September 1, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE TO THE PRESS
(A press conference will be held by a group of concerned community members on10:00 a.m., Thursday, September 1, 2016, at Doulos Chapel, 608 South St. Joseph Street)
On July 7, 2012, DeShawn Franklin, a then-18-year-old Riley High School student, survived incredibly egregious and unlawful acts of police misconduct and violence, perpetrated by three South Bend Police Officers-- Aaron Knepper, Michael Stuk, and Eric Mentz. These officers forcibly entered Franklin’s home without a warrant and with guns drawn, wrested him from his bed while he lay asleep, punched him six times, tasered and dragged him, and detained him in a police vehicle, only to realize they accosted the wrong person.
DeShawn’s parents, fearing for their lives and their son’s life, watched helplessly as their child was inhumanely mistreated by officers who are paid, and have sworn, to serve and protect the South Bend community.
Four years later, on July 29, 2016, a federal jury ruled that the Franklin family’s civil rights were violated. Although the officers were found guilty of unlawful entry and seizure, it was determined that financial restitution to the family was worth no more than $18-- yes, $18.
Both the mayor and the South Bend Police Department (SBPD) have been noticeably silent on this case of injustice. In fact, to add insult to injury, the Franklins and their attorney were ordered to pay around $1,500 to the city for legal expenses it incurred.
In our estimation, this is a travesty of justice. The Franklins have been very honest about their financial circumstances and went so far as to express to the media and press that they find it difficult to believe that poor black folk can ever achieve any real and meaningful justice and equity.
The 2014 American Community Survey reports that 45%, or nearly half, of Black South Bend residents live in poverty. That is more than twice the poverty rate for whites in South Bend (19%) and far exceeds the overall poverty rate for the city (27.8%). According to the same survey, African Americans make up roughly 44% of all persons living below the poverty line in the city although in the 2010 U.S. Census African Americans constitute 26.6% of the total South Bend population. Moreover, there is double digit minority unemployment, no meaningful women and minority business access to a billion dollars of public works contracts, an entrenched school-to-prison pipeline, no summer youth jobs programs in underserved segments of the city, and a significant number of reported cases of discrimination and unfair practices in the SBPD.
For the last two years, pastors, ministry leaders and community activists have been vocal about the injustices being committed by South Bend police and within the police department towards citizens and good, community-loving police officers.
It should come as no surprise that Officer Aaron Knepper was involved in unlawful acts against DeShawn and, most recently, has been accused of engaging in similar kinds of behavior in the case of Notre Dame Football player Devin Butler.
We have serious problems here in South Bend.
How can citizens feel safe and trust the police and local government when officers are violating citizens’ rights with impunity?
How can citizens feel safe and trust the police and local government when officers are recorded on public tapes using racist language and plotting illegal acts against citizens and the city government pours hundreds of thousands of dollars--taxpayers’ money--into covering this up by silencing department whistleblowers?
How can African Americans, in particular, feel safe when a white officer like Aaron Knepper faces no consequences for civil rights violations, but former officer Theordore Robert, an African American, is punished for similar actions and members of the African American community are incessantly funneled into the criminal justice system.
- We demand the Mayor and South Bend Police Department issue a public apology to the Franklin family and the South Bend Community.
- We demand the immediate resignation or firing of Officer Aaron Knepper, as he has no place in our local police department.
- We demand the city release those police tapes which can be legally made publically accessible.
- We demand immediate and intentional attention be given to the challenges faced by the African American community and poor folk; that folks from these communities have substantial participation in determining how and where city dollars are spent, especially as the city is working to finalize the city budget.
- Lastly, we are calling on the Department of Justice to do an investigation of the South Bend Police Department.
We envision a safer, more loving, and more inclusion South Bend.
For more information, please contact Nia Okereke by mobile phone (574) 315-4416.