Indiana News

Examining new state laws passed since May 2020 downtown Indianapolis riots

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Deadly shootings, lootings, vandalism, and fires: A year ago this weekend, riots shook the downtown.

What started as peaceful protests turned violent.

This week, News 8 is looking at what happened and what’s changed.

They were nights last Summer etched in our memories. Fires burning in the streets of downtown Indy. People spray-painted graffiti on the steps of Monument Circle and the Soldiers and Sailors Monument itself. People even tagged the south side of the Indiana War Memorial.

State Rep. Matt Lehman is a Republican from Berne who is majority floor leader. He said during an April 6 session of the House of Representatives, “I think the right path here is to set the stage that says we are going to protect our monuments, protect this capitol. The path is not destruction and harm to public safety, but it is to set the table that we take it very seriously.”

In April, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed legislation into law that deals specifically with protection of monuments including those on the Statehouse grounds and the campus of the state government centers. The law requires Indiana State Police to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of people who destroy, damage or vandalize statues memorials or monuments.

The law came to be after those downtown incidents. Before the bill became law, several Democrat legislators spoke against it.

“I understand the intent of this bill. I understand we want to protect the capitol. But, I firmly believe we need to focus on saving lives. Monuments and memorials can be replaced. Lives cannot. I will be voting ‘no,'” said state Rep. Robin Shackleford, a Democrat from Indianapolis who is chair of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, on April 6.

Lehman also said April 6, “Nothing in here says it’s got to be the top priority; ‘You put everything else aside and focus on monuments and memorials’.”

State Rep. Matt Lehman, a Republican from Berne who is Majority Floor Leader, explained during an April 6th session of the House Chamber.

The Senate minority leader, Democrat Greg Taylor, also voted against the bill. On Wednesday, he explained his thoughts: “A piece of legislation that emphasizes and actually uses the word ‘prioritizes’ the physical structures in the state of Indiana over prioritizing the health, welfare and safety of people to me is a waste of time. But, that’s what the supermajority wanted, and that’s what they got.”

The law also enhances penalties to the crime of rioting. The new law could also impact funding for political subdivisions in some cases.

Sen. Eric Koch, a Republican from Bedford, explained during an April 8 session of the Senate chamber, “This is honestly a bill I hope never ever has to be used. I never hope there’s another statue, memorial, commemorative piece destroyed in Indiana, and I hope not a single penny of funds has to be withheld from a political subdivision.”

Several other bills that would have cracked down even more on protesters failed in the General Assembly. One would have allowed the attorney general to take over prosecutions if local prosecutors decided not to file charges as well as allowed prison sentences up to six years for rioting and added penalties for people who hide their faces during protests.

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