The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. Dec. 11, 2020.

Editorial: Law - and orders. Most Hoosiers voice support for police reforms

A panel charged by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry with studying police reform and racial justice continues to have tough conversations in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. If survey responses of Hoosiers statewide are any indication, the commission should find broad support for recommended reforms.

The Hoosier Survey, conducted annually by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Public Affairs, reveals strong support for changes in policing. Respondents were presented with a list of four proposals and asked whether they favor or oppose each.

• 88% favor training police in nonviolent alternatives to deadly force

• 82% support creating a government database to track police officers accused of misconduct

• 63% support giving civilian oversight boards the power to investigate and discipline officers accused of inappropriate use of force or other misconduct

• 56% support making it a crime for police to use chokeholds or strangleholds

The proposals regarding training and a misconduct database received support across all demographic and party affiliations.

“The proposal for stronger civilian oversight is supported by 86% of Democratic respondents and 92% of African American respondents,” according to the survey, which was released Thursday. “It was supported by only 40% of Republicans and 59% of non-Hispanic white respondents.”

The 15-member Mayor’s Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice has engaged in thoughtful and sometimes difficult conversations since it began meeting in mid-July. It was established after downtown protests following the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd ended in violence. The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit alleging law enforcement officers violated protesters’ First and Fourth Amendment rights during protests held from May 29 to 31 and on June 14.

Separately, the civil rights organization is suing on behalf of Balin Brake, a student who lost an eye after being struck by a tear gas canister fired by police. Both cases are pending.

At a police reform and racial justice commission meeting Dec. 4, members discussed efforts to increase transparency, with some questioning why the Fort Wayne Police Department has not addressed its procedures since the protests occurred.

City Attorney Carol Helton said it is standard practice to withhold comment on any matter involved in litigation but said there had been lessons learned.

“This was an unprecedented event,” she said. “We certainly had no experience in handling this kind of civil unrest. Our public safety response team, which was formed in 2015, (is) well-trained; they are well-equipped. But they had never actually responded to this type of unrest.”

But commission chairman Michelle Chambers and panel members Marty Pastura and Anne Epling pushed for the police department to share more information about changes it might have made in its procedures as a result of the protests.

“If we’re here saying we need more transparency, and it’s obvious there isn’t transparency, I see that as a dilemma,” said Pastura, the retired Fort Wayne YMCA executive director.

“I feel like we haven’t addressed that – that how the police responded wasn’t right,” Epling said. “I feel like we’re dancing around that. And I’m frustrated.”

Chambers said Thursday the commission reached out to the community in its work and she expects to see support for its proposals.

“There’s a lot on the table,” she said. “My goal was to capture the community’s concerns.”

The panel’s recommendations to the mayor, expected early next year, will address the police department’s compliance with the “8 Can’t Wait” initiative, which covers eight police reforms. A ban on chokeholds and steps to reduce the use of lethal force are among them.

The Hoosier Survey results show the public wants to see such reform. The city commission can move forward with confidence that its efforts have strong citizen support.

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The (Anderson Herald Tribune) Dec. 11, 2020.

Editorial: Redistricting reform advocates soldier on

Hats off to the All IN 4 Democracy Coalition for refusing to surrender in its efforts to give citizens a meaningful voice in Indiana’s once-a-decade redistricting process.

Made up of some two dozen organizations, the coalition hopes to convince lawmakers at least to bring the process out into the open.

As part of its campaign, the coalition plans to form a redistricting commission that will hold public hearings and give average citizens a chance to draw their own maps. The coalition’s goal is to show Indiana lawmakers how this exercise really ought to work.

At the same time, coalition members such as the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the NAACP will be working hard to shine a light on the actual process, doing all they can to give citizens a true voice in a process that really should be focused on voters.

For far too long, the party in control of the Indiana General Assembly has used its position to draw districts designed to maintain that advantage. Republicans try to elect more Republicans, and Democrats try to elect more Democrats.

Twenty years ago, the Democrats were in charge, and they drew maps that gave them control of the Indiana House of Representatives for much of the decade. The next time around, the Republicans had the majority, and the result has been supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature.

A lot of politicians will tell you this is as it should be. The voters gave one party control, they say, and that party should take full advantage. The other party would do it to us, they say, why shouldn’t we do it to them?

The answer is simple.

Drawing districts aimed at giving one party a leg up in an election is bad for democracy. Too many of the resulting districts wind up with a partisan balance so lopsided that the election is effectively over in the primary.

Incumbents worried more about the base than the average voter find themselves with no reason to compromise, leaving even moderate voters with no real voice. The one-sided nature of the elections in these districts leads to apathy and low voter turnout.

Reform advocates for years have been trying to convince Indiana politicians to let go of the reins and put the power into the hands of voters where it belongs.

They’ve failed in that, but they have not given up. We should all join in applauding their persistence and wish them success. After all, they’re fighting for us.

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(Terre Haute) Tribune-Star. Dec. 9, 2020

Seeking justice through change

Terre Haute woman deserves what other voters already have

Real-life experiences can affect positive change.

Terre Haute native Kristin Fleschner is working to change Indiana’s restrictive voting system on behalf of the state’s blind residents. Fleschner is one of thousands of blind or low-vision Hoosiers. She and others are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Indiana voting law. The sight-impaired voters rightly argue that they should be afforded a private, independent method of voting — a protection already extended to other voters.

Blind voters could easily vote independently and confidentially at home with electronic tools, their lawsuit claims.

Instead, their options for casting a ballot were less private and unnecessarily risky, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the suit adds.

Fleschner brings a unique perspective to the situation. The 38-year-old had voted both in-person and absentee in her home state before she lost her sight. She also is an organ transplant recipient, leaving her more vulnerable to complications if she contracted the virus. And, Fleschner understands the law. She is a Harvard Law School graduate, formerly worked for the U.S. Department of State, and volunteered as an attorney to work on voter protection issues during the 2020 election.

As a blind Hoosier voter in this year’s election, Fleschner sought an absentee ballot, hoping to limit her virus exposure.

That is when Fleschner learned she could only vote absentee by having a two-member traveling board visit her home, which she chose to do, rather than voting at a polling site in person. The situation required Fleschner’s mother to mark her ballot for her.

Her confidentiality and health safety did not have to be so compromised. “Because Ms. Fleschner is a daily user of assistive technology that allows her to independently accomplish a wide variety of tasks, she would have been able to fill out an electronic ballot independently and privately had such a ballot been available,” the lawsuit contends.

Federal law already requires states to email ballots to military and overseas voters. “It is disheartening to know that there are ways I could vote privately and independently from outside the United States, but do not have that option when I live in Indiana,” Fleschner told the Tribune-Star.

Other vision-impaired Hoosiers also detailed their voting difficulties in the lawsuit. One plaintiff says she applied to vote absentee but was prevented from doing so because no traveling board was available in her county.

The suit alleges state’s Absentee Vote from Home Program is discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide equal opportunities for blind and low-vision voters. The suit seeks only injunctive relief, not monetary damages. The complaint was filed against the Indiana Election Commission and the Indiana Secretary of State. A spokeswoman for Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson declined comment Friday.

Indiana legislative leaders have staunchly resisted easing any of its voting restrictions. So, it is unlikely that a much-needed comprehensive reform of those laws will happen in the near future. Nonetheless, the pandemic has illuminated particularly unfair elements of Hoosier election policies. The limitations faced by blind and low-vision voters in casting their ballots independently and confidentially need addressed. Kristin Fleschner and others in that situation deserve changes.

Fleschner wrote on her online blog, “Indiana can do better, and it has to, because it’s the law.”

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