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Tensions Flare As Some Republicans Boo, Heckle Black Democrats On House Floor

Brandon Smith
IPB News

Tensions flared in the Indiana House Thursday after Republicans shouted down Democratic lawmakers who voiced concerns about discrimination in a bill.

The legislation in question would allow a St. Joseph County township to leave the South Bend school district – which is racially diverse – for a nearby school district that’s overwhelmingly White.

Two Black Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns on the House floor about what they viewed as discriminatory issues with it and a group of Republicans booed and heckled them.

House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) said that should not have been tolerated.

“Emotions get short and I was disappointed with today," Huston said. "I have to do a better job of running the floor. I’ll do that and we’ll work together to make improvements.”

But an ensuing argument in the hallway outside the chamber escalated. Indiana Black Legislative Caucus Chair Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) said Rep. Sean Eberhart (R-Shelbyville) had to be physically restrained from going after Rep. Vanessa Summers (D-Indianapolis).

“For a member to now take it to a violent situation and look like they’re going to hit our member and have to be pulled away from a member – and especially when it’s a White male versus a Black female – then we have some serious issues there,” Shackleford said.

A video posted on Twitter by an Indianapolis Star reporter shows some of the aftermath of the exchange, with Summers and Eberhart separated by other lawmakers.

Shackleford said she asked Huston last year to require all House lawmakers to undergo implicit bias training and repeated that request to him Thursday.

Huston would not commit to doing so.

Contact reporter Brandon at or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.