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.