The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:57 am

Police tensions could return

Ron Shawgo The Journal Gazette

The allegations are stark: Police officers targeting mostly blacks in traffic stops, harassing and sometimes beating others.

Tensions are high. Two groups of ministers file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. The city agrees there is a problem and acknowledges some rogue officers.

Fort Wayne, 1996.

Nearly four years later, a federal investigation finds no evidence that officers criminally violated civil rights. By then, the ministers and the city agree, problems have been addressed and relations improved.

As the nation faces images from Baltimore – after North Charleston, South Carolina; after Tulsa, Oklahoma; after Ferguson, Missouri, after Staten Island, New York – police are under a microscope.

Communities take stock. Could it happen here?

With a black chief and diverse administration, the Fort Wayne Police Department has done a good job embracing diversity and meeting the needs of the entire community, said Kimberly Wagner, a limited-term lecturer in IPFW’s department of public policy.

Still, the unrest emerging nationwide goes much deeper than bad police. Social inequality, the loss of jobs, hopelessness and the denial of blacks’ full participation in society are the causes, said Akwasi Osusu-Bempah, a criminal justice assistant professor at Indiana University.

"We will continue to see the same thing again and again until we recognize what its cause is: … America not having come to grips with its history and legacy of racial oppression; its mistaken belief that we’re in a post-racial era; and the social and political unwillingness to rectify the situation, both on the part of elected officials and on individual citizens," he said.

The Journal Gazette asked several people to share their thoughts on the issue. The Journal Gazette made multiple attempts to speak to command staff and rank-and-file officers of the Fort Wayne Police Department for this story. Those requests, made last week, were not immediately granted.


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