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Just IN; A Tempest in a Teaspoon

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I was in downtown Chicago Monday playing attorney and while I was looking at my twitter feed during a court recess I was a bit taken back by all the comments about an elected official creating a “news operation” to put out stories about his administration.

All I could think to myself is that Barack Obama has been doing this since he first came into office, so why is everyone getting worked up now?

Just kidding, I know everyone was talking about Governor Mike Pence and the new “Just IN” website.

But can I be frank here?  I really don’t see what the big deal is.   This isn’t to say my friends in the Pence administration couldn’t have done a better job with the rollout, but folks, this is a tempest in a teaspoon.

I can say this because, unlike many of my brothers and sisters in the media, I have actually been a spokesperson for an elected official.  I worked for the Illinois Attorney General a spokesman and later communications advisor for nearly eight years.

We used at the time what was known as the Illinois Information Service to put out news releases and audio and video clips.  The Internet was just beginning to be used for distribution as well.  No one considered it a state run news agency, but more of a state information distribution system to reach multiple media markets; which is what Indiana is doing, just like dozens of other states, controlled by both Republicans and Democrats.

And Indiana is not really creating anything new, but revamping its current distribution system, which is horrible.  I know this because I use it every day.  No one is playing the minister of propaganda.   The Administration is simply taking the news releases generated by state agencies and putting some order to it.  If two or three agencies have big items coming out, a team can coordinate which ones should be prioritized and which ones can wait.   That’s all folks.  The First Amendment is still safe.

Anyone who thinks the state is going to compete with the “mainstream” media is off base.   If anything, this will be more of a benefit to smaller media outlets who don’t have the staff or the resources to write about state government.  And us “big guys” will benefit, because we can’t be everywhere and things do fly past the radar screen.  A system like this not only puts everything in one place, but you would be amazed at the number of big stories that can stem from reading about some little small event.

Now with that said, my friends in the Governor’s Office are not completely off the hook.  They did drop the ball somewhat.  One of the first things I learned in as a government employee is whenever you write a memo, choose your words carefully.  Remember, memos are not for the people they are addressed to, but for the other people who will get their hands on them.   So using words like “exclusive” might be better served by words such as “unique”.   Also, I would not have said we were competing with traditional news agencies as much as we were “complimenting” them by highlighting events that might not make it into the headlines.  If there was a sin to be committed, that was it.  This ain’t Pravda folks, nor Voice of America for that matter;  lesson learned, I hope.

This is simply the state of Indiana looking for a new way to get out information about state government, no more no less.  Now if you don’t mind, I have to go look up some information on the federal government giving its stamp of approval to HIP 2.0.  I wonder where I will start my search?

 

 

How About a Consolidated Primary?

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I am going to throw a thought out there that will probably make my political friends heads spin like Linda Blair in the Exorcist, but I think it’s worth discussing.  How about a consolidated primary for municipal elections?

Seriously!  Instead of voters having to choose a Republican or Democratic ballot for Mayor or City Council elections, and then having to deal with months of campaigning, the primaries are just consolidated so that all the candidates for a local seat appear on the ballot at the same time and the top two vote getters face each other in a runoff  30-60 days after the May primary.

And if a candidate gets more than 65% of the vote in the primary he or she can avoid a runoff election.

Think about how about much time, grief and hassle this would save the voters.  Does anyone really need six months to run for Mayor in a town of less than 50,000 people?  If Chicago and San Francisco can pull this off, I don’t see any reason why Indianapolis, Carmel, Ft. Wayne or Evansville can’t pull this off either.

Let’s be honest, there really isn’t a Democratic or Republican way to run a city.  Either you pick up trash, provide public safety, take care of the infrastructure in an efficient manner or you don’t.  It’s just that simple.

And while we’re at it, why not throw in school board elections at the same time?  This way all matters local get addressed at one time.  Especially since cities, towns and schools all tend to blend together when we talk about quality of life issues.

So what do you think?  Shall we consolidate?

 

96, 125 & 135

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Those were the numbers of murders in Indianapolis in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  However,  I decided to do a little digging into those stats to get a more complete picture.  Here’s what I found.  You can draw your own conclusions.

2012

  • 96 murders
  • 73% of the victims had an adult felony record.
  • 70% of the suspects had an adult felony record.
  • Three victims were under 18;  six suspects were under 18.
  • 75% of the victims were African-American.
  • Nearly 60% of the murders occurred in the North and East District.
  • Nearly 50% of the victims and suspects were family, friends, and acquaintances or lived together.
  • Revenge and Arguments were the top two motives.
  • August and November were the top two months for murder at 13 each.
  • Sunday was the top day for murder at 23.
  • Murder was most likely to occur at 9 p.m.

2013

  • 125 murders
  • 75% of the victims had an adult felony record.
  • 82% of the suspects had an adult felony record.
  • Three victims were babies (ages 0-2), four were juveniles; 10 suspects were under 18.
  • 76% of the victims were African-American, 88% of the suspects.
  • 80% of the murders occurred in IMPD’s North, Northwest and East Districts.
  • 72% of the victims and suspects were family, friends, acquaintances or lived together.
  • Drugs and Arguments were the top two motives.
  • June and December were the top two months for murder, 20 in December and 14  in June.
  • Saturday was the top day for murder at 23.
  • Murder was most likely to occur at 10 p.m.

2014

  • 135 murders
  • 81% of the victims had an adult felony record.
  • 92% of the suspects had an adult felony record.
  • 13 victims were juveniles,  10 suspects were under 18.
  • 68% of the victims were African-American, 75% of the suspects.
  • Nearly 50% of the victims and suspects were family, friends, acquaintances or lived together.
  • 64% of the murders occurred in either the North or Northeast District.
  • Drugs , arguments and robberies were the top motives.
  • October was the top month for murder at 16.  February and April were tied at 14 each.
  • Thursday was the top day for murder at 24.
  • Murder was most likely to occur at 7 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Primary Colors

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Well, it looks like my Republican friends are going to have a real primary in the race for Mayor of Indianapolis. And that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

With all due respect to Terry Michael and Jocelyn Tande Adande, the real contest, unless someone else gets in or out, will be between Deputy Mayor Olgen Williams and local businessman Chuck Brewer.

I know both men personally and I think both would do well as Mayor, this is why I think a primary between the two wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

Williams brings his experience as a Deputy Mayor of Neighborhoods and long-time community activist. Brewer brings his business experience to the table. Both bring a love for the city and desire to move it forward building on outgoing Mayor Greg Ballard’s successes.

So why a primary? A primary would give both candidates the opportunity to demonstrate they are ready for what will be a tough general election. Remember, Democrats usually outnumber Republicans by 10,000 straight-ticket voters in elections in Marion County. And Joe Hogsett, even though he is 1-3 when it comes to elections, is an experienced campaigner with a $1.3 million cash lead.*

A primary would give both Williams and Brewer a chance to show they can offer ideas, raise money, rally support, build an organization and my favorite, deal with the media. A primary is where you can make your mistakes and discover your weaknesses so you don’t repeat them in the general election.

There is nothing worse than a candidate who skates in a primary and then gets his or her clock cleaned in a general election due to amateur errors. Of course the challenge is for both sides to promise to keep things above board because the flip side of this is a brutal primary that leaves the last man barely standing.

However, knowing both candidates, I think both will run a clean campaign and conduct themselves with the honor and integrity that they both gleaned from prior military service.

So would a primary be a bad thing? Not if done properly. In fact, it might be just what both candidates could use.

*By the way, Hogsett also faces a primary challenge from glass artist Larry Vaughn. If you listen to Indy talk radio, you know who I’m talking about.

 

If You Don’t Live in Indianapolis, Read This

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This may sound odd, but if you are a Republican who does not live in Indianapolis, you should be concerned about the Indy Mayor’s race.

Why? Allow me to explain.

Later this week, Marion County Republicans are slated to unveil their candidate for Mayor. Right now the only candidates that have filed are former Fall Creek Township Trustee and real estate broker Terry Michael and frequent candidate Jocelyn Tandy Adande.

Democrats have former U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett being challenged by artist and community activist Larry Vaughn.

Ten-Point Coalition leader Rev. Charles Harrison is still mulling the best way to do an independent bid.

You see, with the exception of Joe Donnelly and Glenda Ritz, Democrats hold no statewide office, so their ability to raise money to compete is limited.   Not so if the Democrats take back the 25th floor. When you’re Mayor of Indianapolis, not only do you control a nearly $1 billion budget, but it’s a lot easier to raise money, not only for your own re-election, but for the elections and re-elections of your fellow Democrats.

See where this is going?

And throw in the fact that 2016 is a Presidential year and we get an entire different electorate coming out, a Democratic Mayor who can raise money for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Superintendent of Public Instruction, U.S. Senate as well as State Representatives and Senators will be someone you will probably need to pay attention to, especially if you don’t live in Indy and you’re a Republican.

Free College? Not So Fast

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have been teaching college for more than a decade so when the President recently announced his plan for free tuition at community college you would think I’d be excited.

Not so much.  Actually, I think “free” college is one of the worst things we could do.  First of all, there is no such thing as “free” someone has to pick up the tab.

But I digress.

Under the President’s plan, a student would get the first two years of community college free if they go at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.  It does not include books, transportation, and other college living expenses.

I am someone who believes strongly in post-secondary education.  It does not have to be college, but everyone needs an education after high school to compete in the 21st Century.  I also think they should have some skin in the game.

When you have skin in the game, i.e. you’re picking up part of the tab; you tend to treat things a little differently.  In other words, you take it more seriously.  I also think a 2.5 GPA is a little low.  I think it should be at least a 3.0, it doesn’t take a lot of brain power and effort to walk away with a 2.5 GPA.  Or at least, the better grades you get and the harder classes you take, the more of the tab we pick up.  I also like the community service element of the Tennessee model where students have to perform eight hours of community service per semester.

When you have skin in the game, you show up for class, you study harder and you take things a lot more seriously.  It’s been my experience that students that had to pay more of their own freight were usually more dedicated and worked harder than the ones who had someone else footing the bill.

And I won’t even start on the ones who only stayed long enough to get a financial aid refund check and then dropped off the face of the planet, because guess who had the pick up the tab when the federal government couldn’t find the student?  That’s right, the school.

I think there a lot of ways we can bring down the costs of post-secondary education and make it more accessible, we can start with having and adult discussion about student loan reform, but giving it away for free, is never a good idea.

 

 

Hands Free or Don’t Drive

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Two Indiana lawmakers have proposed bills that would ban driving while talking on your cell phone.

State Senator Pete Miller of Avon and State Representative Milo Smith of Columbus have both introduced bills that would ban talking on your cell phone while driving unless you are using a hands free device.

It’s already illegal to text and drive in Indiana and advocates say a ban on using the cell phone  while driving, unless hands free, will save lives.

I’m not fully convinced, per se.

Don’t get me wrong.   No one gets more annoyed than I do with someone who should be paying attention to the road instead of talking on the phone.  However, I’m not sure a total ban is necessary.

Personally, I would rather see the penalties increased for someone who gets into accident if it can be proven they were talking on the phone when they should have been paying attention to the road. And if there must be a ban on talking and driving, I have no problem with that existing in a construction zone with workers present or a school zone when children are there.

But a total ban? I can’t get behind that. There are plenty of things that contribute to distracted driving that don’t involve a cell phone. We’ve all seen it: the person putting on make-up, eating a cheeseburger and my personal favorite, reading the paper. I am not making that one up.

The problem for me is not cell phones, it’s distracted drivers, regardless of how they are distracted. If we want to increase the penalties for distracted driving, I say go for it, but don’t just single out cell phones.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to pay attention to the road.

 

A Sunday Sales Compromise

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

In addition to my eight million other jobs, one thing I do from time to time is help mediate disputes.  I haven’t had to do it in a while, but I think my services might be in order this legislative session, particularly when it comes to Sunday alcohol sales.

By now you are quite familiar with the rule. Alcohol cannot be sold on Sunday at any retail outlet. So if you want to get a bottle of wine with dinner or beer before a game, you are out of luck — unless you live in one of the nearly 40 counties on the border and drive across the state line. The grocery stores want it, the liquor stores don’t. I am pro-Sunday sales, but I can understand how individuals can get a little nervous at the thought of  losing money to the big box store near the interstate. So I have a suggestion, allow Sunday sales, but make everyone play by the same rules.

My friends in the liquor store business lament that they have to play by stricter rules than the grocery store folks so it would be unfair to allow Sunday sales. I am not saying the argument makes any sense. I’m just saying that’s what it is. So if that’s the issue, let’s go ahead and level the playing field.

For example, you have to be 21 to work in a liquor store, not so in a grocery or drugstore. That’s easily fixed, amend the law so only individuals 21 and over can ring up and stock alcohol. And if you want to add a requirement for training, I can deal with that too. Speaking of 21, you have to be 21 to enter a liquor store whereas there’s no age restriction on a grocery store. I can fix that one too. Simply allow someone under 21 to enter a liquor store as long as he or she is accompanied by an adult at least 25. See how easy this is.

Now what’s next? Oh yeah, the restrictions on what can be sold in liquor stores. According to state law, liquor stores are subject to “commodity restrictions,” meaning they can only sell certain items while grocery and drug stores can sell practically anything. An example of a “commodity restriction” would be something like potato chips, as opposed to potatoes, cakes or candy that contain alcohol versus those that don’t. I am not making this up. The rules have also been interpreted that you can sell DVDs as long as they deal with the “mixology of alcoholic beverages.” I’m not sure if “Coyote Ugly” or “Cocktail” fall into that category. Regardless, the easy way to fix that is to simply lift the restrictions. If you can sell it in a grocery store, allow it to be sold in a liquor store.

Can’t you already feel that playing field starting to level?

There is another rule, however, that is just straight-up protectionism. Liquor stores can only be in incorporated areas and must be owned by Indiana residents. Give me a break. There is no way anyone who truly believes in the free market or capitalism can really justify that.

There are some other things I could add, but this seems like a pretty good start to me. By the way, I can’t take full credit for all of this. Some of the ideas I proudly borrowed from state Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, who has been offering up compromise proposals forever and a day.

But just look at what I’ve done. In exchange for allowing grocery and drug stores to sell alcohol on Sundays, liquor stores get a ton of restrictions lifted off of them, which in turns allow them to sell more products and make more money.

Everybody wins. And all it took was a little give and take. If any of the parties want to get together and discuss this further,  meet me downstairs at Nicky Blaine’s in downtown Indianapolis. I think we can reach a reasonable compromise and they’re open on Sundays.

 

 

Welcome to Castleton “Scare” Mall

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

You would think that if a few hundred unruly teenagers and young adults showed up at your business, acted like they had no home training, got into a fight which spilled out to your parking lot and law enforcement had to come out because there were reports (although later not substantiated) of gunfire, you might want to do something about it.

You would think.

Apparently Simon Malls doesn’t think, or at least think too much of the rest of us.

By now you are well aware of the Saturday night “Mall Brawl” at Castleton Square Mall.

Luckily, IMPD got everything under control, but this of course isn’t the first time this happened at a  Simon property.  Castleton had this issue in 2013 and 2014.   And while part of the problem are the kids who will likely grow up to be statistics, Simon is a big part of the problem, because it refuses to institute a policy that young people under 16 or 17 cannot be at the mall on weekends without a parental or adult escort; much like the one that’s been in place at Mall of America, which Simon used to own.

 You can read it here.

Simon has consistently fought implementing that policy here in Indianapolis.  Remember when we had all the problems downtown with youth violence a few years ago, and one of the requests was for Simon to institute that parental escort policy?  Guess what?  No policy.

If the Simons can give a couple hundred grand to mayoral candidates, surely they can come up with a simple policy to help keep their patrons and tenants safe?

I expect people with no home training to act like wild animals.  I expect better from Simon.  And so should you.

 

The Self-Cleaning Oven

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Well, it’s official.  As of December 31, 2014 we had 135 murders here in Indianapolis; one of the highest in a while.

And once again, what’s most annoying is by my last count, about 80 percent of the victims had adult criminal histories and about 90 percent of the suspects.  Those criminal histories included crimes against another person, a drug arrest or a weapons arrest.

The city has spent a lot of time trying to address this issue this past year.  We took steps to put more police on the streets, there was the “Your Life Matters” campaign, an infrastructure put in place for early childhood education.  City Mosaic , a coalition of faith-based groups, has stepped up to intervene.  And the Department of Public Safety has taken a systemic look at abandoned homes, mental issues, and all the other factors that contribute to crime and violence.   The Ten Point coalition has been doing its job and a group of African-American attorneys have been reaching out to the community to teach young people their rights as well as their responsibilities when it comes to interacting with law enforcement.

It seems the only people who aren’t getting the memo are the bad guys.

These knuckleheads, despite our best efforts, seem hell bent on shooting each other.  I won’t get into the discussion on “black on black” violence because this conversation is not about race, but about behavior.  How many times did we read about someone who should have been behind bars back out on the streets and committing another crime?   Too many.

And if bad guys aren’t going to take the hint, or the help, to change their lifestyles then perhaps we let the “self-cleaning oven” run its course.  In other words, we do what we can to help those who want to be helped, but let the rest of them take each other out of gene pool, which to be frank, is probably the only good most of these guys will ever do society.

It may sound harsh, but how many victim mugshots did you see before you shrugged your shoulders, said “meh”, and went about your business?  Our hearts all bleed and we feel for the families of victims like Nathan Trapuzzano or Dominique Allen, however, they are the exception, not the rule.

Yes, all lives should matter, however when mope with criminal record kills another mope with a criminal record, all I can conclude is that there’s one less mope with a criminal record.  Like I said, it’s like a self-cleaning oven.