Fort Wayne deserves better than the city's pathetic and embarrassing response to recent protests. Mayor Tom Henry, Prosecutor Karen Richards and senior police have fallen all over themselves to defend obvious, well-documented and at times horrific police violence against unarmed protesters.
Protester Balin Brake lost his eye after being struck by a tear gas canister. Horrible as this is, why in the world were police firing tear gas canisters anywhere near protesters' heads? A deaf woman was shot 12 times with rubber bullets as her companions screamed at police that she couldn't hear them. Why was she shot 12 times and not just simply arrested? Was she hurling herself at officers? No. Was she armed? No.
What about 3-year-old Gracie Hensler? Her mother, Mechell Hensler, backed up by other witnesses, described her interaction with a police officer to WANE-TV: “I said she's only 3, I'm not even here for the protest. We got gassed out of our vehicle. And he dead looked at my daughter and threw the canister in front of her, and it exploded in front of her face.”
From WBOI-FM: “Protesters began to move to either side of the intersection in an attempt to avoid the gas. The line of officers moved forward down South Clinton, continuing to fire canisters into the crowd. At the other end of the block, the intersection of South Clinton and Berry, between continued chanting, car horns and the sounds of the crowd, protesters had never heard the warnings given. The tear gas came as a shock.”
Here's Marine veteran Steven Richardson: “Dude walked up to me. I told him I'm a Marine Corps veteran, I didn't fight for this. He said you're a p----y and sprayed me in my face. Multiple tours, and this is how I get treated when I come home. Spraying me in the face because I kneeled and said that I didn't want to have anything to do with the violence.”
These incidents were also documented on Facebook, in letters to the editor, to City Council, to a large degree in the media, and by the well over 100 people arrested. Many of those arrested say they were held without bail and not read their rights.
Fort Worth, Texas, and Pittsburgh have dropped nonviolent charges against protesters. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has asked for a full investigation of police misconduct (which did not include anything as egregious as a protester losing an eye). The Minneapolis officer who knelt on George Floyd's neck is charged with murder.
Yet Richards says it will take at least a month to sift through video and other evidence. In her news conference, she neither mentioned nor did any journalists challenge her about blatant and well-documented police misconduct.
And what was Henry's response, other than his embarrassing and deservedly mocked unity march? A commission with no power to address issues everyone already knows exist. Where is the commission to investigate police misconduct, aka brutality?
Richards needs at least a month to investigate whether obviously peaceful unarmed protesters were or were not breaking any law, but the mayor was able to unequivocally say the following as if it were verified, factual and had been proven beyond reasonable doubt: “When they start kicking people's doors and start scaring the heck out of the drivers, they didn't know what to do. Traffic was stopped because we had kneelers in the street. Cars can't move. In the meantime, you've got people climbing on your car. A lot of our citizens were scared, so what are we supposed to do?”
Was the mayor there? Did he witness this? Or did he, and I'm just going to take a wild guess, get this information from police? Kneelers in the street. Were they kneeling on anyone's neck to the point they couldn't breathe?
In answer to “what are we supposed to do,” how about apologizing? How about taking the word of citizens and launching an investigation and holding those officers responsible for shooting out someone's eye and shooting rubber bullets into someone 12 times?
Why is the word of someone who wasn't even there worth more than that of someone who was there and lost an eye from at worst police brutality or at best police misconduct/incompetence, and whose account is backed up by numerous witnesses?
Here's a tip for the mayor for next time. Defund the police department and move those resources to areas that can actually help people. Drop the charges. Hold police accountable, with real consequences. And for god's sake, do the decent thing and apologize.
Black Lives Matter.
Chris Doran, a Fort Wayne resident, is a writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, and is the author of “Making the World Safe for Capitalism” (Pluto Press).