Black Indiana lawmakers seek reprimands after confrontations
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — 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.