Law Enforcement Aids in Public Safety at Summer Celebration
After the 2010 street shootings of nine people during Black Expo's Summer Celebration, the annual event gained a reputation that Black Expo President and CEO Tanya Bell says it no longer deserves. With the exception of a fatal shooting in a downtown parking garage hours after Summer Celebration ended in 2013, the event has largely been free of violence.
Still, Bell is aware that many people will steer clear of the event when it kicks off Thursday in downtown Indianapolis. Her reaction? “I am personally offended and here’s why: There is violence at other events – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and these questions don’t come up,” she says. “As an African American, I see this as a double standard."
Since that 2010 incident, Black Expo has worked with IMPD, the Indiana State Police and Homeland Security to come up with plans to maximize safety. In 2011, IMPD cancelled days off for officers on that last weekend of the Celebration - its biggest two days. More events have been moved indoors, to discourage crowds from forming on the streets. Expo even changed ticket prices to events in the Convention Center so children, accompanied by an adult, could get in free.
Police agencies "have been great partners at the table," Bell says. "But we can’t guarantee what some fool on the street might do."
IMPD Officer Chris Wilburn says that the strategies employed in recent years will continue to be used this year. “We can say that we have many systems in place to make sure people have a safe and enjoyable experience.
“We have an agreement with local law enforcement as well as state police for extra security measures. We have officers in plain clothes and we have officers in uniform. If you come downtown to behave in illegal activity, it’s not wanted – we have a lot of people in place to ensure community safety.”
Black Expo also works with a group called the Ten Point Coalition. Since 1999, this faith-based volunteer group has been a significant partner with Indianapolis in the fight against violent crime involving young men. As in previous years, its Faith Patrol Teams will be walking the sidewalks during Summer Celebration, working to stop trouble before it begins.
Its major message is that parents need to be responsible for their children, says the Rev. Charles Ellis, a member of the Ten Point Coalition. “Our number one concern is making sure the kids are safe.”
He says that, in some ways, things have gotten better. Gun laws are more restrictive and an enforced curfew for children under the age of 18 makes their job easier.
The group was at work in 2010, and had dispersed the teenagers who were ultimately involved in the shootings. “Nothing we could’ve done differently,” Ellis says. “We are just trying to move forward and extend as many helping hands as possible.”