Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he encourages peaceful protesters to continue making their voices heard and is asking for their help in shaping his administration’s policies going forward.
Holcomb’s remarks were made during a press conference Monday afternoon—the first time he has answered questions publicly since protests started in Indianapolis and other areas of the state on Friday. Individuals and organizations at the gatherings have been expressing frustration and anger over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and other African Americans who have been killed by police.
Hundreds of peaceful protesters demonstrated in downtown Indianapolis throughout the entire weekend, but the gatherings turned violent Friday and Saturday nights as some individuals shattered glass windows and doors, painted graffiti on buildings and public monuments, looted businesses and started fires.
“All Hoosier citizens should know that peacefully protesting and demonstrating for this cause is a noble one, rightly protected by the First Amendment,” Holcomb said. “In fact, I hope the peacemakers continue to express themselves and not allow the message to be overwhelmed by the troublemakers seeking to administer pain on the innocent.”
He said he believes now is the time to make changes to address inequity and disparity and not just have more conversations or town halls about it. But he did not provide any concrete examples of policy changes he would implement other than suggesting the state needs to do a better job at communicating what resources are already available to the black community.
He mentioned the hate crimes bill the Indiana Legislature passed in 2019 and his recent efforts to expand pregnancy accommodations for workers as evidence that he is committed to pushing for change.
Holcomb encouraged everyone to be involved in criminal justice reform and finding ways to improve access to health care, affordable housing, educational opportunities and job trainings.
“Everyone is welcome,” Holcomb said. “We need you to be part of the solution.”
But Holcomb stressed that destroying property or harming other individuals won’t be accepted, and said a top priority is stopping that behavior so productive conversations can happen.
“Violence in the streets makes progress on all these fronts harder,” Holcomb said.
He said he supports the curfew Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett imposed on Sunday evening. The curfew was extended on Monday.
“I think that was very helpful,” Holcomb said.
Also during the press conference, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said the public needs to hold him accountable for overseeing his officers and repeatedly said police are “not without sin.”
“We are human beings just like you, and the death of George Floyd is a stern reminder that we, and what I represent, have much left to do,” Carter said. “I’ll start with a ‘I’m sorry.’”
State police have been sent to assist local law enforcement in more than a dozen communities, including Indianapolis, Carter said.
Carter said he was at the Statehouse on Saturday night and witnessed the riots that erupted.
“I could see fires, taste the smell of tear gas, and the view of broken windows, trash and debris was simply overwhelming to me,” Carter said.
He defended the use of tear gas, saying that police prefer to assist in keeping peaceful protests safe without using force, but once activity becomes illegal and dangerous, that changes the way police respond. He said he could hear officers warning people that if they didn’t disperse, tear gas would be used.
“There comes a certain point in time where we have to say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Carter said. “And we got there over the weekend.”
On Saturday, Holcomb put the Indiana National Guard on standby, but the guard was not activated until Sunday when guard members were sent to protect state properties. It is not clear how much damage was done to state properties prior to the National Guard being stationed at those sites.
Holcomb said he will keep the guard in place as long as it’s necessary.
“The answer is, we’re taking it day by day,” Holcomb said.
The guard has also been made available to local communities, but none have requested the help yet.