Bills in Indiana target grassroots anti-racist uprising

Protesters lay down on the street, blocking traffic as drivers lean out of their cars in support.

A slew of reactionary bills targeting the anti-racist uprisings that bloomed across Indiana and the world last year are advancing through the Indiana State House. On February 9, the Senate passed Senate Bill 187, regarding vandalism of monuments, memorials, and statues. In addition, the Senate passed SB 198 on February 16, which would change state law on rioting and unlawful assemblies. Both bills are now in committee in the equally-reactionary House of Representatives.

An addition in SB 198 would make obstructing traffic a level 5 felony (carrying a fine of up to $10,000 and a prison term between one and six years) to obstruct traffic “if the offense results in catastrophic bodily injury or death.” Protests of the size and spontaneity that were seen in the summer 2020 uprisings frequently spilled into the streets. Like sidewalks, streets are traditional public fora, and are often the only places suitably large enough to hold such massive demonstrations. This addition is only usable against protesters blocking traffic. But who might die in the streets when protesters block traffic, and how?

In both Bloomington and Indianapolis, drivers plowed into demonstrators who were in the streets, a space where people may legally engage in protected speech. These attacks are part of a nationwide trend where police and white people who ideologically oppose the Black liberation struggle have used vehicles as weapons against street-based demonstrations. Here, the Indiana General Assembly gives both these terrorizers and prosecutors a weapon to escalate attacks on righteous, revolutionary demonstrations by working and oppressed people.

SB 198 would make curfew violations a class B misdemeanor, carrying a potential fine of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail. Many protests continued beyond curfew times established by local government officials, in Indiana and elsewhere, often without incident. This clause gives police another crime to arrest protesters for violating by exercising their rights to protected speech.

Obstruction of traffic and the new curfew violations are both misdemeanors, and the bill adds a new misdemeanor-class offense to the state’s anti-conspiracy law. This allows police to slap overlapping charges of obstructing traffic, violating curfew, and conspiracy against people engaging in protected speech.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation rejects these attacks that seek to chill participation in massive, righteous demonstrations against racist police terror. We maintain the right to assemble and popularize the liberatory program the people have been demanding. While these laws seek to criminalize resistance, we know: it is right to rebel!