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Black Indiana Lawmakers lead week of protests following near-fight at statehouse

Lawmakers push back on several proposed bills
Posted at 12:14 AM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 00:14:08-05

INDIANAPOLIS — On day one of a week of action inside the Indiana Statehouse, members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus said they will not be silenced after they say they were booed and heckled by Republican lawmakers.

The February incident grew into a confrontation that one senator described as a near physical fight after Black lawmakers brought up the issue of race during a hearing about a bill impacting the urban South Bend school district.

"And it hurt me. I think I was in tears the afternoon, just from the anger and the hurt and to see my colleagues humiliated like that. To see representatives in the hallway fighting and arguing with each other," said Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis.

Pack is among the voices calling for accountability for the confrontation.

"Because there's been more than just that. That was just what blew up. But there's also other things that happen I think that we're silent about or we just don't want to make a fuss about. But it's time to stop," Pack said.

Following the confrontation, House Speaker Todd Huston said 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 in February 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.

Community groups are now joining the IBLC to raise awareness about several bills that they said would have a negative impact on Black Hoosiers, including proposed penalties for IndyGo and budget cuts to urban public schools. Marshawn Wolley is the policy director for the African American Coalition of Indianapolis. He said his group is speaking out now for a number of reasons.

"It was not only the combination of the booing and the jeering but was just all these bills that had some kind of detrimental racial component to them and top of the fact that we didn't see the positive bills move forward, that should've moved forward," Wolley said.

David Sklar with the Jewish Community Relations Council is standing in solidarity with the Black caucus and African American Coalition. He said any type of discrimination impacts everybody.

"Not just the community that experienced it that particular time, so it is important for communities like the Jewish community to come down here and show our solidarity and express that when something happens to one it happens to all and we need to stand together," Sklar said.

Hoosiers are being invited to join in the protests that will happen all week long. The ask is as simple as sending a hand-written message with your thoughts and concerns, which will be passed on to lawmakers.