Black Indiana lawmakers seek reprimands after confrontations

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus called Tuesday for lawmakers who sparked confrontations with Black legislators last week to face reprimands and for all lawmakers to undergo mandatory anti-bias training.

The request came after tempers flared among Indiana House members on Thursday. Black lawmakers were shouted down and booed by some Republicans during a debate and some verbal altercations took place in hallways.

Democratic Rep. Robin Shackleford of Indianapolis, the Black caucus chairwoman, called the conduct of some Republican members aggressive and intimidating and said it was time to “say enough is enough.”

Shackleford said she and other Black caucus members met with Republican House Speaker Todd Huston and asked for reprimands, training on implicit racial bias and for greater safety assurances for lawmakers against hostile behavior.

The steps are needed because of offensive social media posts and comments from some Republican House members, Shackleford said.

“We can’t tell who all is racist over there. We hear some of the comments,” she said.

Huston didn’t address the Black caucus’ requests on Tuesday, saying in a statement he was committed to maintaining “decorum, civility and professionalism.” Huston, who is in his first full year as speaker, told House members on Monday that they should be considerate of different perspectives and must be more respectful of lawmakers speaking in accordance with House rules.

“It’s not my nature to be heavy-handed in enforcement, but make no mistake going forward that will be the case,” Huston said.

Last week’s confrontations started when Black lawmakers spoke against a bill allowing a rural, mostly white township in St. Joseph County to leave the South Bend Community Schools, which is about 60% Black or Hispanic, and called the proposal discriminatory and racist.

Several Republican members booed, said loudly “no” and “stop,” and some started leaving the House meeting room. An argument erupted in a hallway between Republican Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville, who is white, and Democratic Rep. Vanessa Summers of Indianapolis, who is Black. Other legislators separated them.

Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary, who is Black, said he was called a bully by Republican Rep. Alan Morrison of Brazil, who is white, when they were in a restroom. Smith said Morrison kept berating him in the hallway until Morrison was pulled aside by another legislator.

“I understand that what I say often is not comfortable for some of my colleagues,” Smith, who’s been a House member for 31 years, said Tuesday. “What I was offended by is that one of my colleagues wanted to shut me up. I think that I have a right to speak my opinions.”

Morrison declined through his legislative press secretary to comment to The Associated Press. Morrison told The Indianapolis Star he wouldn’t talk about what happened.

“What happens between two grown men, I won’t say anything,” Morrison said. “He can say whatever he wants, but I’ve got no comment on it.”

The Black caucus is made up of 14 House members or senators among the 150 state lawmakers. All are Democrats from Indianapolis or northwestern Indiana’s Lake County.

The Republican-dominated House narrowly approved the school district bill on a 52-43 vote as 14 Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the proposal, sending it to the Senate for consideration.

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12 thoughts on “Black Indiana lawmakers seek reprimands after confrontations

  1. Didn’t previous stories say Ms Vanessa Summers followed the legislators who walked out into the hall? So basically she is the one who continued the confrontation. Maybe she needs training on de-escalation techniques. Maybe the Republicans are tired of being called racist every time the black caucus doesn’t like something.

  2. I know that my attempt to have this discussion may be like spitting in the wind, but I will stay with the facts of this case and see where it goes. The article states that black lawmakers were giving their opinions and they were “shouted down and booed” and then ignored by lawmakers who walked out of the proceedings.

    Please answer how you would feel if someone did this to you while you were speaking and more importantly how “entitled and privileged” a person would feel to treat you that way?

    The definition of racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

    This behavior stands as “textbook racism” by its well-known definition. From someone who has experienced racism, you can only turn the other cheek for so long. How much disrespect must a group of people endure…..from 1619 until 2021….in search of mere equality…nothing more.

    Multiple studies over the years have noted systematic racism in education, housing, policing and hiring…yet the commentary on this article doesn’t address the FACTS….makes assertions without FACTual support and never addresses the FACTUAL racism that this country was built upon.

    1. YAWN. Your citing 1619 indicates you’ve been reading (and believing) The New York Times too long, Eric. Nice try, though.

      Have you stopped to consider the genuine progress that’s been made over the years? Probably not…and it became more difficult to continue that positive upward progress after racist Barack Hussein Obama Jr. set back race relations at least a full generation with his overt racism for eight years.

    2. Eric, how would you feel if someone stood up and continually called you names? Would you just sit there and “take it?” My guess would be no and I’m sure there would be plenty of shouting, hollering and confrontation if it had been the other way around. In my book being called racist now is akin to using the “N” word and people are getting tired of it.

  3. Bob. You make my point. Blatant condescension without ANY FACTS. Are you asserting that I should be thankful that we’ve risen from slavery to George Floyd’s murder by someone sworn to protect and serve? Do you have any friends of color? ANY? If you don’t, you’ve proven my point. If you do, show them your commentary and ask them if they agree.

    When they don’t, maybe you’ll start to ask why your experience in this country is not EVERYONE’S experience.

    Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that systematic racism EXISTS….and that people of color have nothing to do with the creation of that system?

    1. Eric. You are obviously correct that racism exists and just as obviously to any reasonable person such racism has become embedded in many systems whether consciously or unconsciously. But the idea that a black person can call a white person a racist whenever a disagreement occurs isn’t justice, it is a flipping of the script that replaces the discriminatory practices of the past that always left people of color in the less powerful position to one where any white person can have their opinion invalidated, and their reputation tarnished, when someone of color calls them or their opinion racist. It feels more like vengeance than justice. So, in keeping with your focus on facts, which is good, what are the facts behind St. Joseph’s County wanting to leave the South Bend school district? Other than that St. Joseph’s is apparently mostly white and the rest of South Bend isn’t, are there any clear facts that the motivation was racial, as in white people just didn’t like their kids having to interact so much with people of color, which is certainly racist? Or, were their disagreements over curriculum, budgets, academic standards, etc? I honestly don’t know enough about the situation to answer these questions, but maybe you do and thus have clearer facts as to why this is racist versus not.

  4. Rhea,

    Let’s examine the FACTS. Black Legislators were debating an issue and were “shouted down and booed” by Republicans. Is that legitimate behavior in your opinion? It is reminiscent of South Carolina congressmen Joe Wilson shouting “you lie” to Barack Obama in his State of the Union address. Was that ever done to a white President? Where is the respect? Why is that done primarily to people of color? What is in the mind of someone who would conduct or condone that type of behavior? THAT IS RACISM. 400 years worth and it won’t end until it is called out by everyone. EVERYONE including you.

    You may be a very nice person, but you’ve seen racism and haven’t called it out. If you are Caucasian, you benefit from the racism of this country. That isn’t your fault, but it is important that you acknowledge that fact.

    Racism is not only enslaving a race of people, lynching them, giving them inferior circumstances to live in, sicking dogs on them and shooting them with firehoses, separate bathrooms and water fountains, police brutality, lack of education and opportunity.

    It is the antagonistic ways of people WITH POWER to marginalize others based on race. Can we agree that the Republicans attacked first? And I guess you’d want the Black Caucus to just shut up and not respond.

    If two people are in a fight, someone had to throw the first punch? One person is guilty of assault and the other was simply defending themselves. I hope you can see the difference.

    How many times do we have to see people of color attacked by the system that is supposed to represent ALL OF US? In the legislature…by the police….and most recently in the White House.

    You have NEVER seen a video of a black police officer abusing a white person. NEVER. But the other way around is so commonplace that Rodney King is a distant memory. Why is that the case?

    Racism is a mentality of privilege and superiority based on a history of inequity. Everyone can be prejudice, but cries of “reverse racism” are insincere on their face as “minorities” don’t have the power to marginalize white people….though I’ve seen white people who are truly scared that if they become the minority, they will be the victims of the hate that people of color have been subjected to. If the Republicans lived by the GOLDEN RULE, there would be no story here.

  5. William,

    I appreciate your perspective, but my issue is merely with the behavior of the Republican legislators and House Speaker Huston allowing it to continue. In a country that has seen “white flight” to the suburbs take away needed resources from lower-income areas, isn’t it legitimate to question a bill that may seek to do the same thing on an educational level.

    The Black Caucus could have voiced their opinion and the vote would have still passed the bill. Why was it so intolerable to let everyone have a voice on the issue? That is the heart of the story.

    Racism has always existed in this country. The only issue now is that people of color are calling it out and will keep calling it out no matter what….and some white people don’t like it. White people see racism too. Most just ignore it. Whether we say it or not, everyone knows it to be true.

    1. Thank-you for your response Eric. My understanding is that the Republican response occurred after accusations of racism were made. My point is that declaring something or someone racist is, in public debate/forum terms, the equivalent of ending diplomacy and taking the first shot of the war. I’m not saying that there are situations that justify such action because I believe there are things worth going to war over, and in this context outright racism would qualify. But for these issues to not result in war but in peaceful resolution, I think that is has to be acknowledged that it is not true to say that white people still have all the power. Calling a white person racist can and has ended careers and in this day and age of the internet, such accusations can and do remain in the public sphere forever. Again, for all I know everyone in St. Joseph’s County is a racist. But it doesn’t seem to me that there were facts to show this before accusations of racism were levied. My main point, again, is that calling someone/something racist is the public discourse equivalent of drawing blood, and it should be done very thoughtfully as to whether the situation truly warrants it, and an understanding that just like in international relations where there is always fear that any sort of blood-spilling can spiral out of control and actually work against your nation’s interests, so to can situations like this lead to further division and resentment. I think I realize that there is concern on the side of the black community to not accept the sort of “incrementalism” that MLK argued was unacceptable (the idea that you should accept less than your full rights today just because things are better than they once were), and an issue like this probably triggers such, but part of diplomacy is trying to understand that both sides may have a point. If we were talking about black people versus the Ku Klux Clan, I wouldn’t say that both sides have a point, but that’s not this situation. But, that is also part of the point. We don’t use many different words to describe intolerance. Growing up I at least remember “prejudice” getting used, with the idea that it was bad but something less than racism. But now, “racist” gets used for everything which means the Ku Klux Clan is “racist” and a community wanting to have more control over their children’s schooling is effectively lumped in with the KKK. Is that warranted here? I don’t know, but I suspect not. Before that lumping together is done there should be high confidence that it really rises to that level. If not, but you’re still concerned, then find another way to talk about it and accept that the other side may have some valid points also that aren’t rooted in a desire to perpetuate true racism.

  6. Should have more carefully proof-read my comments above. In the third line I meant to say “I’m not saying that there AREN’T situations that justify such action . . .”