Judges participate in public forum asking ‘Is Indianapolis the next Ferguson?’

A public forum in Indianapolis between law enforcement and the community meant to discuss ways the Circle City could avoid exploding like Ferguson, Missouri, instead highlighted the distrust local residents have of police officers.

The event, “Is Indy a Ferguson Waiting to Happen?” was held Monday at Martin University. Representatives of local law enforcement agencies – Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Rick Hite, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter and Marion County Sheriff John Layton – were on the panel along with Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry and others.

Marion Superior Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Gaither served as the moderator and Marion Juvenile Judge Marilyn Moores made opening remarks.

An estimated crowd of 300 people filled the auditorium, posing questions to police and making statements about police harassment and intimidation.

The panelists talked repeatedly about the need to have conversations like the forum. Moores linked a lack of communication to the unrest in Missouri following the shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer.

“I think everybody here knows what folks in Missouri are just learning and that is, if you don’t have conversations, you have problems,” Moores said.

However, the frustration in the audience was apparent. At one point, an audience member told the panelists to use the forum to do more listening than talking.

When Moores told the crowd about a new program for helping teenagers called "policing the brain," a mother called that program laughable.

The mother said law enforcement wants to police the child’s brain but does not want to understand it. Then, she continued, when officers can’t police the brain, they kill it and blame the community.

The crowd brought up a range of issues from the need to hold police officers more accountable to the necessity of parents being more involved with their children as well as former prisoners not being able to get jobs.

Some asked how weapons are coming into the community and what are the next steps following the forum discussion.

Curry acknowledged the city is facing an unprecedented level of violence but said his office was talking to partners in the community to figure out how to address the problems. Those conversations, he said, are lowering the risk of Indianapolis erupting like Ferguson.

“I certainly hope (a Ferguson incident) will never occur and I am confident it will not occur because of the connections we have with public safety agencies.”

Several people asked why no women were on the panel. Gaither told the crowd Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, was scheduled to be a panelist, but she had to cancel and Curry filled her spot.

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