Monday, July 7, 2014

A Cultural Manifesto: Violence in Broad Ripple

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 9:42 PM

click to enlarge The Vogue's marquee on Saturday - KATHERINE COPLEN
  • Katherine Coplen
  • The Vogue's marquee on Saturday

I woke up Saturday morning to the sad news that seven people had been injured during a gunfight on the streets of Broad Ripple. As a DJ who frequently works in this area, I found the information concerning, to say the least.

It's particularly concerning in light of the fact that I've personally witnessed multiple violent episodes, brutal fist fights in the street, and guns pulled during intense verbal altercations in this area over the last couple years. While I can offer no solutions for the recent plague of violence our city is facing, I do have some thoughts on the Broad Ripple neighborhood, and how I've seen it change over the course of my lifetime.

These days when I hear someone refer to Broad Ripple as a cultural district, I have to laugh out loud. But I remember a time when that designation rang true, when the area was a frequent destination for devotees of the arts. 

Growing up in Indianapolis, I was enchanted by the constant stream of world-renowned performers who graced the stages of Broad Ripple's venues. It wasn't uncommon to see Gil Scott-Heron, Dizzy Gillespie, Flora Purim, Frank Zappa, Muddy Waters, Los Lobos, Bill Monroe, John Lee Hooker and other great names illuminating the marquee of the Vogue Theater. During this peak, The Vogue consistently featured a wide variety of multicultural entertainment.

As a teenager, I would meet up with friends to hang out in front of the neighborhood's other major venue, The Patio. We weren't old enough to get in yet, so we'd press our ears against the club's cold concrete walls in hopes of catching a few waves of sound from artists like X, The Flaming Lips, John Cale, RZA, Prince Paul, Lyrics Born and Guided By Voices. The Patio's eclectic schedule of underground rock and hip-hop performances bolstered Broad Ripple's reputation as a cultural destination. 

The Broad Ripple I remember from my youth certainly wasn't perfect, but local music and spoken word performance flourished in the '80s and '90s. During warm summer nights, Broad Ripple was a place where young people of all persuasions would gather on a street corner or sidewalk bench simply to talk and connect with one another. I believe Broad Ripple thrives when it encourages visitors to congregate on its streets and engage one another socially. I feel Broad Ripple was at its best when it supported multicultural exchange.

Now, while there are still a few cultural enclaves, the majority of the area's venues have sold out to bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment. Cheap drinks and lousy music are the order of the day as low-rent DJs blare bland pop hits at nearly every storefront along Broad Ripple Avenue.

My recent experiences on Broad Ripple Avenue have led me to the belief that the combined actions of police officers and bar owners are making the area as inhospitable to culture as possible. I remember gathering with a few local musicians last year for an impromptu street performance off a Broad Ripple sidewalk. We were quickly stopped by a group of angry police officers who harassed us while we were threatened with arrest. I've also seen peaceful, law-abiding friends physically violated and even arrested by police simply for distributing event fliers.

If the neighborhood is truly committed to creating positive change, simply increasing the police presence is not the answer. There should be smarter policing and smarter cultural programming. In my opinion, bar owners need to reflect on what they're offering the public and take the initiative to create more uplifting and socially responsible entertainment. If binge drinking is the primary social activity Broad Ripple's nightlife offers, the parade of troublemaking idiots won't end anytime soon.

And stop blaming black culture and hip-hop music for the neighborhood's problems. Immediately after details of the shooting surfaced I saw several social media users pointing to hip-hop music as the culprit. In reality there's very little hip-hop music to be found in Broad Ripple clubs. Top 40 dance hits rule the day. Sabbatical is one of the few Broad Ripple venues dedicated to presenting culturally relevant programming. They regularly feature local hip-hop artists who embrace and encourage a strong commitment to social responsibility. If anything, we need more of this type of hip-hop culture permeating Broad Ripple.

Despite the problems, there's still a lot positivity in the Broad Ripple scene. The Vogue continues to provide world class shows, the Skinners are doing amazing things with Indy CD & Vinyl, there's Sabbatical and the excellent local eateries. But the threat of continuing violence could easily jeopardize all this.

Broad Ripple stands at a crossroads.

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