Bil Browning

Black church stages fight to test white cop

Filed By Bil Browning | August 03, 2010 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: black church, Indianapolis, police violence, stupid human tricks

Indianapolis has seen a rise in racial tensions this summer. First an African-American teenager accused police of brutality for wrestling him to the ground after he intervened in his brother's arrest for breaking and entering. The teen also tried to incite nearby watchers to riot and attack the officer. officer-friendly.jpgA couple of weeks ago during the annual Black Expo, nine people were shot downtown at the festival by a teenage gang member.

The Indianapolis Police Department has warned officers that false claims of police brutality have risen sharply this year, but this stunt takes the cake. After inviting Sgt. Matthew Grimes to give a presentation at a an anti-violence youth symposium, James Harrington, a pastor at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, staged a fight between two young black men at the back of the room to see how the white officer would respond. The officer was hurt trying to break up the altercation.

Police brutality is a serious issue not just in Indianapolis but across the nation. While African-Americans are frequent targets for police harassment, other minorities - like LGBT people - are often singled out as well. While most white kids are taught to implicitly trust the police, minority groups often teach their children to keep a wary or even distrustful eye on the cops. Still, the reckless and irresponsible reasoning the minister uses to justify his scam is truly outrageous.

James Harrington, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, said he set up the scenario to test a white officer's reaction to a fight between two black men.

"Their job is to protect and serve, and even though they have families and children, that they don't put any regard to their safety," Harrington said. "I don't think it was dangerous because it was in a controlled environment."

Harrington denied that the officer was injured.

"We are trying to do anything that we can to save the lives of our children," he said. "We have to have live demonstrations of violence carried on by professional actors who are trained to do what they do."

Willard Gupton, a park manager who police said had advance knowledge of the plan, was suspended in the wake of the incident.

"I can basically say we didn't do anything wrong," Gupton said Friday evening. "It was simply just trying to make a teachable moment, to try and teach young people about violence."

What exactly were they trying to teach these young people? That if you get into a fight in front of a police officer during an anti-violence symposium that you can reasonably expect that the officer will intervene? That there's the chance the cop will use excessive force and if you bait him into doing so, you'll "save the lives" of children?

This base and callow justification rings false and sharply hollow. I'm not sure what Bible this "man of God" reads from, but I surely never found the part where Chris recommended violence as a solution to any problem. If I remember correctly, his teachings all involved sitting down with those you have problems with, those you wouldn't normally associate with, and those who need your help to make life better.

Details of the altercation incensed Marion County Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who called the ordeal disturbing and disappointing, indicating that a few activists are trying to bait officers.

"Totally inappropriate ... and it's reflective of a very small group of people that won't engage in constructive conversations but want to keep this rhetoric going," Straub said. "We are wrong as a city to allow a single incident to define the city or define the police department."

Straub said Saturday's incident wasn't the only indication that some people are intentionally stirring the pot. There have been multiple incidents of officers being fired upon in recent weeks, he said.

"Stop, act like adults now. You made your point. We got it. We're moving forward, and we're going to make fundamental changes that will make this a better police department," he said. "That was insulting. It was incredibly disrespectful. Somebody got hurt unnecessarily, and more people could have gotten hurt."

I'm not going to try and argue that the Indianapolis police are angels who never use excessive force or racial profiling in making an arrest. In our neighborhood it's pretty damn common to see officers pulling over cars for "driving while black." I can see our African-American and Latino neighbors pulled over constantly in my area of Indianapolis but I can't remember the last time I saw a white person getting a ticket.

The police investigated the Brandon Johnson brutality case that brought Al Sharpton to town to speak to the very same churches sponsoring the anti-violence symposium. One of the five officers involved was fired from the force. Shamus Patton, the teenaged Black Expo shooter, faces 100+ years in prison for his crimes after being swiftly apprehended.

Sharpton said there were "a few bad apples" in the bunch at IPD and it's true. The force has been rocked by scandal over the past few years. The answer, however, isn't to fake violent situations and hope you can catch a cop in a "gotcha" moment. That's sheer lunacy and one of the most dangerous and stupid ideas I've ever heard of.

After the Brandon Johnson case, the Black Ministers Alliance and "March for Peace" organizers put out a list of demands of IPD that echo the same things I suggested the force do to better work with the LGBT community - including diversity training, civilian oversight and involvement, and a community liaison that understands our issues and concerns.

While Indiana Equality had a meeting with then Public Safety Director Scott Newman after a murdered transgender woman was treated disrespectfully, nothing ever materialized. I have a feeling the Black Ministers Alliance's demands will meet the same fate - especially after a stunt like this.

"We have seen an increase in false complaints about police brutality and those type of things," [Indianapolis Metro Police Chief Paul] Ciesielski said. "We are proving (them) to be false through our own investigations, and people have to realize, we're not the bad guys, we're not the enemy."

And therein lies the rub. The police investigate themselves, find no wrong doing and then tell us to trust them. Sadly, for many minority groups that trust has already been broken. They may not be "the enemy," but they're not our friends either.

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Poor plan, poor execution - but right idea.

'Test cases' can sometimes be the only way that an evil gets addressed in court or even in the media. Some years back a TV network rigged a car up with hidden cameras, several young black men and a mysterious box to see what cops' reactions would be if the car got pulled over - and it was. One was caught on camera looking at the box and, with no further investigation, saying 'It must be drugs.'

Thing that would have been the response if, all things being equal, the occupants of the car had been the Bush twins?

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 4:02 PM

You may have jumped into this story with quite inaccurate information. Today on the Amos Brown Radio Show I heard a caller who was actually present at the event who stated the policeman did NOT intervene physically in the staged scuffle. The policeman even stayed at the event an hour after the scuffle. Somehow it took a week for this story to get leaked to the local news media.

The minister involved is NOT the Pastor at Mt. Vernon M.B. Church: that was the respected Rev. Roosevelt Sanders who died last Sunday. Needless to say, that church family is quite distracted by the funeral process.

Okay, I'm confused. What exactly happened then?

And sorry, Bil, but anytime I see Sharpton's name, I immediately jump to "media slut". The good "reverend" may have been a decent enough guy in the past, but now he's made racial tension a career, regardless of who it hurts in the process. You no doubt remember the whole thing involving the Duke Lacrosse team and the supposed rape of a stripper they hired for a team party. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were down here for a week, fanning any and all flames they could, declaring the team "guilty guilty guilty!"

Then, when it turned out the stripper hadnt exactly been square with the truth and the boys were exonerated, where were Sharpton and James to apologize to them? Nowhere to be seen, off on the next media circus wagon. Never mind that these two had done a really good job of slagging these guys: that didnt matter anymore.

I have no doubt that we're certainly not in a post-racial society... but every now and then I'm convinced that people like Sharpton really want to make sure we never get there. If we do, he's out of a job.

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 6:52 PM

If only those uppity Negroes would stop misbehaving, we wouldn't have racism anymore?

Hardly Wilson. That's not what he said and you know it.

Sharpton and Jackson have both built their reputations on demagoguery and outrageous statements meant to draw attention to causes. I think they'll be able to take the heat of a blog comment without you coming in and making racial aspersions of negative intent. In fact, flaming racial tensions is exactly what we're talking about here and a comment like yours hardly helps. It does go along with the likes of Sharpton tho...

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 8:24 PM

Both Rev. Sharpton & Jackson are considered leaders in and by the Black community (and are great on LGBT issues too). It's always disheartening to read white folk eagerly jumping on them.

TruthBeTold | August 4, 2010 1:17 AM

If Sharpton was that great on those issues he'd be protesting in Staten Island, NY, with the other protestors against the growing African-American gang assaults on gays and Mexicans. What's fair is fair.

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 8:24 PM

Both Rev. Sharpton & Jackson are considered leaders in and by the Black community (and are great on LGBT issues too). It's always disheartening to read white folk eagerly jumping on them.

Thank you, Wilson, for proving my point: some people just need to make race relations a career.

Rant away about how I maligned your precious Reverend Sharpton. Bottom line: he didnt man up to his mistake and apologize to these guys after basically telling anyone who would listen that they were scum and should be put away for life.

Yeah, bud, some leadership.

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 9:05 PM I guess when you receive your ballot to select leadership of the Black community, you won't be checking Rev. Sharpton's name?

I gather that response was to make some kind of sense. I didnt realize the black community *had* that sort of election; thanks for letting me know. I'll be watching for the results of the next one.

Do you know where he is the pastor, Wilson? Both TV news reports identify him as the pastor and so does the police statement. It seems odd that everyone else would get this wrong. Is there a chance that Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church has more than one pastor?

I'm also confused why the news would report the officer was taken away in an ambulance if he was perfectly fine and hanging out.

It would seem odd for everything about this case to be absolutely wrong as reported.

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 8:33 PM

He is a "minister" at Mt. Vernon, not THE Pastor which many folk in the Indianapolis was the recently deceased Rev. Roosevelt Sanders (of Thanksgiving Dinner fame).

A lot of the details are simply slow in coming out. You should also ask yourself who is reporting what for what purpose. After the notorious Brandon Johnson beating, racial tensions are running way too high in Indianapolis...

So let me see if I've got your quibble right.

I said "James Harrington, a pastor at Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church," and you say that I'm not getting the whole story because he was "a minister" and not "the pastor."


1. a minister or priest in charge of a church.
2. a person having spiritual care of a number of persons.

1. a person authorized to conduct religious worship; member of the clergy; pastor.
2. a person authorized to administer sacraments, as at Mass.

Maybe the dictionary is reporting all the wrong facts too.

In some fundamentalist churches, you do have both "ministers" and "pastors", with the former on a lower level of the organization than the latter. The pastor gives the sermon and supervises the service, while the ministers usually perform functions like the communion.

Wilson46201 | August 3, 2010 8:36 PM

By the way, your headline is misleading in and of itself. Mt. Vernon M.B. Church vehemently and officially denies it was a "church event".

If Al Sharpton is so good with LGBT issues, why doesn't he put he's media whoring skills to good use by leading public outcry against Fred Phelps and WBC? The Duke stunt is nowhere near as important as the crap being pulled by WBC. The only logic I'm seeing behind these actions are purely self centered. Whatever will bring the most attention to himself, not real issues.

Cough it up, Wilson46201. Are associated with the church in any way? You give us all these details, supposedly from some caller to a radio show, with no links or proof other than your second-hand say-so.

The church "vehemently and officially denies it was a 'church event.'" Again, to whom was it "officially" denied? Where's the link? Otherwise, you come off as someone working for this badly managed church, which doesn't deserve anyone's support if they are this stupid about the events they hold in their church.

No ambulance? No injured officer? So Marion County Public Safety Director Frank Straub completely lied when he said, "That was insulting. It was incredibly disrespectful. Somebody got hurt unnecessarily, and more people could have gotten hurt."?

It's extremely ridiculous to predict any value in setting up a police officer with a live, fake fight in a church full of children. People are carrying concealed weapons in church.

I'm curious what Mr. Wilson would think had this been a black officer set up by a white church group.

I think that, if true, this was a bad judgment call by the church employee or volunteer. Since we know police have the right to commit assault pursuant to state statute in pursuit of their duty, it's not hard to figure that someone might get hurt.

Yeah, I've heard some out-there things coming from radio show call ins, Amos included. So I'm taking what Wilson wrote with a few grains of salt.

Chitown Kev | August 4, 2010 10:06 AM

I understand why Harrington might engage in this particular stunt to prove a point, but you just don't engage in a "stunt" of that type when racial tensions are already off the charts, as they seem to be in Indianapolis.

I'm going to pass on the comments about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson becuase I understand and accept both sides of that particular equaltion but both of them have both their supporters and detractors within the black community (personally, I like Sharpton a little more than Jesse Jackson...)

The Indianapolis Police Department has warned officers that false claims of police brutality have risen sharply this year

HAHAHAHAHA. Aren't they all "false claims"?

TruthBeTold | August 4, 2010 11:30 AM

In spite of this particular case, I wouldn't jump to conclusions that every single reported case of police brutality is a false one. I think each case must be considered individually.

I was being sarcastic and referring to the fact that, since police are usually the ones investigating these claims, and since no police officer wants to be a narc so they'll usually get their buddies off the hook when they can, the police department complaining about false claims of police brutality is just funny. Do they really think we're that stupid?