The African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) and community supporters held a silent protest at the Indiana Statehouse on March 2 in reaction to alleged mistreatment of Indiana Black Legislative Caucus (IBLC) members from state Republicans as well as legislation that affects the African American community.
There were several speakers — both community members and leaders — who discussed bills they oppose and support ahead of the silent protest. AACI policy advisor Marshawn Wolley said it was important to “speak our piece” before protesting.
Among the bills discussed was Senate Bill 141, which would withhold income tax revenue from IndyGo if it fails to raise a pre-determined amount of revenue on its own.
Ashley Gurvitz, chief executive officer at Alliance for Northeast Unification, spoke in opposition to the bill.
Arguing upcoming projects at IndyGo aren’t just about public transportation, Gurvitz noted the transit company’s plans to revitalize the northeast side through rebuilding infrastructure, creating sidewalks and partnering with businesses from the public and private sector to promote job creation.
Gurvitz recalled seeing a mother standing at a bus stop while holding her newborn baby and with a toddler in a stroller. However, because there was no sidewalk available, the young woman was standing on the side of the road. Helping fund IndyGo, Gurvitz said, would help create sidewalks and other safety measures for community members.
“This bill does not benefit the betterment of our community, Gurvitz said. “It creates extra barriers to funding … and the people of these communities don’t deserve the unnecessary politics.”
Sibeko Jwyanza, manager of Cleo’s Bodega and an advocate for food accessibility in Indianapolis, spoke in favor of House Bill 1146, which would create a “food incubator program” to provide grants meant to increase food availability in underserved communities.
“When people have healthier foods, it helps their mental and physical health,” Jwyanza said.
Some protesters were upset with the direction the Indiana General Assembly has taken in light of nationwide civil rights protests last year.
Tanya McKinzie, president of Indiana Black Expo, expected to see more racial justice reform bills following the death of George Floyd in May 2020. Instead, she said there are “horrible community policing bills” and anti-protesting bills.
“We are pissed,” McKinzie said.
The protest came after several IBLC members were harassed by state Republicans following debate Feb. 18.
IBLC chairwoman Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, said Speaker of the House Todd Huston, R-Noblesville, is considering reprimands for Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville. Eberhart was in a near-violent confrontation with IBLC member Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, late last month.
Shackleford said she and Huston have also been discussing implicit bias training for state legislators. Shackleford envisions the training will consist of four to five representatives in small groups to learn more about implicit bias and systemic racism.
After hearing from the speakers, members of the protest lined up with homemade signs, silently advocating for their communities until the legislature went into session at 1:30.
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.