After some of its members became the targets of booing, jeering and altercations in the House session on Feb. 18, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus is hosting call-to-action days at the Statehouse.
The IBLC hopes those who were involved with the heckling and ignoring of Black legislators as they spoke from the House floor will be reprimanded and that there will be mandatory implicit bias training for all legislators.
“I want people to stay engaged. I don’t want them to just be engaged for two weeks, but I want them to stay engaged throughout the rest of the session and throughout the year,” said Rep. Robin Shackleford (at left above, with Sen. Gregory Taylor, Rep. Vanessa Summers and Rep. Cherrish Pryor), D-Indianapolis.
The controversy was caused by House Bill 1367, authored by Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, which wants to create a two-year pilot program for John Glenn School Corporation, which has a majority of white students, to dis-annex from South Bend Community School Corporation, which has a majority of non-white students.
The confrontations broke out on a day when Black caucus members were celebrating Black History Month by wearing traditional African garb. Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, and Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, recalled their experiences with racism and were booed by some legislators as others refused to listen.
The bill moved to the Senate after a 53-42 vote in which 14 Republicans joined Democrats in voting against it. It is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-La Porte, Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, and Sen. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend.
The call-to-action days are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 1-4 and 8-11.
Each day will see speakers discussing bills of special interest to the Black community, and there are chances for citizens to talk to members of the IBLC. An IBLC banner hangs on the fourth floor of the Statehouse, and tables are set up for people to talk and get information on the IBLC legislative agenda and more.
Prominent leaders scheduled to appear include Tanya Bell McKenzie, Indiana Black Expo; Barbara Bolling-Williams, NAACP; Willis Bright, African American Coalition of Indianapolis; Pastor David Greene, Concerned Clergy; Tony Mason, Indianapolis Urban League; Robert Shegog, Indianapolis Recorder; and Marshawn Wholley, African American Coalition of Indianapolis.
On Tuesday, protesters ran into the issue of their signs not being the appropriate size. Security requires signs to be 2 feet by 2 feet. Shackleford said their intern was able to cut down some of the signs for protesters.
“People are excited. The community is excited. Even if they can’t make it down, we got a number of people calling wanting to see how they can email, place phone calls,” Shackleford said. “It gives them the opportunity to display their frustration that they were mad and concerned about what happened two weeks ago and also support and oppose legislation that has been harming the African-American community or that will help.”
Tierra Bush, president of the Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League, said it was her first time coming to an event like this at the Statehouse.
“It was great to hear issues and learn from this experience and share this experience with people who are not as well versed with some of these bills,” Bush said.
Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, said she hopes to see the concerns of the IBLC addressed and resolved. The IBLC has gotten more security, which does make them feel safer, she said. One of the reasons they opted for that was because of lawmakers carrying handguns with them in the Statehouse.
“We don’t allow citizens to bring in guns, but we do. I don’t agree with that,” Pryor said.“That is problematic for me.”
Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.