Indianapolis Urban League

IUL Statement: Riots, the Language of the Unheard

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                      

May 31, 2020

Indianapolis Urban League Statement: Riots, the Language of the Unheard

Social justice is not a concept, it is a commitment

Indianapolis, IN (May 31, 2020) – Many are familiar with a famous observation by Martin Luther King, Jr., “…a riot is the language of the unheard.” What people seldom remember is his observation afterward that is just as salient and relevant today, “And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

This quote, from Dr. Kings’ 1967 “The Other America” speech given at Stanford University, crystallizes what lies at the heart of the frustrations that have been aired both verbally and physically this past weekend in Indianapolis and across our nation.

Inequality is a reality in Indianapolis. Inequality of employment, housing, education, health care, and justice go unheard from generation to generation. What we are experiencing in our city, and cities across our country, is the language of pain when people’s spirits are broken and they move beyond hopelessness to outrage.

We shutter at the display of violence and the visible outcome of the broken glass and desecration of monuments, sidewalks, and things deemed valuable by, and to, our community, yet for decades leaders have been willing to look past the visible scars of destruction and disparity of social injustice passed from generation to generation of people of color.

The scars of repeated history are the persistent victimization of Blacks from Eric Garner, to Sandra Bland, to Ahmed Aubrey, to Breonna Taylor, to George Floyd, and from Michael Taylor to Aaron Bailey to Dreasjon Reed; only the names change but the outcomes remain the same. Black men and Black women die at the hands of law enforcement and rarely are the officers charged, prosecuted, and convicted for their crimes even though we witness them in real-time.

Peaceful protests are a constitutional right and must be permitted to continue. However, those who are rioting, damaging property, and looting should be held accountable and so must our city hold officers of the law to the same level of accountability for its actions. Now that this happened in our city, it will continue to happen unless things change.

The trauma of history a third of our community experiences daily from Black unemployment rates than triple that of Whites, to a lack of affordable housing, to under-resourced and under-performing schools,

to persistent and growing health disparities, to a lack of investment in communities of color that breed and feed both the perception and reality of second-class citizenship for Blacks in Marion County.

If you are born poor in Indianapolis, you are likely to die poor in Indianapolis. Indianapolis ranks near the bottom in social mobility. Marion County has the fourth-highest rate of poverty in the state of Indiana at 19.8% but the poverty rate for Blacks is 28%. Since 2000, the homeownership rate for Black households in Marion County has sharply declined to less than 40%. Black neighborhoods are being gentrified and Blacks are being displaced.

Discussions around equity, economic inclusion, livable wages, affordable housing, school improvement, and police reform must move from talking to commitments accompanied by long-term financial investments from the city, the state, corporations, and philanthropies towards sustainable solutions.

Social justice is not just a concept, it is a commitment to creating a fair and equal society in which each individual matters, their rights are recognized and protected and decisions are made in ways that are fair and honest. Those we seek to help must be included in the process and their voices must be heard. These problems of inequality not only exist in Indianapolis but are pervasive throughout our state. They are not just problems for Blacks and Latinos living in urban communities, these are the same problems being experienced by poor Whites living in both urban and rural communities. The diversity of the protesters and the diversity of those who struggle to survive throughout our community and across our state should be notable to all.

While the COVID-19 virus prevents us from physically embracing at this time, it is more important than ever that we join together in understanding the impacts of the contagions of discrimination, racism, and inequality.

The leadership and citizenry of Indianapolis and the State of Indiana must re-commit themselves to being genuinely inclusive, broad-based, and pro-active so that the language of pain from the excluded and unheard gives way to equity, true justice, and humanity. This is our only choice and the only way forward to a better place and quality of life for all.

 Contact: Tony Mason,  President & CEO, Indianapolis Urban League

(317) 693-7603

About the Indianapolis Urban League:
Founded in 1965, the Indianapolis Urban League (IUL) is a nonprofit, non-partisan, interracial, community-based, human services agency dedicated to assisting African-Americans, other minorities and disadvantaged individuals to achieve social and economic equality. Annually, the IUL provides direct services and advocacy in the areas of education and youth services, economic and workforce development, health and quality of life, civic engagement and leadership, and civil rights and racial justice empowerment. IUL is one of 90 affiliates of the National Urban League serving 300 communities in 36 states and the District of Columbia. For more information visit