Criminalization does not decrease pedestrian deaths


Walking in and through Indianapolis, with or without a mobility-assistance device, is a common concern across the United States, one that local voters are reportedly keeping in mind as the polls open on Tuesday. As Ko Lyn-Cheang reported in the IndyStar:

The Indianapolis metropolitan area ranked as the 53rd the most dangerous city for pedestrians nationwide from 2016 to 2020, according to a report by Smart Growth America, with a higher pedestrian fatality rate per capita than San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, as well as a higher rate than Midwest peer cities Columbus, Milwaukee and Cincinnati.

On October 26, a pedestrian crossing 38th St. and Shadeland Ave. was killed by a vehicle, bringing the total of pedestrian deaths in the city this year up to 29. On October 23, Sam Fritz reported that car crashes involving pedestrians in 2023 had already exceeded the total of the prior year by 31. There’s nothing to inspire any significant changes in the results, Cheang noted.

Yet what is shocking is not so much that Indianapolis is a more dangerous place for pedestrians than larger cities, but that such a fundamental activity is dangerous at all in any city in the United States. Perhaps what is even more unsettling is the automatic response by politicians across the board: criminalization.

Street racing: Fine for cops, fines for the people

Take street racing as an example. Local news (including Fox, WTHR, and WISH TV) ran six pieces throughout September of 2023 reporting that IMPD and State Police were planning to crack down on dangerous street racing, including a piece about a woman who was allegedly injured by illegal street racing. The WISH TV article compares the planned increase in policing to similar efforts in Louisville, where police started fining alleged racers and “spinners” thousands of dollars and/or taking their cars.

The police have a lasting history of racist enforcement of rules generally, and IMPD is no exception. In a report by Indy Liberation Center member organization ANSWER Indiana, it was shown conclusively that IMPD disproportionately targets Black people for the crime of asking for food or money in public. 

Of course, street racing and driving donuts can harm people. However, as is so often the case under capitalism, the government has one solution to every problem: increase fines, increase policing, and involve more and more working and oppressed people in a violent, abusive prison system that does not make our communities safer but only more vulnerable.

In 2020, during the same eight hours as the IMPD murdered Dreasjon Reed and McHale Rose, IMPD cop Jonathon Henderson ran over and killed 23-year-old Ashlynn Lisby in his patrol car. Lisby was pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital. Her baby, Marcus Lewis III, however, was delivered via cesarean section. Lewis, however, died shortly thereafter.

Data from the officer’s car shows he was exceeding the speed limit by 33 miles per hour as he raced onto the 465 on-ramp. In September 2022, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in favor of Henderson. As Wish TV reported, “Judge Barker ruled Henderson is immune from the lawsuit because he was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the crash.” In other words, because Henderson was driving to work as a cop, Ashlynn Lisby and Marcus Lewis III are to blame. In 2023, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit against Henderson again, even while acknowledging he was driving recklessly and not paying attention to the road at the time.

This is why poor and working people don’t support the City County Council’s recent ban on “right-on-reds” within Mile Square. We know the cops will be exempt and it will only provide another excuse for them to pull over, harass, chase, and kill Black and other oppressed nationalities.

A solution for the people

Working people built Indianapolis. We maintain it and make it run with our labor. However, we cannot enjoy the city free of charge. Instead, as is the case everywhere in the United States, the city is dominated by private parking lots, private venues, and playgrounds for paying customers–rather than open to the people who keep the city alive. Why is it that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway–which the city helps sustain by building infrastructure around it and to it–is owned privately, for the enrichment of one family? Why aren’t there spaces for the people who live and work in this city to pursue their hobbies?

Obviously, my position is not that people “should” engage in reckless self-endangering behavior just for the sake of it, but that it is hypocritical and dangerous to further criminalize people for enjoying their leisure time while the rich and powerful–and their police–get away with murder. 

A worker’s government in Indianapolis, and in the United States, would transform this city and country to have spaces, indoor and out, that are open to the people. We might not have parking lots for doing donuts, but we would use our labor and our resources to build and maintain plazas, parks, museums, sport fields and facilities, gyms, art studios, and more–without a class of profiteers who extract our hard earned money to enrich themselves at the expense of workers trying to find joy in our lives. Further, we would rebuild our cities to have accessible, free public transit–which might be less exciting than street racing, but is significantly safer and more efficient than every worker having to have their own car. 

We should reject this ongoing war on workers, even when our fellow working people and neighbors have concerns about safety, because we know that safety is found in building connected communities, not in violent, white supremacist policing and confiscating the only means people have to get to their hyper exploitative jobs. We know there is enough money to build sufficient public transportation in the city and even high-speed railways between Indianapolis and, surrounding suburbs, towns, and cities. Instead, however, our politicians give that money to real-estate developers, bankers, and the cops.