Indianapolis police shooting spree intensifies; victims’ communities build a new movement

Protesters chant joyfully

This article, written by an Indianapolis organizer, was originally published on Liberation News, the newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, on November 15.

On Nov. 9, organizers called on the community to rally against racist police killings at the Burger King on the Eastside where the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department killed their latest victim, Frederick Davis, on Oct. 26. IMPD officer Nicolas Deem shot Davis for “trespassing” at the fast food chain. Davis was the 14th person the IMPD shot at and the eighth person they shot and killed since the start of the year.

Before the rally took place, the IMPD shot again, putting 31-year-old Dontriell Hood in the hospital where, at the time of this writing, he is in “serious but stable condition.” By contrast, in 2022 the police shot four people, one of whom they killed. In a city where white people make up around 57% of the population and Black people under 30%, only one shooting victim was white.

The Nov. 11 protest at Burger King was called for by the families of three IMPD victims: Davis, Gary Harrell, and Herman Whitfield III. At the rally, Sharon Cannon spoke about her nephew, Davis, who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was killed. When Davis entered the Burger King, the staff could see something was wrong and called 911 for help. They did not want the police to get involved at all. Two Burger King employees told Liberation News that they called 911 only because they wanted to get help for Davis and that no workers there expected the IMPD would come, let alone kill him. They asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the IMPD.

The IMPD killed Whitfield in April 2022. Because the IMPD didn’t shoot him, his death isn’t included in the above statistics. After Whitfield’s mother, Gladys, called 911 for medical help as her son experienced a mental health crisis, six cops arrived, chased Whitfield down, and electrocuted and suffocated him to death in front of his parents while they watched

Whitfield’s parents, Gladys and Herman Whitfield II, who heard their son’s last words, ”I can’t breathe,” have consistently fought for justice, helping organize a rally earlier this year after finally obtaining the full unedited bodycam footage. A year after Whitfield III’s death, on April 11, the Whitfields and the community group Faith in Indiana requested a Department of Justice Investigation into the IMPD. Two days later, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears charged two of the six cops who killed Whitfield III with involuntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, battery resulting in serious bodily injury, and battery resulting in moderate injury.

Cop Douglas Correll killed Harrell on Aug. 3 by shooting him in the back twice as Harrell walked away from him. According to the Harrell family’s attorneys, even the IMPD’s partial, heavily-edited, and narrated bodycam footage demonstrates “this unjustified shooting violated the U.S. Constitution and IMPD’s Use of Force policy revised in 2020.”

A new movement begins

The IMPD’s murder of Harrell sparked this recent movement, the first in Indianapolis since May 2020 when the police killed three people in eight hours. Three days after Harrell’s death, the people took to the streets for hours and, shortly afterwards, held a vigil. There, community leader Mmoja Ajabu called on the crowd to get organized. “You can’t take on an organized force in an unorganized fashion,” he said. At the Nov. 11 action, Ajabu reiterated the message, although by then the level of organization had grown significantly.

Starting on Sept. 5, Harrell’s family and community, together with Ajabu, community leader Pastor Denell Howard, Party for Socialism and Liberation Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Liberation Center, demonstrated at the prosecutor’s office every Tuesday for five weeks. The peaceful coalition wanted a meeting with Mears who, after agreeing to meet with them on Sept. 5, sent several staff members to excuse his absence. Over the next four weeks, Mears and the landlord who owns the building in which his office is located deployed increasing numbers of police to block the group’s entrance into the public building and, on Oct. 3, locked his doors during open business hours.

In response, the group filed a civil rights lawsuit against the landlord on Oct. 10. The case, Ajabu v. East Market Portfolio, LLC., started on Nov. 1. The lawsuit alleges the landlord prevented Ajabu from accessing public records, petitioning a redress of grievances and, in the landlord’s capacity as an unauthorized private citizen, prevented him from accessing a public official.

Immediately after the police killed Davis, his family started showing up to weekly organizing meetings. They were joined by Gladys and Herman Whitfield II. With the backing of the community leaders and organization, they announced the demonstration without anticipating another police shooting would occur in the interim.

Despite confusion in media and government, the causes are clear

The mainstream media, police, and city officials are as “concerned” about the recent rampage as they are confused by it. The police blame Indiana’s permitless carry law, illegal guns and noncompliance with officers’ orders for the spike. IMPD Assistant Chief Chris Bailey said the department would “look for some consultants to look at every one of these incidents.”

It is clear the police and city government are responsible for the rapid escalation in shootings. This is particularly obvious in Harrell’s case, as his killer had a documented history of racist brutality, false arrest and constitutional violations. In July 2016, Correll was one of two officers who responded to a 911 call Dexter Smith made in an attempt to get his neighbor, Joshua Harris, medical treatment after he was shot in the foot. 

Harris was begging for help when Correll walked past him, shouting “get the f— out of my face.” Both cops proceeded to enter his residence despite Harris’ objections. Correll later attacked Harris, punching him in the face and then kneeing him in his spleen as Correll held Harris by his shoulders. When medical workers arrived, they promptly took Harris to the hospital where doctors had to remove his spleen, part of his pancreas and part of his small intestines. Harris was hospitalized for over two weeks and required regular medical treatment afterwards. Meanwhile, Correll filed a false report and the prosecutor charged Harris with resisting law enforcement. Two years later, a jury found Harris not guilty.

According to an investigation by journalists Beairshelle Edmé and Ashley Smith, the city paid $380,000 to settle the case. In other words, the city used taxpayer money to keep the racist, violent and unlawful cop on the streets.

Cops are using deadly force more often because they know they won’t face any repercussions. On the contrary, they will be rewarded with a tax-payer funded paid vacation, like the one Correll has been on since killing Harrell on Aug. 3.

An organized community starts growing but still needs support

Missy Williams, Harrell’s sister, addressed the protesters at the Nov. 11 event. “Mears ain’t doing nothing. Chief Randall Taylor? He ain’t doing nothing. And what did he say on the news? He said that it wasn’t important!” she said. “OK, this is important to us,” she continued as the crowd cheered, “We want justice. Not just justice. We want the IMPD officers who were in charge of shooting our loved ones put away.”

Mears’ inaction gives the IMPD clearance for keeping up their pace of gun attacks. Although the Indianapolis Liberator never received a response from him, Mears eventually told the press he couldn’t meet with the community because, “We have to work within the parameters of the criminal justice system.” This is simply not true, as there is no law in Indiana that requires a grand jury for charging anyone with a crime. He doesn’t wait a year to charge any working-class or oppressed person accused of a crime. He is using the grand jury as an excuse and as a way to buy time and try to wait out the movement.

But as Williams said at the rally, that’s not going to happen. “We’re going to stand here and fight,” she said, because “we can’t tackle this battle on our own. I love each and every one of y’all. Just keep your head up, we’re going to get through this.”

Feature photo: The family and friends of IMPD victims chant together at the beginning of the Nov. 11 rally. Credit: Indianapolis Liberator.