Faith in Indiana and young people identified with the Changemakers protest group who attended Mayor Tom Henry's conference Thursday on police reform came away with the impression that it was “more a gesture than anything.”
“It kind of felt like the equivalent of the Unity Walk (on June 4) in press conference form,” said Audrey Davis, regional coordinator for Faith in Indiana, the group that has been working behind the scenes at many of the local protests. What was missing, she said, was “a commitment toward looking at the behavior of the police department during that weekend (of May 29-30).”
The Rev. Karen Staton, who has appeared with the Changemakers at peaceful protests downtown, said the small group that stayed to talk to media Thursday said they were happy the mayor said he wanted to see change, “but we want to make sure that some of the demands of the young people are being addressed.”
Those include changes in use of force and a serious review board of police conduct.
“He's kind of passing the buck. That's the way it looked like to us. It was a good start, but we just want to make sure that it's a coalition of people who are going to look into the accountability along with demands that they are lifting up. There are some police and law enforcement reforms that are definitely going to be looked at, reforms with close community oversight,” Staton said.
Henry's plan came in answer to three weeks of local protests and demands following the May 24 death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer.
The group led by Staton, Davis and Brittiane Jones produced a list of demands that could dovetail with Henry's proposals:
• Revise the use of force policy
• Review the actions of the Fort Wayne Police Department on May 29-31 when pepper spray, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were deployed during protests
• Drop charges for protesters arrested between May 29 and June 1
• Create an independent review board for the local police
• Fund mental health services in communities of color
• Employ proven alternatives to incarceration and budget them for 2021
• Pledge to remove officers with ties to white terrorist organizations.
Others in the group included Dr. Junius Pressey; the Rev. Delante Jackson, pastor at East Chestnut Church of Christ; Kimberly Koczan-Flory, pastor and regional coordinator for the Poor Peoples Campaign; and protesters Akeila Council, Braxton Davis and Alisha Rauch.
Jones said the Changemakers, formerly known as Resist Fort Wayne, backed down on getting a formal apology from the mayor for what they believe was excessive force used on protesters.
“That would calm down a lot of the anger,” said Jones, whose group realizes an apology will not be forthcoming, so they are intensifying efforts to get the change they wanted in the first place.
The demands represent “the bigger picture,” Jones added.
Staton said “everyone has to work together to build a foundation.”