A town-hall style meeting brought together members of the college and Franklin community to talk about community and police relations Tuesday afternoon.
Students, faculty and community members attended the event. Many of those attendees marched from campus carrying signs that read, “end police brutality,” “justice for all” and “enough is enough.”
But one attendee left feeling unsatisfied with the conversation.
“I think that in a lot of ways the event felt like a chance for the police officers to stand on the stage and say, ‘We have a really hard job. Give us the benefit of the doubt 100 percent of the time,’” Patrick Walls said.
Walls — son of math professor Angie Walls and a Franklin Community High School alumni — said he came to the event because he supports an open dialogue between law enforcement and communities.
He said he has had a “unique” experience with the subject. A Franklin native, Walls has been following the issue of police and community relations since August 9, 2014, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Since then, Walls has visited Ferguson, participated in marches and even met with members of Congress on Capitol Hill to talk about these issues. Now he tries to bring those experiences and the perspective he’s gained to Franklin while he is still here.
When audience members were invited to ask the panel questions, Walls asked Johnson County Chief Deputy Randy Werden why the department felt the need to own military-issued equipment, such as a mine-resistant MRAP tank, which Walls said creates a feeling of fear in communities.
“I’m not going to apologize for having an MRAP,” Werden said. “I’ve seen it in action. Any piece of equipment we can get our hands on that can save an officer’s life or a civilian’s life, I’m all for it. To cover it up or make apologies for it, there’s no way I’m going to do that.”
Walls also asked Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan what the department’s policy on use of force was, citing national incidents where officers used their firearms in questionable situations.
“What we’ve learned as a law enforcement community is that you don’t want to get officers thinking that, ‘I have to do this [in a situation]’ because we make split-second decisions. If someone comes at me with a knife, I should be able to go straight for my gun. I shouldn’t have to think, ‘Oh, do I need my baton? Do I need my taser or my mace?’” O’Sullivan said. “We’re being put under microscopes and judged by something that we had a tenth of a second to make a decision and someone’s had a week to sit and discuss every little part of it.”
Walls said the discussion shouldn’t end here.
“I think there’s a lot that can be done,” he said. “I’m not particularly satisfied with the answers I was given.”
Other members of the panel included Franklin College sociology and criminal justice professor Jason Jimerson, 100 Black Men of Indianapolis executive director Ontay Johnson and Indiana State Police Department Sergeant Precious Jones.
Jones said she believes this open dialogue is necessary to improving the relations between police and the community, and she takes an active role in participating in these discussions.
“I’m kind of stuck in between because, as you can see, I’m a black female,” she said. “I want to see what I can help do to bridge the gap between the ‘us versus them’ mentality. Who is us? Who is them? I’m both.”
Along with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, professor of philosophy and religion David Carlson helped lead and moderate the event. The department is one of the college’s organizations that encouraged students, faculty and staff to attend the event.
“I think there’s a lot more that we need to be doing as a community,” Carlson said. “This was an important start, and I appreciate the honesty that we received.”