David Hampton Is Trying To Keep The Peace

David Hampton

Courtesy City of Indianapolis

What was your reaction when you watched the George Floyd video?
I was horrified. I was angry. I’m a black man; I’m a father. I’d never want to see that happen to anyone. I have great respect for our men and women who serve. I work with IMPD every day, and my undergrad degree is in criminal justice. But the message that a blue life is not more valuable than a black life needs to ring true everywhere. A badge doesn’t give people a license to murder. And what we saw in Minnesota was murder.

Why is it so important to you to participate in the protests?
My primary concern is ensuring the safety of the protesters, who have a constitutional right to peacefully protest. But as a black man who feels the frustration and pain of so many, I also feel the need to be among the people, to hear their concerns on behalf of the mayor.

What was your role in de-escalating tensions outside the governor’s mansion on Monday night?
By the time I arrived, police had their weapons pointed and the protesters were ready to rush the governor’s mansion. They said, “We have a list of demands, and we want the governor to hear them. We want to be on his doorstep.” And I didn’t think the police were going to allow that. After the recent deaths of Chris Beaty, a young man who was very active in our community, and Dreasjon Reed, we just didn’t need to see more bloodshed. So I acted as an intermediary. I heard what the police wanted. I heard what the protesters wanted. And we tried to find some middle ground. The protesters asked the police, “Would you be willing to walk with us?” And that happened. It was spontaneous. It wasn’t planned. But it was a great moment.

Does it set a precedent for future protests?
As a community, we were able to witness that how we move forward is our choice. We saw a sense of peace Monday night. We want to continue to fight for justice. But we should all capitalize on that moment. The fact that police took their helmets off was a big deal to the protesters. And the moment when the protesters ran to greet and hug them was not something I was trying to broker, but it was an outgrowth of the desire for both sides to arrive at some commonality. There are some who would say, “Protestors shouldn’t fraternize with ‘the enemy.’” But at some point, the protesters have to sit at the table and talk their demands through if any of them are going to be met. And that’s what I hope will happen.

My primary concern is ensuring the safety of the protesters, who have a constitutional right to peacefully protest. But as a black man who feels the frustration and pain of so many, I also feel the need to be among the people, to hear their concerns on behalf of the mayor.

The legacy of police violence against black people goes back years and years and years. Why do you think the reaction to George Floyd’s death has been so much more intense?
The Ahmaud Arbery shooting, we saw publicly; the George Floyd murder, we saw publicly; and, locally, the Dreasjon Reed shooting, we saw publicly. We’ve reached a place where everybody, black or white, is simply exhausted. Even police are exhausted. But we have to see some actual resolution. It’s not enough to say, “We’re going to charge officers.” They’re always charged, but never convicted. We need to see realities around police reforms. Protesters around the country aren’t going to wait. Nobody would condone the continued violence and destruction of property, especially in neighborhoods that are already suffering. But young people feel like our voices haven’t been heard. And so maybe this destruction is getting someone’s attention. I hope it is, because it has to stop. But we also have to resolve the underlying issues at some point.

You’re the deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement. What’s the best way for people to effectively and responsibly engage right now?
First, listen and try to understand the reforms that we need to see not only in our city, but in our nation — police reforms, mass incarceration, criminal justice reform, economic equity reforms. Unfortunately, it took the very public death of George Floyd to heighten our public consciousness to them. But good can come of that, and hopefully reform that’s tangible and substantive. Because this has happened far too often. There were the Antonio Martin protests, and, before that, the Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice incidents. The list goes on and on and on. We’re at a boiling point. And if we’re going to arrive at real solutions, this is a great opportunity to do that. We need to.

Indianapolis’s deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement negotiated between police and protesters outside the governor’s mansion on Monday night.

What’s the best way for white people to help right now?
Number one, understand the term white privilege and begin to dismantle what that means. It’s not easy, but it’s a place to start. And for those who have friends who are black and brown, really sit down and listen; try to learn and understand that none of what we’re talking about is new. It’s foundational to this country. And we have to figure out a way to dismantle those social ills and inequities.

A lot of people have asked when things will return to normal after the protests, but the whole point is that we don’t want things to go back to normal. What should the new normal look like?
We need to see a different form of policing in our country. We need to see inequities turned around; we need to see the wealth gap close. There are so many challenges, and the coronavirus exacerbates nearly all of them.

Going forward, how can Indy rebuild trust between the community and the police?
We need honest dialogue and resolution of some of the tangible requests the community has asked for, within reason. Only then can we move forward toward sustained healing.