Justice, some deep thinkers have observed, is kind of like physics: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, people are supposed to receive what they deserve. Elkhart police officer Dustin Young certainly didn’t deserve to be physically assaulted on July 3, when he confronted Reese Haithcox in the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue. The attack was an unequal opposite reaction that must be denounced in the strongest possible terms, and Young’s assailant must be held accountable.
Rich Preheim lives in Elkhart, where he is a freelance writer and historian, ignores the mess in his office, roots for the Hoosier, listens to classic rock and still thinks he’ll play Major League Baseball.
But that same sense of justice also calls into question the police’s response during the next two days. An examination of police records by Elkhart Truth reporter Tim Vandenack earlier this month confirmed what Garfield neighborhood residents have been saying since July 4: that the Elkhart police engaged in a campaign of harassment following beating of Cpl. Young. Like him, the Garfield residents don’t deserve their treatment either.
Comparisons can be easily made between the Garfield incident and the travesty in Ferguson, Mo. And there are plenty of similarities. But there is at least one big difference. In Ferguson, the police have employed heavy-handed, authoritarian and militaristic methods to deal with the tumult after a policeman fatally shot Michael Brown. In Elkhart, however, there were no demonstrations, no riots, no looting, not much of anything out of the ordinary in the wake of the attack.
So while Ferguson police were responding, albeit inappropriately, to a very real situation, Elkhart police were simply hounding the Garfield neighborhood in retaliation for Young’s assault.
The police department’s own statistics bear this out. Three police incidents were recorded for the neighborhood on July 2 and six on July 3. But that number skyrocketed to 33 on July 4, with another 11 on July 5, before returning to pre-beating levels; only two incidents were noted for July 6. Those 44 incidents produced five citations: two for not using the sidewalk and one each for jaywalking, excessive noise and, incredibly, not having a bell on a bicycle — all violations that can be found almost anywhere in Elkhart at almost any time.
The police department’s scant attempts to explain its actions are feeble at best. One reason for the increased patrols, according to the police, was they were responding to long-standing requests from neighborhood residents. If they were long-standing, why wait until the day after an officer was seriously injured in the line of duty to beef up law enforcement’s presence? And why did those efforts end so soon afterward?
Another excuse was that it was a holiday weekend. That’s certainly a reason to be more vigilant than usual. Yet, as Vandenack’s article points out, the police’s attention to the Garfield neighborhood was disproportionate with the number of patrols elsewhere in the city during that time.
Perhaps the fact that Young was attacked by someone from out of town is cause for alarm, as the police have also said. It could be a sign of a greater problem in the area. But the comparatively low numbers of police incidents on July 3 and July 6 don’t seem to corroborate that. Besides, because the assailant was from Chicago, isn’t it possible the attack was an isolated incident?
Given the lack of evidence to support the police’s actions, the practical explanation left is that they, understandably upset at the assault on their brother in blue, set out to make everyone living where the attack occurred pay for what one person did.
Now, in the most recent development, Mayor Dick Moore has compounded an already sensitive and potentially volatile situation by questioning very reasonable measures proposed by a citizens’ group to improve relations with the police. The Elkhart Community Roundtable Action Committee’s ideas included community policing, ethnic sensitivity training for the police and on-officer video cameras. The committee also called for a full investigation of the Independence Day weekend events.
The mayor’s reasons for the rejection, presented in an Aug. 15 news release, are just as hollow as the police’s attempts to justify its harassment. Moore apparently and wrongly believes that consensus means unanimity, and since one committee member didn’t support the plan, he doesn’t have to give it any credence.
Moore also seemingly thinks blaming the victim is an appropriate strategy. He noted that community conversations since July 4 have touched upon the need for better “education parenting, etc.” among the Garfield-area residents. Until those domestic issues are addressed, according to Moore’s rationalizing, the police have no responsibility for their actions. Because those in the neighborhood may live in one-parent homes or not hold college degrees, they shouldn’t protest police harassment.
Fairness is one of the goals listed Elkhart Police Department’s mission statement. But its officers and the mayor apparently think Garfield Avenue doesn’t deserve it.
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