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EDITORIAL: Timid talk won't stop violence during Indiana Black Expo

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IBJ Editorial

Straight talk.

That’s what is needed as a newly convened task force searches for a way to stop the violence that has come to be associated with Indiana Black Expo’s Summer Celebration.

The good that Expo has done in its 40-year history is not in question. Its wide array of programming—from job fairs to health screenings to entertainment—is an asset the city should be proud of.

But the violence that sometimes erupts on the streets of downtown during Summer Celebration’s final weekend can no longer be tolerated. This year’s gunfire, which injured 10 people, is only the latest example of what happens when crowds of unruly teenagers take over the streets on the final Saturday of the 11-day event.

We’re reminded by Summer Celebration organizers that the trouble doesn’t happen at Expo-sanctioned events. That’s true, but it does happen outside of those events—not outside the numerous other conventions and events the city hosts downtown.

Forming a task force to come up with ways to end the violence is a good first step, provided members of the group can talk frankly about the problem and how to stop it.

They’ll get nowhere if the dialogue gets bogged down by those who get defensive at the suggestion this is an Expo problem. It’s not a problem of Expo’s making, but—like it or not—it has become an Expo problem. Those who are most passionate about the event should be more motivated than anyone to see that its reputation is never again tarnished by gunfire on our streets.

Answers won’t be easy to come by. The violence is rooted in families broken by economic hardship—and not just hardship associated with the recent Great Recession. Long-standing poverty has produced parents who are unable or unwilling to adequately supervise their children.

The beauty of Expo is that it tries to tackle these issues in the programming it offers, but neither Expo nor this task force can be expected to solve such long-standing societal ills. The task force must focus narrowly on how to prevent the problems associated with this particular event.

Moving events geared toward teenagers earlier in the day has been suggested and might work. Or maybe such events should be moved to another location—the State Fairgrounds, for example—where access can be limited to those who pass through security checkpoints.

Whatever plans the task force comes up with must be effective. Those who attend Summer Celebration events shouldn’t have to be exposed to the threat of violence outside. Nor should employees of downtown bars and restaurants have to fear for their safety as they leave work.

Indianapolis has spent decades and billions of dollars building a downtown that’s custom-made for conventions and big events and a hub for hospitality industry jobs that employ a broad cross-section of our population.

It’s true that the troublemakers who hurt Summer Celebration and our city’s reputation are relatively few. But their misdeeds affect many. Those charged with eliminating the problem owe it to everyone involved to have an open, honest discussion. They can’t avoid it. There’s too much at stake.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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