“Justice once again denied”: Police Officers who killed Aaron Bailey cleared by IMPD Merit Board

Posted on: May 12, 2018, by :

By Jeff Turner

Last June, an unarmed black motorist named Aaron Bailey was fatally shot by two IMPD officers. The officers were cleared of criminal wrongdoing last October, though the Civilian Merit Board was slated to decide whether the two officers who killed Bailey would keep their jobs. While not the first person of color to be killed by law enforcement in this country, Aaron Bailey’s death has galvanized certain parts of the Indianapolis community who are demanding an end to police killings of unarmed black men.

Thursday morning, May 10, Faith in Indiana held a prayer vigil and press conference at the Indianapolis City Market in response to the pending outcome of the Merit Board trial.

“We are here today because our society is charged with setting a tone that black lives don’t matter,” said Rev. John E. Gurten Jr., of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, one of the speakers at the press conference. “Black men are seen as threatening, and thus must be exterminated,” he went on to elaborate. “We trust that the merit board will make the right decision and bring dignity back to our communities.”

IMPD Chief Bryan Roach already recommended that the Merit Board fire the two officers in question, Michal Dennison and Carlton Howard. “Thank you, Chief Roach, for doing this and what you can,” Dean Stephen Carlson from Christ Church Cathedral said.  “Now it’s up to the merit board.”

The rallying cry “Say Their Name” was voiced by not just the activists in attendance but by the speakers as well. A statement from the Bailey family and a very passionate prayer were delivered.   “We come here seeking justice on the behalf of Aaron Bailey,” concluded the prayer, imploring the merit board to fire the two officers. “We declare that justice be done, Amen.”    Those in attendance were then invited to attend the conclusion of the Merit Board’s trial at the City-County Building in Courtroom 10 on the 14th floor.

“I’m definitely concerned of that fact someone was shot who was unarmed.   Obviously I feel a lot of changes need to be made to ensure that this never happens again,” said Megan Anderson, one of those in attendance.

At the conclusion of the vigil, most of those congregated immediately left for the merit board hearing.  They left on a jubilant note, seemingly feeling that IMPD Chief Roach’s recommendation that the two officers be fired would lead to that actually occurring.  The fact of the matter, however, remains that the Merit Board has never fired a police officer.

The conclusion to the Aaron Bailey story transpired in the City-County building where IMPD Officers Howard and Dennison awaited to learn whether they would be allowed to keep their jobs. Both officers were called to testify, Officer Howard on May 9th, and Dennison on May 10th. Dennison’s testimony actually included the officer choking back tears as he recounted the events that led to Bailey’s death. A great many activists and concerned citizens were in attendance, many quite knowledgeable about Aaron Bailey’s tragic death.

However, the outcome may well have been preordained. As stated before, the Merit Board has never fired a single police officer. And in this case, once again, Officers Dennison and Howard, by a vote of 5-2, were not fired, outraging a great many in attendance.

“I’m pissed. And this whole trial should have infuriated everyone when it was made very clear we really have no rights and IMPD’s policy is shoot to kill,” said Kim Saylor, an activist in attendance at the Merit Board hearing.

Of course, police officers occupy a dangerous profession, often called upon to act in situations most people would never find themselves. It is one of the most difficult jobs in existence. The fact that they are legally allowed to use deadly force when necessary does cause worry, however, especially considering the disproportionate number of African-American males killed by law enforcement.

“I guess my major issue is that this problem doesn’t exist in other countries,” said Jared Ades, who had been following the Aaron Bailey story since last summer. “I think this is largely because in America we do not acknowledge, or give credence to the atrocities of slavery, Jim Crow, and the overall burden of racism and bias non-white have to endure in this country.”  Ades went on to discuss how Germany does acknowledge its own dark history, teaching it to their children in schools, and not out of pride. “We should adopt similar observances for slavery and segregation in the U.S., teach its atrocities so it won’t be repeated. And that is far from a fix for unarmed black men being murdered by police officers without repercussions. (That is why we need) city-sponsored public forums, workshops, and training for community members and police alike…This was an opportunity for our city to be a beacon of light and leadership for our country. Unfortunately, we didn’t choose that path.”

The mayor’s office also released a statement in response to the verdict. “Today’s decision by the Civilian Police Merit Board to overturn the recommended termination of two officers is a disappointing and frustrating reminder that even as we continue in our efforts to reform our criminal justice system, much work remains to be done. I have complete faith in the judgment and leadership of IMPD Chief Bryan Roach, whose experience over three decades in the police department has more than prepared him to make difficult decisions. The fact that Chief Roach’s experienced, well-reasoned decision to terminate the two officers has been overturned by the votes of five individuals highlights a Merit Board system that must be changed if we are to continue building bridges of trust between our brave police officers and the communities they proudly serve.”

Despite these statements, the fact of the matter remains that, while unarmed, Bailey did flee from the police and did not comply with their instructions. It is impossible to know what was going through Aaron Bailey’s mind at the time. He may have been, and most likely was, afraid for his life due to past experiences with the police. Nonetheless this did not warrant his death.

While the officers who killed Bailey will have to live with the fact that his death is on their hands for the rest of their lives, this most likely will not give Aaron Bailey’s family much solace.

What can be done to address situations like this that only seek to polarize and further separate both sides in this debate? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, a great many people are angry, and they have every right to be. In the case of Aaron Bailey, it would seem that justice was once again denied.

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