Frequent readers are well aware of concerns about the upkeep of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the sad deterioration of neighborhoods on three sides of the track, where property values are sinking and crime is rising. Areas once populated by hard working, mostly blue collar middle class who took pride in their modest dwellings, kept lawns mowed and weeded and knew how to use products like paint and Lysol have been supplanted by folks who no longer care about anything, especially the condition of their properties. Let’s face it. As a proud native Hoosier I am comfortable pointing a critical finger at what being a native Hoosier means. Regardless of your stature, income or position in society being a Hoosier is sort of like a twisted version of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon. You are never really that distant from trailer parks, early death by deep fried food, abuse of methamphetamines or significant orthodontics issues. You believe Miss Indiana, widely derided as chunky, is one of the most beautiful women on earth. None of this is bad. It is what most people refer to as salt of the earth.
Societal change was on display this past May when areas around the track, especially the Coke lot, become the temporary home of tens of thousands of racing fans and month of May revelers out to have a great time. In the weeks that followed one of the best attended Mays in recent memory stories of serious crime not typical of average Mays have been leaking out. We are all aware of specific types of shootings that occurred, but there was also a significant rise in theft, robbery and other felonies well documented by victims.
People seem timid to discuss the crimes or their cause. In some ways that is understandable. There has always been mischief especially the night before the race. During my annual Coke lot/Georgetown walk this year the hard working members of law enforcement were earning their money dealing with drunks, fighters and alcohol-saturated young ladies behaving in delightfully lewd and lascivious ways. No one had to walk further than a block to observe the mostly youthful behavior. The vast majority of folks partying there are there because they have at least inklings there is a big race they may well be sober enough to attend. It is usually a joyous combination of Woodstock, Mardi Gras and Rio Carnival.
Those of us who no longer drink to get drunk (mostly due to age and bladders) still enjoy the revelry for sure, but mostly as casual observers and not direct participants. There are folks who establish campsites in roughly the same spots every May. The camaraderie and friendships that have occurred over time are deeply cherished. In recent years the area has been increasingly visited by those whose presence is completely out of place. They are not difficult to spot. These individuals are not there to party; they are there to prey.
Imagine what you might think if you visited the Indianapolis Zoo and observed gorillas frolicking inside the polar bear exhibit. Would it not be natural to assume something was amiss? So in addition to controlling hijinks of the usual over exuberant revelers the cops now have to deal with non-racing fans whose primary experience and expertise is committing felonious acts. It is not difficult to pick them out of the crowd.
The touchy issue is how to deal with it proactively. Society does not allow exclusion or even strong suggestions such folks should find a spot somewhere on the other side of a county. Ideas about fencing in the Coke lot or requiring ID bands or some other form of registration have merit, but would that justify the massive bureaucracy or cost that would result? Equally unpractical would be encouraging defense of your campsite. No one wants thousands of armed citizens. That is definitely NOT a good idea given the amount of alcohol.
The people who deserve the biggest pats on the back are the members of law enforcement who give up their time to deal with mostly obnoxious people. They are keenly aware of who belongs in the area and who does not. Best approach: Give them significant leeway to determine who stays and who goes, much like they have with drunks and shirtless cursing fighters.
The month of May in Indy, and especially the three days before the big race, is worth defending and enriching. Racing fans should never be scared away by thugs.