We woke this morning to news reports that five teenagers had been shot while walking along Indianapolis’ downtown canal. The shots evidently came from the parking lot of the Historical Society–where a wedding was taking place at the time.
As I write this, little is known except that two of the teens are in critical condition and no one is currently in custody.
It may be that this was one of those random acts that no city, no matter how safe or well-run, can prevent. We deceive ourselves if we believe that police can guard against every sudden eruption of violence. But this shooting, in the heart of our city and next to the canal that so many of us routinely walk or bike, raises sobering questions.
First, what is the relationship–if any–between the recent “discovery” of fiscal shortfalls in public safety and what some people living along the canal claim was a diminished police presence? (The fiscal situation itself raises very troubling questions about the honesty of the Administration’s budgeting process during an election year.)
Second, if there were fewer police in the area, was that due to deliberate decisions about deployment, and if so, what were those decisions and why were they made? One story suggested that a number of officers were called to a brawl at the fire station at West and Ohio; do we have so few police that an incident in one place necessarily leaves other areas unprotected?
We don’t know the answers to these questions, and asking them is not meant to assume the answers. But the questions need to be asked, because this event will have repercussions far beyond the personal tragedy it represents.
Civic and political leaders have been nurturing the rebirth of downtown since the 1970s. The canal is one of the “jewels” of that effort–a jewel that has been sadly neglected the past few years, as I have previously noted. It is an important amenity in a city without oceans or mountains. Developers have been enticed to make significant investments along its banks; museums and public buildings adjoin it. Maintaining it and keeping it safe for the residents and tourists who enjoy it is an important responsibility and should be a high priority of the current Administration.
When the media is filled with stories of shootings, when on-camera interviews feature onlookers declaring they no longer feel safe in the area, the result is to undercut years of painstaking effort, and to reinforce inaccurate stereotypes about the “dangers” of downtown.
Perhaps this was one of those random events that even the best policing couldn’t have averted. Perhaps it was the result of public safety mis-management.
Or perhaps we are seeing the inevitable results of the anti-tax zealotry that added tax caps to the Indiana Constitution–tax caps that are starving local governments and decimating public services.
Whatever the answer, we need to find and fix it.