'The only way to get power is to take it'

Dateline: Wed 10 Nov 2010

That axiom, widely used with success in the 1960s by the Black Panthers, the war protesters and the women's movement, reamins sound today: power is a force to be taken by force.

However, raw grabs are more in the province of minorities and underdogs. People with real power, as we all know, exercise it in behind-closed-doors deals, in quiet offices or boardrooms, without the effort of taking their arguments, slogans and deals to the streets.

I'm talking here about the impasse in the city between the Indianapolis Police Department and in particular Public Safety Director Frank Straub.

I could not believe my eyes, to use a real cliche, when I read in the morning Star that Straub believes the police merit board -- honorable citizen volunteers, all, -- made a rush to judgment by exonerating in a 6-1 vote Patrolman Jerry Piland in the arrest of Indy teen-ager Brandon Johnson, age 15, in May.

We all know the story: Johnson is bi-racial; his bruised face and swollen-shut eye made us all cringe when we saw it on TV, in the papers, etc. Johnson got in the face of police officers attempting to make an arrest of his brother; he was subdued. He resisted. He was subdued again. Jerry Piland, who lives in the neighborhood, came to the scene and again subdued the teen. Outrage within the black and anti-police community followed; citizens legitimately questioned the extent of Johnson's injuries during the course of an arrest.

First on the bandwagon were the city's black pastors, who truly understand "The only way to get power is to take it." They correctly focused their considerable energies on this case, calling for justice for Johnson and the firing of officers involved. Other officers were cleared; Piland alone stood charged. Both the chief of police Paul  Cielsielski and Mayor Greg Ballard accepted the judgement of the angry black community: Piland had to go. The merit board, however, voted to clear him. He goes back to work, and vigils will be held.

Why Straub had to wade into this when the merit board has spoken is beyond me. His criticism, as reported in the Star, is that the board considered evidence for only two days.

Straub is in a precarious position, as are the mayor and the chief of police. Common sense dictates that the public safety director would now let this one go. Instead he is fanning flames of discontent, second-guessing a decision that was made in good faith and with justice in mind.

What does any of this prove? Perhaps only that Straub has no real power. So, like the pastors, he takes his arguments to the streets -- or to the media. A better man would know when it's time to shut up and move on -- not because justice was not served, which will remain debatable, but because he has a job to do. But instead, he seems to prefer the spotlight and to be a player on the sidelines.


Tell The Truth [Member] said:

All this against a backdrop of Ballard's 2011 re-election campaign. It's a Democratic city now. The baseline vote says so. And the only way you beat Dems city-wide now, is to sew discontent among their ranks, as in civil war. None exists. There is Democratic harmony around Melina Kennedy. Barring a huge blowup of some kind, she'll win, going away. They got a taste of municipal power from two Peterson terms--after a near-40-year power backlog that caused much friction. They won't risk losing it again.

Ballard hasn't helped his case. He won as a reformer. He was quickly co-opted by the large law firms, and our city is a giant garage sale. Hell everything is for sale or lease or whatever the hell they call deals which the city COULD do, but "chooses" to privatize. "Up-front cash" has become king, and logic is, well, gone.

The IMPD is a mess, awash with incidents which cause the public to ask serious questions. At least one needless death. Multiple injuries. Multiple civil lawsuits which the city will lose, at a tort cost of millions.

So Ballard brings in an east-coast guy to be Public Safety Director. The cops hate him, if we're to believe the blosogphere. If we had any brains we'd ditch the PSD position as a budget cut, and have the chief report directly to the mayor. Less hassle, more control.

I have faith in citizens who serve on the Merit Board. I trust their decision, and I understand the limits of their debate. I could be wrong.

I have read paragraphs and pages of this nonsense. I attended a couple of hours of the merit board's deliberations. No one asked one simple question, regarding the need for extra officers to subdue this young man:

Did anyone have any mace, or a taser?

Look: there are a LOT of good cops. There are a few cowboys. My guess is, in the group at this scene, there was at least one cowboy. I don't know if it was Piland. But he's been charged and the system acquitted him. Move on.

By any reasonable definition the photographic evidence looked like excessive force. By whom? Hard to tell. Piland ran to the scene from his nearby home, but the dispatchers did not put out a call for assistance. I hate to be so damned common, but Judge Judy, who dishes out good advice, would say: "you went LOOKING for trouble, and you found it." (Sidebar: God I love that woman)

Maybe the force was needed. I wasn't there. But why in the hell did Piland respond without being summoned?

Tom Benjamen and the other opportunists in black robes can cry for justice all they want. I've seen this movie before, and it's a rerun. Yawn. I want to see those ministers out on the streets like some of their brethern, namely Rev. Harrison of Barnes St. Church, who are working with troubled youth and gangs 24/7 without fanfare.

Is it too much for a taxpayer to hope, that the cops,mayor,chief, and Public Safety Director, all get on the same page and stay there for, oh, two weeks? And then build on the momentum?

2010-11-10 08:37:47

guy77money [unverified] said:

To TTT: I agree with you 100 percent. Expect for the last statement, you can't build on momentum when your stuck in the mud! Lets get out of the mud and steady the bike first before we go forward with any speed. ;)

2010-11-10 08:47:05

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Once upon a time I served on a Merit Commission (not that one).

It is astonishing that Straub would make such a statement maligning the sincere efforts of people who volunteer their time to provide civilian review of decisions by top brass (which are often tainted by political considerations -- and, yes, I speak from personal experience).

Every one of the Merit Board members should publicly denounce Straub's statements.

And, I'll bet, there's no precedent for his pronouncements either. But that's research The Star is incapable of doing, especially since there's no institutional memory left at the paper.

2010-11-10 11:07:46

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I'm betting the Merit Board members have too much class to get mired in this nonsense. The portion of the hearing I saw, was very professional. All parties were doing a good job, including the members.

They've done their job. I think I disagree with their findings, but I freely admit I didn't sit through all the evidence, or read it all. So I defer to them.

With respect.

2010-11-10 12:07:38

ruthholl [Member] said:

Please correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't Joe Slash the only racial minority on that board? He was the one who voted against Piland.
Is this just an instance where we can't get beyond black/white, no matter what the ministers say -- that it's a matter of justice, not race?
If more blacks were on that board, would the vote have been different?
I have no idea; just speculating.
I would agree: it is a thankless job, and Straub has done more harm than good by continuing to wade in.
I thought New Yorkers had more class.

2010-11-10 12:25:21

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:


2010-11-10 13:07:03

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

I believe one of the female members is black. But I could be wrong. There were a lot of people sitting at the front of that room, and I couldn't always tell who was a board member, who was an attorney, etc.

I don't know what to say about the racial thing, except this:

There has long been a perception in the minority community here, that the police are racist. I don't know if I agree with that, but whenever a police officer acts stupid, and the alleged offenders are minority, this issue is bound to resurface. It's hard for me to gauge: I'm white.

It's going to take a long time to get over that kid "shooting himself" while handcuffed in the back seat, over a decade ago.

In politics, and I guess in police work, racial harmony is a constant goal. Hard to get, and trust is so easily-eroded. Years of progress can be wiped away with one stupid move.

We have a long way to go. Maybe a female mayor can change the perspective. She's also smart, and capable...I don't vote on gender only.

But it's time for a different outlook. We're overdue for some common sense on these things.

2010-11-10 13:22:53

ruthholl [Member] said:

I thought so, too, until The Star ran a series on crime in the 1990s and several black staff members objected strenuously that the cover photo for the Page 1 expose showed a black youth being handcuffed. Black staffers felt using the pix was racist. Whites, for the most part, kept their mouths shut, altho I guess not entirely, because Don Fry of Poynter had to be brought in to teach us about ethics and quell the newsroom hostility that was brewing. In the end, the picture ran -- Frank Caperton made the call, as exec editor. He was pretty steamed at the uproar; typical white guy who "did not get it," according to the dissenters.
His attitude? "This newspaper is not doing public relations for the black race." WHOA. Imagine Ryerson saying that today? It's the opposite, where the Star bends over backwards to not incite or provoke or in any way make any racial noise whatsoever.
Again, I am clueless as to answers -- just another old white gal on the sidelines here. But I do find it fascinating....

2010-11-10 13:23:30

Tom Greenacres [unverified] said:

The Star seemed to go out of its way to avoid showing the 15 year old kid at the center of this controversy relative to another adult: the kid is 6'2" and 200 pounds. With mouth and attitude to match. The lesson that will be lost in this pissing match with Straub and Benjamin is, "Don't talk back to cops and don't resist arrest or you deserve what you get."

Excessive force? One should not expect to escapoe unscathed when resisting arrest. Taser would have been a good idea but you cannot use this in a scrumble. The biggest mistake made by IMPD was dropping bruglary charges against the 14 year old brother, and inciting and resisting charges against the 15 year old.

As expected, the family wants a paycheck from the city.

As for Straub's statements in the Star: incredibly bad form, shortsighted, unprofessional, etc., even for a guy whose last job was PSD in White Plains, which is not to be confused with NYC. (It is a burb by the Tappan Zee bridge.)

2010-11-10 15:14:09

hendy [Member] said:

I didn't hear the evidence, or see anything but the pic, which was awful.

The dissension will continue and Ballard, who knows a good sound bite when he uses it, will continue to fuel the flames. Peterson started the problems by failing to negotiate with the FOP, and by merging the IPD with the Sheriff's deputies.

Being black in Indianapolis, the northern most Southern state, isn't easy. The scared whities moved out to the suburbs, although the suburbs are slowly becoming integrated-- sometimes with those "good black people".

If the evidence was heard, and the commission found for the office fairly, then all that's left as a remedy is civil litigation, which becomes more difficult with the decision that the Merit Board handed down.

Yet no healing was done. Rodney King episodes won't play in Indianapolis, but the dissension won't heal the obvious wounds. Ballard's leadership of all of his residents was never in question: he doesn't. If it's Kennedy that can do the job, so much the better, but the problems are big, and the public's memory has dementia.

2010-11-10 18:08:01

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Hendy, are you freaking SERIOUS? Peterson started the problem? My God are you out of touch.

If we hadn't merged the two forces, we'd be another $2-3 million a year in hock, and less efficient. I'm hoping the efficiencies will get even more stark. If our City Council had any balls they would've trimmed Frank Anderson's budget even more--he doesn't need all those fancy patrol cars. He's the jail commander. And warrant server. And protector of the CC Building. That's it. Period.

Refusing to negotiate with the FOP? That's hilarious. It took two to tango on that score, and both were equally hostile. In fact, you could make a strong argument based on facts, that the FOP was a lot more hostile than Peterson. But let's call it 50-50, for the sake or argument.

2010-11-10 20:45:20

jason [unverified] said:

To place the Johnson decision in context: this is the same merit board that voted overwhelmingly two weeks earlier to fire an officer for excessive force. These people volunteered their own time to sit in a hearing room for 30 hours over the course of two days and they're being criticized for it. Yikes.

The simple facts are that the city's witnesses contradicted each other as well as their earlier statements to IA. They were caught in lies and called out on it repeatedly. Even the Chief himself, once he took the stand, seemed completely unaware of his own policy seeing as how all the DT instructors said use of force guidelines were followed. Then when things started looking bad he changed his story and said Piland hit him once or twice in handcuffs. And Straub wasn't even there to listen to it. The only thing Piland was guilty of was going above and beyond the call of duty and showing up on his day off. For Pete's sake, even the Wishard trauma specialist said his injuries were 'minor.'

The same clergy complaining about the merit board were the ones petitioning it to reverse the Chief's recommendation to fire an officer for stealing several thousand dollars earlier in the year. The board reinstated the officer and they celebrated. The clergy didn't complain when a black female officer intentionally botched up a homicide investigation, refused to cooperate with either IA or homicide, and then came back to work a few months later. They didn't help out a lick when a black officer was shot downtown a few weeks back. Unfortunately, their righteous indignation is as racially dependent and morally fluid as it comes.

Most of the savings from the merger were supposed to come from MCSD opting out of social security, which never happened. It's still very screwed up. The cool irony in the whole thing is that Melina Kennedy can use all of the catch phrases and slogans that Ballard did 4 years ago. And it'll work for her, too. While I doubt she'll be giving the finger to uniformed cops like Peterson was known for, sometimes the devil you only sorta know is better than the one you really know.

2010-11-10 22:53:57

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Jason: your observations are cogent. But the savings is greater than you report. There are already patrol efficiencies and manpower savings. There should be a lot more.

The ridiculous layers of government we've got, are taxing us to death. This merger made sense. If we can get all the fire departments to realize that it'll be better. But the political residue won't easily go away:

In Washington and Warren townships, the FDs were dissolved awhile ago. Their township trustees, without FDs to supervise saw their duties greatly reduced: poor relief and cemetery maintenance. Yet their salaries didn't see similar reductions.

We've still got work to do, for govt. to get more efficient. Political reality get in the way. But those days are numbered.

Excellent observations about some clergy's selective indignation. Wrong is wrong, regardless of color. We seem to have a hard time with that.

2010-11-11 05:24:03

hendy [Member] said:

Interesting response, Jason.

I'm still considering the use of an interjected "yikes" as a writing device/rejoinder. It's somehow supposed to elicit a reaction/response? Yikes. I don't agree with its usage as an emotional provocation. Yikes. And I'm not usually a grammar n a z i or critic.

To your points, leadership and community relations for both the sheriff department and the old IPD were bad. Joined together, it's still bad. I don't presume Kennedy wins the next election, but with all those scared white people living out in the cornfields, the chances for an elected Democratic mayoral candidate in Marion County are pretty good.

2010-11-11 07:39:35

sjudge [unverified] said:

This all goes back to the merger and moving IMPD under the city's control. Having IMPD 'inside' is always politically risky. If there's any crime, or any police misbehavior, it automatically gets attributed to the Mayor, and always becomes a political issue. The remedy? Appoint a middleman - say a Director of Public Safety - and make it his police force, and, his crime problem. That alone should sufficiently insulate the Mayor, since he can always fire the Director shortly before the election. Even if we switch parties in 2011, we'll see something akin to Straub's position in a new administration.

So why is Straub yelping so much now? Naturally, he'd like to save his job I suppose, but probably more important, a lightning rod only works if it can attract the lightning away from the house.

There will be two issues in the upcoming campaign (run in what must, given the election results, be a predominantly Democratic county) and they will be privatization and crime. Both are largely 'spin' issues. Nothing's been so privatized that there are any results to point towards; only conjecture. Crime, at least statistically, is down. That should mean Democrats will run an essentially anecdotal campaign. Privatizing parking meters in Chicago was 'bad' so it must be 'bad' here. Crime is down, but Fred got shot. Police disciplinary actions are down, but there was a 'bad' cop.

It's not going to be a pretty campaign, but it certainly ought to be interesting.


2010-11-11 09:18:17

Jason [unverified] said:

It was more 'yikes,' as in it's not really that deep for me. I never got to devices and rejoinders. Call it a misplaced interjection. I just don't want to be in the way when the merit board responds to the insanity (which it appears they already have.) Kind of like when you take one step into oncoming traffic without looking at the crosswalk. If it's one of those things that just sticks in your craw, I'll refrain in the future.

T3, I'll meet you halfway. There are/were savings, but I would still contend they're overstated. A large part of it is that MCSD still has a road patrol division (they're the ones driving the brand-new decked out Chargers.) For the most part, the county has been understaffed for years because of poor management. 2 plus 2 never equals 5, but that was the sales pitch they tried to make. Now when an armed robbery comes out in Castleton, it's not unheard of for cars to come from 38th and Michigan Rd. I don't know that it was THAT bad before...

2010-11-11 09:47:37

hendy [Member] said:

It's almost like government, like scared people, are living in the today, and not thinking about the tomorrows. Here we have the Citizens Energy merger that gives the City cash up front, while shifting a huge burden to a single 501c3.

Now we're selling parking futures, like Daniels sold Toll Road futures. All of this because mayors from Barton forward have ignored the crumbling infrastructure and all of the poo that flows into the White River whenever there are sprinkles.

We collapse services together, like the police forces and the township fire depts and expect all to flow smoothly and naturally join together. Talk to the CEOs of major corporations about M&A successes (and failures) and they'll give you an earful. When you get amateur politicians doing this, failure's almost a certainty.

And yikes doesn't stick in my craw... rather it seemed like a somewhat cloying interjection. No harm or foul. I occasionally fingerfart myself.

2010-11-11 11:10:17

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

Infrastructure problems delayed are problems amplified. No doubt about that.

Until Peterson came along, we worshipped at the altar of No New Taxes. Unfortunately, we didn't worship at the altar of No Large Debt.

This was an exclusively Republican problem for over 30 years. One lone Republican who tried to tell the Mayor/Council about our sewer problems, was Beulah Coughenor. They drummed her off the stage.

Because anything that cost a lot of money, got in the way of their power rush.

We never needed 11 police departments and 14 fire agencies in this county. It was wasteful and duplicitious. The overlaps in command cost alone, are staggering.

We're limping to efficiencies. Territories are surrendered slowly, and with great pain.

2010-11-11 11:31:09

hendy [Member] said:

Blame UniGov and Lugar. I do.

2010-11-11 13:40:20

Ms. Cynical [unverified] said:

Lugar's goal with UniGov wasn't to save the city any money. It was to keep the city Republican.

2010-11-11 19:55:05

Tell The Truth [Member] said:

AMEN, Cynical. And we discover that NOW?

It was a cynical, mad power grab. It ignored the most expensive portions of government: fire and schools. Because it would never have passed.

It worked. Until 1999 and Bart Peterson. In case we all forget, even the Democrats in this city weren't entirely convinced he could win. So much so, that he dumped a ton of his own money into the race.

2010-11-12 05:19:06

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

The Panthers were murderous thugs. They used the same model for obtaining power as the Mafia.

2010-11-12 07:43:53

sjudge [unverified] said:

The only problem with UNIGOV is that it didn't encompass 9 counties. Now there's almost no way to address what amount to regional problems.

2010-11-12 08:43:49

Comments are closed.


or Register


Syndicate Blog