The following interview was conducted by and posted on Liberation News.
Earlier this month, the police transparency and abolition movement in Indianapolis was advanced when IMPD Transparency launched its updated website with a searchable database of all Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers, including their rank, position title, salary, and assignment. The information comes from public record requests made by IMPD Transparency and ANSWER Coalition Indiana (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.
IMPD Transparency formed in 2017 after two Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers shot and killed Aaron Bailey, an unarmed Black man. Those officers were never charged with a crime and continue to work for IMPD. In February 2019, IMPD Transparency and Indy10 Black Lives Matter launched a Mental Health Task Force that is studying best practices for emergency response for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis in response to the death of Eleanor Northington, a Black woman who died in IMPD custody while undergoing such a crisis.
Liberation News sat down with Satchuel Cole, an Indianapolis organizer who is one of the primary leaders of IMPD Transparency, to find out more about that project and other police abolition work happening in Indianapolis.
Who was Aaron Bailey?
Satchuel Cole: Aaron Bailey was a father, brother, cousin, uncle, friend and beloved community member of Indianapolis. He was a member of the Church on the Circle and he was involved in a group called Back on My Feet. He was a kind spirit who had struggles his entire life that he was working hard to overcome. He is greatly missed.
Why form IMPD Transparency?
SC: I formed IMPD Transparency because I was incredibly frustrated with the lack of transparency from our police department. This was especially highlighted when they killed Aaron Bailey and I became the lead activist on that case. It was frustrating that there was so much information that we have the right to know, but IMPD does everything they can to make sure we have issues finding that information.
We know organizers for police transparency, especially Black organizers, often face heightened police repression for their efforts. Is IMPD any different?
SC: IMPD is not different. Since I have started my work to hold them accountable, I have been pulled over, harassed and so many other things. IMPD has a strong membership of officers who believe they should not have to answer to the public.
Who are the organizations most dedicated to the struggle that people should know of to support?
SC: IMPD Transparency obviously would be my first go to. Indy10 Black Lives Matter as well. IDOC Watch is a good organization that helps to hold our jails and prisons accountable. Muslim Youth Collective is a strong voice for Palestine and the parallels between our local police and the uprising in Palestine. Jewish Voice for Peace is another great organization. The American Indian Movement, Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, Brothers United, ANSWER Indiana.
What are the big picture demands of the community for police accountability? How important is that demand to people in Indianapolis?
SC: Big picture demands are rewriting the use of force policy, creating a culture of accountability and transparency within IMPD and getting a police complaint system that the Chief doesn’t have final say over. We truly need community accountability for our police. We do not have that in any way at this time.
What’s next? What are the problems facing the movement right now? What are future possibilities?
SC: I think a huge issue in our movement is getting people involved. So many people are busy and don’t have time to dedicate to Black liberation or police abolition. We need more people, willing to sacrifice their time and effort and money. If we have more people, the possibilities are endless. We have a Mental Health Task Force working right now to form a community-based rapid response team that will respond to calls to 911 for people having a mental health crisis. We could have a task force that works on rewriting the use of force policy and rewriting the FOP contract. There are so many things we could accomplish if more people got involved.
The work of IMPD Transparency, Indy10 Black Lives Matter, and other groups does not end with just shining a light on police abuses. These groups are actively working to realize a better world free from racist police terror.
The Mental Health Task Force that IMPD Transparency established after the death of Eleanor Northington in police custody is one way this work is actively proceeding. Working people are coming together as volunteers to research, study, and understand the myriad issues surrounding rapid-response teams for mental health crises. Under capitalism, most of these crisis intervention teams are embedded in police departments. This is a consequence of the closing of underfunded psychiatric facilities and the subsequent transfer of people with mental illnesses to jails and prisons. The racist “war on drugs” that has treated substance abuse as a crime rather than as a public health crisis has exacerbated this, flooding prisons with Black and Latino people. The work of the Mental Health Task Force is aimed at creating a rapid response team free from police integration to break this process.
Earlier this year, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett (D) announced that new IMPD recruits would earn $51,000 in their first year, with raises to $59,500 and $70,139 in following years. A government by and for working people could use those resources to fund social work, healthcare and community intervention groups, providing for a continuum of care that treats mental illness before it reaches a crisis point. Instead, the ruling class exorbitantly increases salaries of racist police who terrorize communities on a regular basis to preserve the domination of capitalism and the interests of big businesses.
IMPD Transparency’s Mental Health Task Force is showing workers in Indianapolis that working people do not need a ruling class lording over us to make these decisions for us. The working class understands the issues facing our communities. The working class understands how to solve these issues. What we need, then, is a revolutionary, socialist government that will give the working class the tools to solve those issues and the ability to guarantee the interests of the people who make the world run—workers.