Unrealistic demands create the possibility of another Ferguson here in Elkhart

Moore and his police department are part of the problem. They cannot fix their relationship with the city’s black community by imposing a solution. Leaders need to consider many viewpoints, not just a reliable few.

Posted on Aug. 16, 2014 at 8:56 p.m.

Speak with one voice.

That’s what Mayor Dick Moore demands from groups working to avoid another Ferguson, Missouri, in south Elkhart — speak with one voice.

It’s an unrealistic demand that puts Elkhart at risk.

In the six weeks after Elkhart barely avoided a riot on West Garfield Avenue, Moore said little. He spoke briefly at the end of a July 15 neighborhood meeting organized by the Elkhart Community Roundtable, where he defended increased police patrols in the Roosevelt area.

Residents said police harassed them as payback for the July 3 beating of Cpl. Dustin Young. Moore repeated the EPD line that officers were only responding to neighborhood complaints.

But a look at police records, initially withheld from the public, later showed otherwise.

Moore’s comments at the July 15 meeting represented his first public acknowledgement of the confrontation on West Garfield. He attended a similar meeting a few days later organized by the Elkhart Area Ministerial Alliance, where he promised to consider changes to improve relations between police and south Elkhart neighborhoods.

“We’ve got to seek some way to make a connection,” Moore said.

The Elkhart Community Roundtable took Moore at his word. Leaders sent him a list of seven recommendations Thursday, which included hiring more minority police officers, assigning officers to patrol the areas in which they live, and outfitting officers with vest cams.

But their list started with this:

“We request formal and public affirmation and ownership of the responsibility of the city to dedicate their resources to seek out solutions as a natural extension of their service to us, their constituents. While willing to assist and offer our ideas, we believe the onus is on the city to ensure this is actively and rigorously pursued.”

Not a chance. Moore, seizing on a misstep by the Roundtable, rejected the recommendations outright.

When the group sent its statement to Moore, it originally included the name of Roundtable member Adrian Riley, a custody officer with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department. A revised letter, sent minutes later, did not include Riley’s name.

Riley, who’d met earlier with Moore, said he had no idea the Roundtable planned to issue a list of recommendations and didn’t support them. That, in turn, led Moore to dismiss the Roundtable’s ideas as illegitimate.

“How many more did not know about or approve these demands and requests,” Moore asked in a statement issued by his office.

Group leaders quickly explained that the letter represented “the overwhelming democratic majority” of the Roundtable’s five-member action committee.

“We appreciate the Mayor wanting to have a group consensus, and that is what has been achieved,” the Roundtable said in a news release.

Too late. If the Roundtable can’t achieve unanimous agreement — something rare even for Moore’s Demoratic majority on the City Council — he doesn’t want to consider its ideas.

Nor will he listen until it addresses the broader issues “of education parenting etc.” And above all else, he wants the Roundtable to align itself with the Elkhart Ministerial Alliance “so there is one voice we can meet with to resolve what some feel is a police problem.”

But which voice?

Moore rejects the Elkhart Roundtable, despite its deep roots in the community and quick response to the Garfield disturbance. He said Friday that he wants the Roundtable and the Ministerial Alliance to unify. Yet earlier, he said that he wants all proposals to filter through a group that surfaced at the Roundtable town hall, Nine Blocks.

Moore’s close ally, Democratic Councilman Rod Roberson, plays a leading role with Nine Blocks. No wonder Moore wants Roberson’s group to serve as the official voice for south Elkhart.

Especially since Roberson says the group still needs time to lay the groundwork for a discussion of bigger issues and issuing a list of “demands” to city leaders won’t help anything.

If we don’t do anything until a single voice emerges from south Elkhart, if we wait to do anything about relations between African-Americans and the Elkhart Police Department until we can solve economic, politic and social issues that developed over generations, we increase the risk that this city, too, will soon erupt in violence.

But that appears to be a chance Moore is willing to take.

“I will continue to meet with our Police Staff on the issue and together we will release our conclusion,” Moore said in Friday’s news release.

That’s what we’re afraid of.

Moore and his police department are part of the problem. They cannot fix their relationship with the city’s black community by imposing a solution. Leaders need to consider many viewpoints, not just a reliable few.

City Hall needs to lead the conversation, not ignore it.

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