ABDUL-HAKIM SHABAZZ: Listen to a tale of two Indys

October 3, 2005

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... ."

That is the opening sentence in the Charles Dickens novel, "A Tale of Two Cities." The book is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, a revolution where the poor and oppressed eventually rise up against the aristocracy. And while I'm not about to say 2005 Indianapolis is anything like 1789 Paris, I cannot help but wonder if, just like France of the 18th century, those of Indianapolis live in two worlds.

If I am confusing you, work with me for just a second. A few weeks ago, there were two major events in Indianapolis that clearly illustrate my example. On Sept. 19, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed a budget that eliminated about 170 public-safety positions (i.e., police and fire). Mayor Bart Peterson has maintained the cuts would not have been necessary had the Indiana General Assembly given him his Indy Works plan.

Less than 24 hours later, ground was broken (albeit it was all ceremonial shovels) on a stadium-convention center. The mayor, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Colts owner Jim Irsay were all on hand with local dignitaries and cheering fans in blue and white.

As I sat through both events, I could not help but wonder if the Indianapolis that is breaking ground on a billion-dollar project was the same Indianapolis that is facing major public-safety issues.

Now, don't get me wrong; I strongly believe in economic development. I have always maintained the best way to have a healthy and prosperous community is to have a healthy economic base where jobs are created and people are working. However, to have that strong economic base, the streets the people walk on not only have to be safe, but the people also have to believe their streets are safe. And in the wake of recent events, I'm not sure that's the case anymore.

While we break ground on a new stadium and convention center, the mayor and county sheriff are at odds over a proposed merger of the police and sheriff's departments. While we look at the new plans for the retractable roof, someone at 30th Street and Central Avenue is wondering whether they'll be able to make it from the bus stop to their home without getting robbed. While we talk about a new place to tailgate, a fire engine is being taken out of the Broad Ripple fire station, making some residents wonder if crews can get to their homes in the event of an emergency. And while we talk about Indianapolis competing for conventions, you wonder about whether we have an adequate public-safety response plan to deal with a disaster of Hurricane Katrina-Rita magnitude.

And if we're thinking about this, surely the people who want to book conventions here in the new stadium-convention center are thinking the same thing and asking themselves, "Will there be enough police or fire available to help us in the event of an emergency?"

I am not bringing this up to be negative. I am doing this to be realistic. Both Irsay and Peterson say the new stadium will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the city, county and state. I have no reason to doubt either of these two gentlemen. However, I would feel better if someone drafted an ordinance allocating a certain percentage of the revenue collected from the stadium and convention center for public safety. I would feel better if I knew there were more cops on the street and more firefighters at the stationhouse.

And I would definitely feel better if we took the revenue generated from the best of times and used it to be ready for the disaster or emergency that could take place in the worst of times.

Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at ashabazz@ibj.com.
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