Editor’s note: This article is part of a week-long series examining race relations in Grant County through the lenses of history, the judicial system, religion, activism and law enforcement.
For more than a month, people across the globe have been protesting the death of George Floyd and many other unarmed Black people at the hands of the police.
Those who have driven past local protests have probably heard protestors chanting the phrase, “No justice, no peace.”
Local activists are calling for reforms within the criminal justice system, and some local leaders in Grant County’s judicial system said that improvements must be made.
“I think there is always room for improvement,” said Grant County Circuit Court Judge Mark Spitzer. “We’ve been interested all along in making sure that the guarantees of equal justice apply to everybody who encounters our system.”
Grant County Prosecutor Rodney Faulk said he believes in the people’s right to peacefully assemble under the First Amendment, as locals have done, but condemns the vandalism, looting and arson of businesses happening in other cities.
“In every organization, there are people who are good for the organization and bad for the organization. We need to weed out the bad ones,” Faulk said. “Will it be a perfect utopia? No. But, if we are listening and talking to each other, there will not be Eric Garner or George Floyd tragedies.”
Defense attorney David Glickfield III said he is an advocate and continuously fights for equal treatment for Black people in Grant County.
“I’ve been doing criminal law for 30 years, and I have a very broad perspective on what’s happening, what’s happened,” Glickfield said. “It is definitely much better around here, and it has improved over time. Our current judges are absolutely race-neutral, but it hasn’t always been that way.”
When Glickfield started practicing in 1990, he said he was amazed by the difference in sentencing for Black and white people for the same offenses.
Glickfield said he believes there are two different expressions of racism, that which is within the individual and that which is within the criminal justice system.
“People having racist beliefs and treating people differently, that’s something no law can change,” he said. “One person to another, that’s a generational thing, and it’s definitely getting better.”
The Black Lives Matter movement, according to Glickfield, can have a considerable impact on the criminal justice system.
“Here in Grant County, we’re ahead of that curve in what we are trying to do,” Glickfield said. “I don’t believe our system discriminates against Black people, at least in the judicial system anymore.”
Within the criminal justice system, Glickfield said he still has minor concerns about the policing of Black members of the community.
“I’m driving down the road at 12:30 at night or 1 a.m., and I don’t use a turn signal versus a Black person doing the same thing, I still believe that Black person is more apt to get stopped,” he said. “And that absolutely should never happen under any circumstances.”
More than 10 years ago, Glickfield said he had the Marion City Clerk pull all infractions from the 10 prior years for not walking on a sidewalk, totaling around 100 violations.
“It appeared to me that 90 percent of those tickets for not using the sidewalk were issued to Black people,” he said. “It was a very telling statistic for me.”
Twenty years later, Glickfield said he believes racial profiling by the police may have lessened, but he still thinks officers have implicit biases.
“When you have a department of 40 or 50 officers, you’re going to have people come in, and they have those inherent beliefs, and they use them in their jobs,” he said. “People can say they are not racist, and maybe they truly believe it, but would they want to go out and have dinner with Black friends? It’s one thing to say it. It’s another to live it.”
Glickfield said he often works with Black men who have received lofty prison sentences for dealing drugs, which he said has improved since the criminal justice reforms in 2014.
“I am on drug court with Spitzer. They are always looking for ways to improve the criminal justice system for Black people,” he said.
Spitzer said he agrees with the sentiments made by Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush in a Statement on Race and Equity released June 5.
The statement says, “There is a disconnect between what we aspire for in our justice system and what we have achieved. That may be hard to hear for all of us who work every day for fairness, but we must hear the voices that cry out in our streets and towns. We must acknowledge and confront the reality that our fellow community members say is their experience. And it is imperative we take action to change that experience – not ignore, justify, or disparage it.”
Spitzer agreed that improvements could be made, and he acknowledged the improvements that have already been made locally.
To ensure the benefits of the drug courts are serving people of color, Spitzer said they have implemented a minority advisory board, and his staff has gone through cultural competency training on several occasions.
“I found it to be very beneficial,” he said. “We are a diverse community, and the program is for everybody in the community.”
Spitzer said he hoped that the cultural competency training would build trust with those they encounter and those in the program.
“There is certainly some distrust with the people of color, particularly African Americans given our history in Grant County,” Spitzer said. “Part of recovery and drug court involves generating trust in people to allow them to walk along with you as they kind of go through the recovery process.”
Engaging in dialogue with the community is one way the criminal justice system will improve, Glickfield said.
Rush’s statement concludes, “To be sure, the complexities of race in America will not be solved by simply saying we will try to do better. Rather, we must take action for all of us to live in a better world. I charge our courts, our justice system partners, our lawyers, and our law schools to do so. I demand the same of myself. Since February, we’ve been accepting comments from the public on ways to improve the courts. Give us your perspective at on.in.gov/innovate.”