Indiana Republicans boo Black lawmakers discussing discrimination

Black lawmakers in Indiana objected to a school bill they believe promotes segregation

Black lawmakers in Indiana were shouted down and booed by their Republican colleagues as they discussed discrimination.

The heated encounter took place on Thursday as the legislative chamber debated House Bill 1367 which would “initiate a process to disannex certain territory from an existing school corporation,” USA Today reported. Democrats have charged that the Republican-led bill would promote segregation, allowing students in St. Joseph County township to leave more racially diverse schools and enroll in those that are primarily white instead.

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Indiana Black Caucus
(Credit: Indiana Black Caucus)

Republicans denied that there was any discriminatory intent with the proposed bill. Rep. Jake Teshka, who authored the bill, said it was one that focused on transportation.

Rep. Greg Porter, a member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC), was subjected to boos as he spoke of his experiences as a Black man who has faced discrimination.

“It got to the point that I knew it wasn’t going to end well, so I cut the debate short,” Porter told the Indianapolis Recorder. “I said ‘If anyone who booed me wants to come and talk to me about it, I’ll meet you outside.’ It was best for me to leave the chamber.” The outlet also reported that two members of the IBLC have been offered the services of bodyguards due to threats.

Rep. Vernon Smith similarly spoke of his own experiences with being discriminated such as “driving while Black,” at the session. His recollection also prompted boos, shouting and Rep. Jim Lucas walked out after Smith’s testimony. Lucas declined to comment but he had been sanctioned over the summer for sharing a racist meme.

GOP Speaker of the House Todd Huston asked for everyone to show respect.

“Let’s show the people at the mic the respect. Do your best while you are at your desk,” said Huston, according to 13News. “Let’s make sure we have respect and communication every step of the way.”

In another tense moment, Rep. Sean Eberhart (R) allegedly swore at Rep. Vanessa Summers (D). The claim was made by a reporter who had attended the meeting but deleted it after Eberhart reached out to deny it.

Rep. Vanessa Summers
(Credit: Rep. Summers)

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“I was confronted by Vanessa (Summers) and accused of being discriminatory and racist toward people in general,” Eberhart said to USA Today. “That’s totally not factual. I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

Summers acknowledged that she and Eberhart had words but that it was he who escalated the encounter.

“He just went off and got mad and tried to hit me,” she said per USA Today. “I felt in danger for my life.”

Summers asserted that the hostilities that Black lawmakers faced emphasized their point about discrimination.

“Everybody over there is racist and discriminatory,” Summers said, of House Republicans “Those that aren’t and are not standing up for what’s right, they’ve got white privilege and they’re racist too.”

State Rep. Robin Shackleford, chairwoman of the Indiana Black Caucus, issued a statement on behalf of the IBLC. She also requested that Huston hold a bias training session.

“If they’re feeling that we’re constantly attacking them and they’re taking it personal, then they’re going to be on the defense and we’re never going to go anywhere,” Shackleford said.

The bill ultimately passed 52-43.

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