Indiana News

Panel of Indiana leaders discusses systemic racism

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The problems of systemic racism and tackling it head-on was the topic of leaders from across Indiana who took center stage Tuesday for a series of passionate discussions.

“I think it’s real important to understand that America has a huge and ugly racial background,” said Bernard A. Carter, the Lake County prosecutor.

It was invitation-only event and a frank, honest conversation on systemic racism in America. It’s a topic Americans are hearing more and more. Tuesday’s focus? How can things get better.

Folks came from as far away as Lake County in the northwest corner of Indiana to participate.

“It’s all about having a relationship with the community, not going to the community when it’s election time. That’s not going to work. They’re not going to buy that. It’s being there all the time, attending their churches, attending town hall meetings, being asked those hard questions,” said Oscar Martinez Jr., the Lake County sheriff.

The Lake County sheriff said his office is working on getting virtual de-escalation training, called “the virtual system,” for its officers.

“The virtual system has 800 different scenarios dealing with mental illness, dealing with shoot, don’t-shoot scenarios, dealing with giving out commands and de-escalating, dealing with active-shooters, dealing with traffic stops. Eight-hundred different scenarios and I think that’s important for officers to go through that training,” Martinez said.

Randal Taylor, the chief of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, noted that making recent recent policy changes within his department is a start to improving relations.

“We have taken away the no-knock warrants. We have taken away the chokeholds. We’ve implemented officers’ need to respond when abuses are going on, even by other officers. So, I think those things are all going to work in our favor,” Taylor told News 8 on Tuesday.

Taylor said he is looking forward to hearing feedback from the community.

Taylor expressed interest in the Lake County “virtual system” training. “I’d really like to stay up on him and figure out how that’s going, and see if that’s something we may want to try to implement here.”

Taylor also told News 8 he wants some officers to spend time with local families as another way to improve community relations.

“Get officers who will acknowledge that they haven’t dealt with people of different races, the opportunity to maybe sit down and have dinner or time with those families over some period of time, whether that’s a week or a month or whatever, just so they can get an idea of what it’s like. I mean, a white officer’s not really ever going to know what it’s like to be Black. But having dinner, talking with them and realizing what those different families may go through and their different perceptions of law enforcement, could indeed help them as they get out on the street prior to them being out on the street patrolling. So it would happen in the Training Academy,” Taylor said.

Benjamin Chavis Jr., who was an assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., moderated Tuesday’s event. He asked the present of Indiana’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) how it works with law enforcement officers.

William Owensby responded, “I think the FOP or any police union or police association gets a bad rap, if you will, from the false narrative of protecting bad officers. We don’t.”

Chavis, near the end of the event, told the audience he hopes people can come together and measure improvement not only in statistics, but in quality of life.