Booing, jeering, hallway altercations mar House debate on school district boundaries bill

During the Indiana House session on Thursday, a bill concerning school district boundaries that some are calling racist sparked an emotional and angry debate. Several legislators walked out of the chamber, GOP legislators in their seats booed and shouted “no” and “stop,” and some members even clashed in the halls after Black legislators spoke out against the bill.

The confrontations broke out on a day when Black members were celebrating Black History Month by wearing traditional African garb.

“We kinda felt like it kind of fed into how the members were acting,” said Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, who is chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus. “I think having on the African garb and our members going up there stating how they felt about a bill, I think that just antagonized them even more.”

The bill would allow de-annexation of neighborhoods that are currently part of the South Bend Community School Corp., which is mostly non-white, and move them to John Glenn School Corporation, which is mostly white.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, spoke against the bill and said it raises questions of racism. As Porter spoke, several legislators booed and jeered audibly on the livestream. Shackleford said some GOP members ignored the proceedings to gather in the back of the room.

“I have a right to speak,” Porter said before walking out into the hall.

Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, once a Gary Public Schools teacher and a principal, spoke after Porter and expressed similar concerns that the bill had racist intent. He also was booed. Legislators are worried the issue of white communities trying to leave minority-dominated school districts and take away funding could result in legal challenges.

“This is another wrong of this nation,” Smith said. “I don’t care how you twist it, how you paint it, how you disguise it, how you camouflage it. It’s racist.”

Several Republicans, including Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, walked out of the chamber while Smith was still speaking. Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, followed Lucas to talk to him and Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, tried to defend Lucas, according to Shackleford.

A confrontation between Summers and Eberhart then broke out, and Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, tried to hold Eberhart back from Summers. Eventually, Morris pushed Eberhart into the men’s restroom to deescalate the situation.

“For a member to now take it to a violent situation and look like they’re going to hit a member and have to be pulled away from a member, especially when it’s a white male versus a Black female, then we have some serious issues there,” Shackleford said.

Both The Atlantic and The New York Times have reported instances in Louisiana and Alabama where white communities have tried to separate from minority communities.

“Laws in 30 states explicitly allow communities to form their own public-school systems, and since 2000, at least 71 communities across the country, most of them white and wealthy, have sought to break away from their public-school districts to form smaller, more exclusive ones,” the Times reported, citing a study by EdBuild.

Based on the United States Census as of 2019, South Bend is 61.7% white, while 48.5% identified as part of a minority group.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jake Teshka, R-Mishawaka, said his bill was not based on race but rather other issues like transportation for students and putting them closer to their homes.

The bill passed with a 53-42 vote. Fourteen Republicans joined Democrats against the bill. It now moves forward to the Senate.

While in a meeting with Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, Shackleford said representatives came in saying Smith had been verbally attacked in the bathroom by Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Brazil. Smith came into the meeting and said he was in the bathroom washing his hands when Morrison entered, calling him a bully and other derogatory names. Smith tried to ignore it and keep going, according to Shackleford, but Morrison kept following him until Smith said something back. Neither Morrison nor Smith could immediately be reached for comment.

Shackleford said she has renewed her request for all members of the House to go through implicit bias training.

“I really think all members need it,” Shackleford said. “I think there needs to be some education, clearly, on what racism is and what implicit bias is.”

Huston said he was disappointed by what took place on Thursday, but he did not commit to having members go through implicit bias training.

“We all want to be better, and we’ll keep having the conversation,” Huston said.

Huston also did not say whether any members will be disciplined.

“I’ve got to figure out what the facts are, and just take note of what happened,” Huston said.

Shackleford said she also thought Huston could have been more aggressive in reprimanding members on the floor before the situation escalated.

“What I am hoping is we see a more aggressive standpoint in making sure that kind of behavior will not be tolerated,” Shackleford said.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta said he thinks the heckling while members are speaking needs to stop.

“House Democrats have every right to get up there and speak on amendments, speak on bills,” GiaQuinta said. “Our members deserve to be heard and deserve the respect of all members on the floor.”

Huston said he knows he needs to do a better job overseeing the chamber and making sure there’s decorum.

“I want to own my mistakes,” Huston said. “It’s easy to be informal and it’s easy to let decorum slide. Certainly, I have to be better and collectively we have to do better.”

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40 thoughts on “Booing, jeering, hallway altercations mar House debate on school district boundaries bill

    1. When you ARE a racist, POC and liberals will find those things to be objectionable and then call you what you are.

    2. Randy, let’s remember that it has, magically, over the last year, become the new status quo to use capital letters for one race and non-caps for another. Keep than in mind as you continue to assert moral high ground.

    3. American D, and your point is what? This was a decision made by some AP style guidance people but not all. Some are capitalizing both. You being butt-hurt about it is evidence of your White Privilege. (Happy you got some CAPs there, big guy?) Also, see Latino, Asian, Hispanic, etc. Finally, you’re grasping at straws if this is your best response to being called out as racist.

    4. a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.

      Does this street run both directions or is it a one way street?

  1. Racist is the most overused word in the English language these days. But I am sick of all of this partisanship. We need to learn how to look for common ground and unity and stop acting like immature punks. All people deserve respect and courtesy, especially in a public setting. Grownups need to act like adults. If adults do not do that, then what can we expect from children?

    1. Except Representative Lucas has posted racist things on Facebook in the past. Now he’s booing Black legislators when they’re speaking. He hasn’t done this to any white Democrats, so yeah, I’d say he’s racist. The word isn’t overused. People are just waking up to racism in America. Get used to it.

    2. Wesley, Randy, Michael, and the customary gaggle of liberal commenters: You guys are hilarious, albeit ignorant, asserting that “America is finally waking up to racism.”

      To wit: A characteristic of all people, but my observation from being on the planet 75 years has shown this to be especially true of liberals, and the younger the better, is that people think history began the day they were born. It’s not unique to him, but I remember the late Rush Limbaugh stressing that as to why people are so historically ignorant today…and seek to further “cancel culture,” as the practice has become known, to avoid having to consider the lessons of history at all.

      If you want to read about real racism, not the [comparatively] little butt-hurt type you guys crawl around on the floor looking for, I commend to your attention a new, copyright 2020 HISTORY (note that word; that’s what happened before you were born) book by University of Kentucky American History Professor Tracy Campbell, The Year of Peril: America in 1942. It is a wonderful read; insightful and well annotated.

      In this book, he reviews the many perils facing America as it was forced to gear up and unite to fight the Axis powers after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941. Looking back, it’s difficult to realize that in 1942, it was not a slam-dunk that The United States and the Allies would win World War II; in fact, there were good reasons to believe that war would be lost if we engaged Hitler. (Example: In 1939, our total armed forces enrollment was roughly 188,000 strong…whereas Hitler had over 17 MILLION in uniform, trained and ready to go! YIKES; no wonder he thought he could pull it off!)

      One factor hampering efforts was the fact that blacks were being asked to sacrifice along with whites to form a united front, but many voiced concern about fighting for “rights” they did not have. Some examples of genuine racism Professor Campbell cites are horrifying. That’s not the major theme of the book, however; it’s among the many “things” that had to be sorted out to get everyone on the same page (as much as possible, that is) to present a united front to even more evil powers from, especially, Germany and Hitler.

      Reading and studying history helps give a person needed perspective in the face of today’s perceived troubles, which are minor in comparison.

    3. Bob, I’m good at reading history. I took AP US History in high school, took a history course in college focused on slavery and the civil war, and took another college history course covering America from WWI to the 21st century. I know that racism was far worse and more pervasive in the 1940’s. It was even terrible for my Dad growing up in Mississippi in the 1950’s.The Civil Rights Acts have somewhat addressed a lot of those issues, but that doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist today. I’ve had ” Go home N*****” carved into my mailbox 2 days after moving into an Indianapolis apartment complex in 2013. No one tried to lynch me, but does that mean that act wasn’t racist? Disregarding Black legislators by booing them and walking out when they talk about their own experiences with discrimination is racist, or at the very least extremely intolerant and dismissive.

  2. Shackleford said she has renewed her request for all members of the House to go through implicit bias training.

    “Bias training”? What if whites treated minorities that way and said they need “tolerance training”? I’m white, never been black for a hot minute. My closest friends happened to be black because I was raised in a house that trained us to realize that the content of ones character is found in their hearts, not their outward appearance. My dad’s best friend was black…dad is my role model. Why don’t we train this? I’ll tell you why, because those portions of the human race that exist based on outward appearance would DIE…they would cease to exist. Identity should be the content of ones heart, not their political, sexual, race, or special interest. AMERICA, WAKE UP!!!

    1. Scott H., we’re so proud of you for being so progressive (don’t worry, that’s a lower car “p”). “Some of my best friends are Black!” You’re naive to think this society is anywhere near being the Utopia of your comment, lifted quite a bit from MLK. You’re right, but we are about 3+ generations from that reality – at a minimum. And Indiana will be 25-50 years beyond that

  3. The only way to resolve this so the Republicans look good is to have Part-Time Todd Rokita do an in depth legal analysis and then issue a finding on behalf of the R’s

  4. Racism is racism. Trying to rationalize or gaslight doesn’t work anymore. It is too easy to find evidence-based data on the effects of these garbage bills. Indiana voters need to do better and start electing competent representatives.

  5. Heckling, walking out, verbal attacks. Really. Regardless of what is being said, are these the best we have to represent us? Most kindergartners would know how to behave better.

  6. I know this will cause controversy, but I have to ask – aren’t masks mandated in government buildings now? Who’s the one guy in the video without a mask? Just curious as to who he is.

  7. At least you can give the Indiana GOP credit for finally showing their racism and bigotry in an obvious way. Usually they just make racist and bigoted laws. This time they put a cherry on top by actually booing and interrupting Black legislators on the day they’re celebrating Black History Month. Thank God I don’t live under their regime anymore!

    1. Thanks, Randy; duly noted. I have a Bachelors Degree from Purdue and two Masters Degrees from Butler…but being an older white conservative Christian, you wouldn’t expect me to know how to operate a keyboard, would you?

      When you’re done snarking, read my suggestion, above, about a good book you might investigate. There’s only 24 pictures within its 384 pages, though, and the vocabulary is a few notches above Dick & Jane, so it might take you a while to plow through it.

    2. Bob P., my comment was merely a playful tongue-in-cheek reference of your “minus” to my “plus”. I have no preconceived notions about older white conservative Christians living in the Indy area other than, on average, they are a little too conservative for my taste. Some are just fine, some are racist. I am in that exact demo except for I lean left. I disagree with on on certain things and enjoy a little give-and-take. Our academic credentials are remarkably comparable, but I can take a ribbing on Dick and Jane and keep moving along. I Googled Tracy Campbell and he seems legit (Duke and all that), but I haven’t read this particular book. Sounds good. I love history, and my ancestors fought in WWII, so I have some understanding of the topic. You might recall Black soldiers were often placed in segregated units, asked to take on the more dangerous missions, and were denied equal treatment under the GI bill when they returned. So there’s that.

    3. Cool, Randy.

      I haven’t finished Mr. Campbell’s book (I’m about 80% through it), so I haven’t seen anything about blacks being assigned to more dangerous missions, although I wouldn’t doubt it. What I have read is bad enough and far, far worse than the snowflakes of all stripes perceive as the cross they imagine themselves to be bearing today.

      Yes, the book is worth a read. It’s been out less than 6 months (IIRC) and our library had to order it when I requested it. I don’t have a “due date” unless someone else comes in and requests it, at which time I’ll have to return it!

  8. Thank you, Lindsey Erdody, for reporting this story with context about the cause for concern, which is House Bill 1367. Now I get it! Unfortunately, IndyStar concentrated on the heated discussions and anger, but not about what the bill said. You also provided background to put this bill into a larger, national setting, and you provided important stats. I was waiting for IBJ to report. Thanks and good work.

    1. Yes. And the context is: male lawmaker being called out for pushing a racist law gets mad and threatens a female legislator. Next up: a look at “parental choice” laws?

  9. Unfortunately, our gerrymandered districts don’t allow equal representation of Hoosiers and both political parties. Having a supermajority with no accountability results in uncivil behavior.

  10. I suggest they take one week off from legislating and take racial bias and sensitivity training. Then come back and adjourn the session early and go home before they embarrass us anymore!

  11. In the Indy Star article, one Rep said “I don’t have a racist bone in my body”. As a 60 year old white male, I can tell you that anybody that says that, has no clue they are a racist. It has taken me a while to realize this, but I have done things in the past that after a little more reflection were decidedly racist, and I wish I could have done them over.

    When it looks racist, smells racist, and quacks with racists leanings, it is most likely racists.

    Shame on Indiana Republicans for their insensitivity.

    1. Thank you Dan for acknowledging past faults and working on not repeating them. That is what almost anyone protesting for Black lives wants. No one needs to be perfect. Just admit to mistakes and don’t repeat them. Members of the INGOP don’t seem to care.

  12. Critical Race Theory is dangerous precedent and we are seeing it in all walks of life. There is no decorum in politics or adult supervision. You would think the people we entrust to make laws for we the people would be representative of the citizen and less about their personal opinions and views. What is happening in the USA is absolutely appalling and a detriment to freedom and liberty.

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