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Representatives Greg Porter, left, and Vernon Smith

Indiana's Black Democrats booed on House floor by Republican members

Contributed By:The 411 News

Rep. Jim Lucas: "We are fed up with being called racist"

Democrats tying racism to legislation affecting two South Bend school corporations were booed and shouted down by Republicans during Thursday's Indiana House debate for the passage of HB 1367.

"I'm used to members leaving the floor when I do my MLK Day speech; they don't have to sit there and listen," Rep. Vernon Smith (D-Gary) said. "But I've never been shouted down and booed by House members."

Republican House members did the same to Rep. Greg Porter, a Democrat from Indianapolis, who spoke before Rep. Smith and said the bill discriminates against black communities in favor of white ones.

Rep. Porter left the meeting room after being heckled by Republicans shouting "stop" and "no."

This legislation has been defeated 3 times in the Indiana legislature, Smith said. "It is dangerous. Members know it could happen in their districts, too. And it is racist."

"When the legislation came to us in the education committee, I didn't believe the reasons -- transportation and course offerings -- for moving were justified. Busing is everywhere and students easily cross school district lines to take courses," Smith said.

If approved, HB 1367 would remove St. Joseph County's Greene Township from the South Bend Community School Corporation. It would let Greene Township join the John Glenn School Corporation, taking with it local, state and federal revenues including property taxes.

Student population in the South Bend school corporation is 61% minority (Black and Hispanic) plus 10% of the student body identifying as multi-racial. In John Glenn, the student population is about 90% white.

Rep. Smith spoke to House members, voicing his objections to the bill and about discrimination he had experienced "driving while black" and "having money to eat at restaurants but denied entrance because of my color." Republican members again shouted and booed. Some left the meeting room.

Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) led a group of his colleagues from the room during Smith's speech. Lucas told the Seymour Tribune, “The lies, the misrepresentation, the constant accusation of being called a racist is getting thin. People are fed up with it.”

The Associated Press and other news outlets reported heated, verbal altercations between members of the two parties in the hallways outside the meeting room. Rep. Smith said he was involved in a confrontation with an opposing member, but wouldn't identify him.

Members returned to the meeting room and voted 52-43 for approval with 14 Republicans joining Democrats opposing the bill.

Speaking to the Indianapolis Recorder the next day, Porter said, “If [Republicans] don’t want to hear anything of substance, they get up and walk out of the room, especially white legislators that represent rural communities. A lot of them say ‘Well, I’m not racist, we’re just setting policies.’ But the policies they push are racist, they lead to classism and discrimination, and I refuse to accept it.”

Rep. Smith said Republican House members who heckled speakers must face disciplinary measures. "We are going to keep this alive. The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus will hold a press conference Tuesday and we asked the NAACP to join us."

Story Posted:02/22/2021

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