The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department claimed yet another life on Aug. 2. DeShon Downing, a passenger in a van pulled over for a traffic stop, was killed when officers shot him multiple times. Several local residents from the Black neighborhood on the far east side of town said that they and their children, outside in the setting sun at the end of a work week, were traumatized by the violence.
Preliminary reports of the death in the local media listed Downing’s murder as an “officer-involved shooting” and were quick to assuage readers that, despite unleashing deadly force that one bystander called “overkill,” no officers were injured. As IMPD released more details, articles and newscasts fixated on salacious rumors against Downing instead of questioning why, after a string of incidents of racist police brutality in Indianapolis, another Black person was shot by police.
One cop said he saw Downing draw a gun from his waistband when he got out of the van. However, there was no gun near Downing’s body after police shot him.
The Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation attended a vigil in support of Downing’s community two days after his murder. Over 100 community members showed up on short notice to commemorate Downing’s life.
After participating in the vigil, one of Downing’s relatives, who asked not to be named at this point for fear of retaliation by the police, was interviewed. They said it was “beyond brutality.” “Brutality,” they said, “is when they beat the hell out of someone, but constantly shooting unarmed Black men … he was surrendering, so why the hell would you shoot him? That’s crazy. That was a straight hate crime. Hate. The thing that’s covering them up is that they’re police.”
A wave of police attacks this summer
Downing’s murder followed on the heels of other police attacks.
On July 14, IMPD officers brutalized Cece Chanel, a local musician, while she was attempting to drive her friends home. At a July 25 protest Liberation News attended, Chanel told the crowd what happened. She held up a broken phone that police slapped out of her hand when she went to record them. They dragged her on the ground from her car, maced her, and forced her arms behind her back. Chanel still has no feeling in her fingers because the officers cuffed her incorrectly.
Keshawn Stewart, an 18-year-old, died in a retention pond after being chased by police on June 29. Despite being known for his athleticism and swimming ability, he died in six feet of water, 15 feet from the shore, while IMPD officers stood by and watched. No answers have been forthcoming as to whether the young man was tasered by officers before his death. His stepmother told the crowd that IMPD made no effort to notify the family of Stewart’s death. She had to identify her son from news reports.
In February, Eleanor Northington died inside her church after being improperly restrained by IMPD, who were called to respond to a mental health crisis. Five months later, her surviving family still doesn’t have answers. The autopsy report, which was delayed for months despite organized call-ins and requests, lists the manner of death as “undetermined.”
The people fight back
The people of Indianapolis aren’t defeated and continue to fight back.
IMPD Transparency and Indy10 Black Lives Matter initiated a Mental Health Task Force — in which the ANSWER Coalition is participating — to entirely circumvent the police and their violent approach to mental health.
While we pursue every avenue of reform in search of justice that we can, only a class-wide movement can bring an end to racist police violence. Indianapolis is helping to build that movement.