SPONSORED:

Black Indiana legislator says he was accosted by colleague in bathroom after heated debate

A Black Democratic legislator in the Indiana House said that he was accosted by a Republican colleague in the restroom last week after a heated debate.

State Rep. Vernon Smith (D) spoke about the alleged altercation with Rep. Alan Morrison (R) during a virtual news conference on Tuesday with the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.

Smith said he was in the restroom washing his hands after tensions spiked on the floor. Republicans booed Black lawmakers, including Smith, who were describing instances of racial discrimination, The Indy Star reported.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats had raised concerns that a proposed bill — which would allow students in a St. Joseph County township to leave a more racially-diverse school district for a smaller district primarily made up of white students — was discriminatory in nature. 

Smith said he was approached by Morrison, the assistant majority floor leader, while he was washing his hands in the restroom after his speech.

The Democrat alleged that Morrison went on a “tirade,” calling him a “bully” and a “coward.”

Smith said that he felt Morrison appeared to be egging him on to get physical.

“I ignored him as much as I could, but he continued constantly while I was in the restroom,” Smith said, adding that he left without drying his hands.

Smith noted that he didn’t know whether Morrison was carrying a weapon.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Since its only two of us in here and it’s my word against his word, he could say that I started something so I figured I need to get out into the hallway and therefore there would be some witnesses,” the legislator continued.

Smith said Morrison followed after him and continued verbally assaulting him until one of Morrison’s colleagues pulled him aside.

"I just don't feel that I should be in a situation where I've got to fear physically for my safety," said Smith.

The lawmaker, who was first elected in 1990, said he has never been aggressively confronted or booed before at the state house.

While he had been speaking about discrimination, referencing his own experience being pulled over for “driving while Black,” one Republican lawmaker even walked out.

Smith called for respectful disagreement amongst his colleagues, saying “I want peace.”

“I just don’t think this is the kind of environment we ought to have. And I’ll just shut up because I’m getting emotional,” he said, choking up, before leaving the conference.

Morrison declined to comment on the altercation to the Indy Star.

"I'm not gonna talk about that," Morrison said. "What happens between two grown men, I won't say anything. He can say whatever he wants, but I've got no comment on it."

ADVERTISEMENT

Smith and Morrison weren’t the only colleagues who butted heads after the debate on the legislation, which ultimately passed 52-43.

Indiana Reps. Sean Eberhart (R) and Vanessa Summers (D) also got into an altercation in the hallway, according to the Indy Star.

Eberhart alleged that Summers called him a racist and used derogatory words against him.

"I was confronted by Vanessa [Summers] and accused of being discriminatory and racist toward people in general," Eberhart said. "That’s totally not factual. I don’t have a racist bone in my body."

Summers acknowledged she may have used strong language during the contentious moment, but accused Eberhart of trying to hit her.

"I felt in danger for my life,” said Summers, another member of the Black caucus.

ADVERTISEMENT

The two were ultimately physically separated by their colleagues.

The Indiana Black Legislative Caucus cited the altercations in renewing its call for Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston (R) to have all House members participate in racism and implicit bias training.

“The behavior shown by the Republican House members only emphasizes the need for this training and we urge the Speaker to establish it as soon as possible,” the group said in a statement.