business and faith-based community that it should have, because if it did, a lot of this might have been avoided.

That is something that should never be lost on Indianapolis and other major cities. No matter how many police you put on the street, it won’t make a difference unless the department has an open, honest and trustworthy relationship with the community that it serves.

People don’t take to the streets for the last thing you did, it’s all the other stuff beforehand that should have been dealt with a long time ago.

Just a few thoughts; it’s nice to be back.




The KKK is Coming to Indy

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

There is a new exhibit coming to the Marion County Public Library this week that is definitely going to stir a lot of controversy, but more importantly I hope it stirs a lot of thought.

It is called “Kin Killin Kin”.  Yes, the initials are KKK.

And no, we’re are not talking about something out of “Birth of Nation” or “Roots”.   We are talking about artist James Pate telling a story that if it were not tragic, it would be almost laughable.

It tells the story of urban youth violence and the fact that more African-American males are more likely to be killed by other Black males than anyone else.  Here in Indianapolis where blacks make up about 27 percent of the population, for the first half of this year blacks have made up approximately 70 percent of the murder victims and in cases where the racial identity of both the victim and suspect were know, blacks killing other blacks were at least a third of the murders.

As my wife once told me “who needs the Klan to kill us when we have each other”?

Pate’s images make that same point, however as an artist he goes further in what is described as a “visual call-to-action to find solutions to youth and gun violence in the community and created in hopes of engaging our youth and community in acknowledging that harsh reality of gun violence, and to dialogue positive alternatives and solutions towards negative behavior.”

If you get a chance, check it out.  I think this is pretty powerful stuff.


So Much for “High Stakes” Testing

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The ISTEP+ test scores are in and guess what, despite the crocodile tears of the status quo, students continue to make improvements.

As you may have seen, according to the Indiana Department of Education 80.7% of Indiana students in public schools passed the English/Language Arts portion of the test, up from 79.5% in 2013. In Math, 83.5% passed, up from 83.0% in 2013.   Finally, 74.7% of Indiana students passed both English/Language Arts and Math, up from 73.7% last year.

Our friends at Chalkbeat Indiana have a database where you can look up your kid;s school and see how they did.

Remember last year, when we had the ISTEP test glitch and the education establishment wanted to have the exams thrown out, but it turned out students overall did better than the year before, and they clammed up.

Now the big concern is a new test to meet federal standards and No Child Left Behind, and once again, there will be more whining about high stakes testing.  But if you look at the results, the kids seem to be handling things just well, maybe the adults could learn a thing or two from them.


Living High on the Hogsett

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

When I talk to my Democratic friends about now former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett running for Mayor of Indianapolis in 2015, you would think they were talking about the second coming and the only thing missing is the donkey and the palm leaves.

I don’t blame them, there has to be something frustrating about Greg Ballard being on the 25th floor for the last seven years.

When Ballard first decided to run in 2007, they didn’t take him seriously and called him everything but a child of God.  After winning, they labelled him the “Accidental Mayor”.  They were mad, but they thought his victory was a fluke, so they recruited Melina Kennedy to take him on in 2011.

After he beat them a second time, they blamed Kennedy’s campaign.

What’s interesting and ironic, particularly in the 2011 race is that there were 12,000 more Democratic straight-ticket voters than Republican, but Ballard beat Kennedy by about 8,000 votes.  So Ballard had enough crossover appeal, particularly in the Black community to pull off a win.

This is why Ballard frustrates Democrats so much.  They don’t like him.  They don’t respect him. They even try labeling him a racist, which no serious person believed.  But after $8 million spent all they got was a 0-2 record.  Thus, the reason why they high on Hogsett.

However, while they think Hogsett is the golden boy, he has quite a few vulnerabilities, especially when it comes to crime that will be more than fair game, should he decided to run.

Of course this is all wild speculation, especially since it’s unclear if Ballard will run for a third term. And the Mayor does have some weak areas and third terms are always tricky, but should he decided to go he will have the best political operatives in the state working for him.  Regardless it will be fun to watch, will Ballard go 3-0 or will Hogsett go 2-5.

I’m looking forward to it.

Good Government & Good Politics

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have always argued that when dealing with crime, more cops doesn’t equal less crime unless you do some other things, like keep the bad guys behind bars and mitigate the conditions that make new ones.

The plan Mayor Greg Ballard announced today does just that.  It adds nearly 280 more police officers over the next several years, while expanding early childhood opportunities to stem the creation of future criminals while calling for extending the sentences for current criminals.

The plan is funded using ideas brought forth by a bipartisan commission created by the Democratic-controlled City-County Council.  The elimination of the homestead property tax credit will pay for the early childhood education while the 0.15% increase in the public safety tax will get more officers on the street.

In addition,  the Mayor is calling for 20-year mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes and efforts to reach young people who drop out of school and start going down a path of becoming future criminals.

While I am not crazy about the tax increase portion, I can live with what amounts to a night out with me and the Lovely Mrs. Shabazz if it means finally addressing crime long term.   And the fact it takes ideas by the Democrats and just makes the whole thing even sweeter from a political perspective.

Brilliant or Bastard?

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I’ve gotten quite a bit of response to my column this week in the Indianapolis Star on my “reverse panhandling” experiment.

You can read it here, but in a nutshell, a few weeks ago I got tired of the panhandlers downtown asking me for money so I decided to turn the tables on them and do some preemptive begging.

In other words, I asked them for money before they asked me.  My conclusion, panhandlers don’t like it when people ask them for money either.

The public response to my efforts fell into two distinct camps.  Most sane, rational  people thought what I did was brilliant and plan to do something similar the next time they get approached.

Other folks, well, not so much. I was a cruel, heartless bastard with no moral conscience; which is odd because I am also an attorney.    And one person hoped I would lose everything so he could walk by the street and spit on me.  Wow!!!

What really amazed me with the hate mail was how many people got mad at me for proving a point;  that most downtown panhandlers are scam artists and giving them money only feeds into the scam.  In addition, panhandling has been cited as reason Indianapolis has lost some of its conventions.  And those conventions generate dollars so we can pay for things like public safety and roads.

Yes, there are truly homeless people in our community and they deserve our help to get them in a stable environment, which is why I support programs and events like this.

But as far as that guy who ran out of gas and left his pregnant wife on I-69 and she’s about to go into labor and he just needs a few dollars so he can get her to the hospital, sorry dude.  Today is not your day and to be frank, tomorrow doesn’t look all that great either.

So what am I a genius or a jerk?  You make the call.


Mr. Saturday Night

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

For the past six years I have spent the second Saturday night of Indiana Black Expo working the door as a “bouncer” at Nicky Blaine’s cigar bar on Monument Circle.  I go back and forth between working the door and walking around the immediate downtown vicinity talking to law enforcement and other folks.

I was there when Shamus Patton took out a gun in 2010 and shot several people and I was there when things went well.  And for the last three years, not only have things gone well, but I could clearly see a change in the attitudes of attendees.

Yes, there was still the girl wearing clothes that look she was trying to fit 10 pounds of sausage in a five pound bag and you do come across the occasional drunk, but that’s just life in the big city.   What clearly demonstrated for me a change in attitudes and perceptions  were the two white people I saw using the bike share program riding through downtown.

Let’s be honest, in years past there is no way that would have happened, but now, Saturday night seemed almost like any other night in downtown Indy.

What changed?   A lot of things.

Of course there is the continuing messaging of making IBE a family-friendly event.  But, the the top two, I believe, were the cops going to the homes of potential trouble makers and telling them that they might want to leave town that weekend.  Secondly, having a black police chief delivering a message of tough love (i.e. come in peace, but if you cause trouble, we will lock you up) goes a long way to diffusing the idiotic allegations that the city is racist and wants to keep black youth out of downtown.

Yes, people actually do make that allegation.

I also noticed, which deserves major kudos, was IMPD bringing in members of the new recruit class to observe the event up close, so when they become fully-sworn officers, they aren’t surprised by anything.

I think the big question moving forward is does the city and IBE keep up the same police presence or do we scale back or make other adjustments? I think the city will probably need the heavy presence for one more year and then can scale back somewhat.

In the meantime though, I think a question the black community is going to have to answer is can it be trusted enough to police itself so law enforcement can scale things back and Summer Celebration can stay just that, a celebration.

We’ll see, but I am very optimistic about the future.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I didn’t expect to wake up this morning.

Why?  Because I thought the world was going to come to an end yesterday.  At least that’s what i was led to believe after listening to the wailing and gnashing of teeth over federal Judge Richard Young’s common sense ruling that Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, like bans in most jurisdictions, has no rational basis so it was thrown out as unconstitutional.

Hundreds of people lined up at the Marion County Clerk’s Office to tie the knot.  A number of them had been together longer as partners than most heterosexual couples have as married. They were happy.  They were ecstatic.  And I was happy for them.

I know how I felt when I got married on September 5, 2009 (see I even remembered the date, not bad for a guy, huh) and it’s always good to see someone else experience that same feeling.

But despite what was a happy day for a lot of people, the folks who for whatever reason can’t get past this issue could have swore this was last nail in the coffin of the moral decline of America.

I don’t get it and frankly never have.

As I have stated before, same-sex marriage doesn’t infringe on my liberty or freedom, so I have a hard time getting worked up over it.  I am also very secure in my sexual identity so I don’t spend all day complaining and obsessing over what my neighbors do behind closed doors.

I also don’t worry about someone trying to use this ruling to marry their pet iguana or trying to engage in polygamy with an exponent because those arguments are just silly.

And to be frank, if the critics of same-sex marriage would spend as much time working on their own marriages as they do freaking out over someone else’s maybe they could live happily ever after too.

Democrat Infrastructure Plan Could Hit Legal Roadblock

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Although Indianapolis City-County Council Democrats are touting their “Rebuild Indy” plan as a viable alternative to Mayor Greg Ballard’s infrastructure plan, there could be a legal road block that could stop their proposal from taking effect.

As part of their $340 million plan, Council Democrats have proposed taking $45 million from the downtown TIF district. However, that move could violate an agreement the Democrats reached with the Mayor earlier this year.

The Democrats and Ballard administration were at odds over the use of downtown TIF dollars so they reached an agreement limiting the use of the funds. The policy passed by the Council and the MDC states:

“Reserves and Fund balances for each TIF shall include, and, otherwise, be determined and established consistent with the following considerations: 1) all reserves required by bond covenants, plus 2) an additional reserve equal to no more than 10% of the outstanding principal amount of the bonds, plus 3) any and all additional amounts necessary to improve or, at the very least, maintain current credit ratings.”

In addition, with regard to the coverage ratio, the policy also states that when considering the amount of TIF revenue to pass back to the base assessed value, consideration shall be given to maintain coverage ratios that preserve the credit rating of the TIF bonds.  In other words, enough money must be kept in the TIF to allow the city to keep its AAA credit rating.

With the $45 million in cash payments from the TIFs,  that would violate the 10% reserve policy the Democrats and Mayor agreed to, and in addition, if the entire $45 million in road funds  came from the Downtown Consolidated TIF, that would leave the city with 0% in reserves, could which would drop below optimal coverage ratios and deplete any cash for other economic development projects.

And to make matters more interesting, it’s important to note that TIF funds can only be spent in or around the TIF and cannot be spent on operating costs.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.