Marshawn Wolley: Indy needs a city official focused on black males

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Marshawn WolleyIndianapolis has the largest black male population in the state but does not have an Indianapolis Commission on African American Males.

In 1993, the state established the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. The purpose of the commission is to provide legislative recommendations to its executive director. The commission looks at criminal justice, education, employment, health and social factors impacting black males. Most major cities across the state have a commission focused on black males.

Indianapolis was actually one of the first to create a local commission.

From Mayor Goldsmith through late into the Ballard administration, there was a person, usually on the 25th floor, working on issues specifically affecting black males.

In fact, in 2014, Ballard launched the Your Life Matters initiative in response to reaching 125 homicides in 2013. A report was produced as part of the effort that found that 66% of the victims in 2013 were black males (82 victims).

While overall public safety numbers have consistently improved year over year in the Hogsett administration (during which there has not been a commission or staff member dedicated to the issues), it has not become safer to be a black male in Indianapolis. Last year, 103 black males were murdered in Indianapolis, constituting 64% of all murder victims.

Black Indianapolis is living with a rate of homicides that outpaces other cities in the state. Of the nearly 400 non-fatal shootings in 2019, as of October, more than 300 involved black males. More than 100 non-fatal shootings involved black males age 20-29.

This year alone, seven high-school-age black males were murdered in the city.

Despite the best efforts of the Mayor’s Office and even other actors working on this, black male homicides remain a serious problem.

The violence occurring on a regular basis now threatens the image of the city.

So what would the Indianapolis Commission of African American Males do?

The previous commission’s 2014 report highlighted the city’s challenges with reconnecting with disengaged black males age 14-17 who had been removed from school due to suspension, expulsions or dropping out. The report identified the need to scale programs doing promising work with black males. There is a lack of knowledge about both programs and services available within the community.

We need more data on what is happening to black males, evaluations of programs serving disengaged black males, and information sharing among stakeholders.

For starters, a commission staffer might work with the Office of Education and Innovation to evaluate retention challenges for black males in K-12 education.

The commission should collect data on black males throughout the county by working with a variety of stakeholders, including the Health & Hospital Corp., Office of Education Innovation, IMPD, Marion County Jail, prosecutor’s and public defenders offices, and other appropriate agencies.

There would likely be a collaborative working relationship with the director of community violence reduction’s work on violence interruption.

Finally, the commission would also encourage cross-sector collaborations to address issues pertinent to black males specifically in education, health, employment and other social factors.

While ideally, the commission members and executive director would not be subject to the prerogatives of an election cycle, for now it seems quite clear the position would need the backing of the mayor.

Since the Violence Policy Center began gathering data, Indiana has been in the top 10 for black homicides, mostly due to Indianapolis’ black male homicide problem. It’s past time that we return to a more focused approach on black males.•

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Wolley is a lecturer, columnist and diversity and inclusion consultant. Send comments to [email protected]


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