By Whitney Downard
CNHI Statehouse Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb called for a statewide coalition to address racial disparities following a fourth continuous day of demonstrations across the Hoosier state but offered no concrete examples of change.
“Violence in the street makes progress on all these fronts harder and sets us back from forming a more perfect union,” Holcomb said. “This cannot and will not be accepted in Indiana, and we don’t have more time or lives to lose.”
Hoosiers across the state joined nationwide protests Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday decrying the actions of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd after kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Indianapolis’ peaceful protests turned violent after nightfall, with some demonstrators destroying private and public property, gunshots killing two Hoosiers and police using tear gas to break up crowds.
“We are seeing those peaceful demonstrations (get) hijacked by those who have only one goal in mind and that is to create chaos and destruction,” Holcomb said.
Doug Carter, the superintendent of the Indiana State Police, said state police were deployed to over a dozen cities.
“The people you must hold accountable are people like me,” Carter said. “I, and so many others like me around our great nation, must hold our officers accountable and you should expect nothing less of me.”
Carter called Floyd’s death a “stern reminder” that law enforcement had “much left to do.”
“I have said many times that law enforcement is not without sin,” Carter said. “But this is not the way to solve complex, real and historic conflict.”
Monday morning, before Holcomb’s address, the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus released a statement about the exhaustion of the African-American community.
“We have grown tired of the hashtags and tired of waiting for progress,” Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) said. “To articulate the exhaustion … would be beyond a mere few paragraphs.”
Shackleford highlighted the caucus’ efforts to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on black Hoosiers, whose higher prevalence of under-lying health conditions puts them at higher risk of death.
The caucus advocated for charging and convicting all officers involved in Floyd’s death, including three officers who didn’t intervene as Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. Members also called for civilian led use-of-force boards and legislation to prevent future deaths.
Before considering police reform, Holcomb said the first order of business would be to “stop the violence, stop the civil disorder and stop the unrest so we can have (that) conversation.”
But legislation could be an uphill battle, with many priorities from the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus sidelined repeatedly even with Holcomb’s support.
Indiana has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the nation, with black mothers dying at higher rates than white mothers. Despite Holcomb naming pregnancy accommodations as one of his top priorities for 2020, Republican legislators shunted the bill to a study committee.
When Republican leadership announced summer study committees last month, pregnancy accommodations were notably absent. Still, Holcomb said he would continue to advocate for Indiana’s mothers to have stronger pregnancy accommodations.
“I would ask the African-American community to join me, to be outspoken with me, should I get the opportunity to get that across the finish line because I’m coming back,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb underscored other areas of progress that benefited black Hoosiers, including the expansion of Indiana’s health coverage, post-secondary educational resources and a hate crimes bill.
“We have to do a better job: me, the legislature, everyone – regardless of your race,” Holcomb said. “There is more work to be done.”