Plans to address Black Expo race relations unveiled amidst continuing debateSummer Wood One day following Councilor Robert Massie"s apology last Tuesday to Indiana Black Expo President the Rev. Charles Williams for a statement he issued with Councilor William Dowden, condemning the Indianapolis Police Department"s critics as "gorillas and thugs," Indiana state Rep. and Expo Chairman Bill Crawford denied rumors that the event would be moved if relations between Expo attendees and IPD did not improve. "Absolutely not!" Crawford exclaimed at a press conference held outside the City-County Council"s chambers. "There is no other place in Indiana that could accommodate such a large event."
Indiana state Rep. and Expo Chairman Bill Crawford (center) denied rumors that Black Expo would be moved if relations between Expo attendees and IPD did not improve.
Crawford and local Concerned Clergy leaders gathered to express their concerns about IPD"s handling of the Expo, which resulted in long delays getting to and from events, eight arrests, more than a thousand traffic citations and allegations of harassment and use of racial insults by individual officers. Black leaders say that IPD failed to follow the traffic and public safety plan agreed upon by both parties prior to the event. "You don"t have to be disrespectful in order to enforce the law," Crawford said. "This [treatment] sends a message that blacks aren"t welcome downtown." IPD Deputy Chief Bettye Dobkins, who attended the press conference, said that IPD was already reviewing their handling of the event to determine what changes were needed in the future. "We"re not waiting until next year," she promised. "We"re addressing all the complaints." The next day, Mayor Peterson announced the creation of a Special Events Task Force of civic and government leaders to address traffic, parking and safety issues for all major downtown events. Overseen by Deputy Mayor Carolyn Coleman, the task force includes Rep. Crawford, the Rev. Charles Williams, Councilor Rozelle Boyd and Congresswoman Julia Carson, who called a town hall meeting to discuss racial incidents at the Expo that drew more than a thousand participants. "For Indianapolis to continue to be a true destination city, we have to continue to improve and fine tune our planning and coordination and make sure our handling of special events is world-class and professional," said the mayor. Black Expo officials estimate that this year"s event, the largest of its kind in the country, pumped more than $15 million into the local economy. IPD jointly released a 17-point plan detailing policy revisions to help large events run more smoothly, including establishing a customer service hotline for complaints, and shifting IPD"s planning strategy to emphasize all aspects of public safety, not just traffic control. The new plan will undergo its first test during October"s Circle City Classic, one of the country"s largest black sporting events. Black Expo leaders have accepted Massie"s apology to them, but say they are still awaiting an apology to Carson and Peterson for his allegation that they used the issue of relations between the black community and IPD "as a political football." On Aug. 26, Councilor Steve Talley will introduce a resolution to the council formally censuring Massie and Dowden, and suggesting they be removed from their committee chairmanships.