Indiana Senate Republicans push racist crime bills
Police confront protesters near the Governor's Residence in Indianapolis, June 1, 2020, during protests over the death of George Floyd. New crime bills proposed by Indiana Republican legislators would empower the police further. | AJ Mast / AP

INDIANAPOLIS—On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Indiana Senate Republicans defended five bills written with the intent to deny working-class people the ability to afford bail or utilize charitable bail organizations.

GOP State Sens. Michael Young, Aaron Freeman, Jack Sandlin, Michael Crider, and Kyle Walker spoke up for the bills—which also expand police power and budgets, target crime “hot spots,” and increase the hardships of workers on electronic monitoring—before a committee hearing at the Indiana state capitol.

The Corrections and Criminal Law Committee consisted of Chairperson Young, Freeman, Sandlin, and Walker, as well as Sens. Mike Bohacek, Susan Glick, and Eric Koch, all Republicans. Only two Democratic Senators sit on the committee, ranking minority member Rodney Pol and minority member Greg Taylor. All sitting Senate committee members except two are white and male.

The hearing room was packed with police, senate aides, community and union members, representatives from the public defender agency, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Vera Institute of Justice, as well as the Bail Project.

The five Senate bills proposed and debated at the open committee hearing were Senate Bill 6, which requires that anyone accused of a violent felony pay 100% of the minimum bail amount by cash and prohibits an unrelated third party from posting bail. This will disproportionately affect poor working-class communities, especially those of color. It would increase the amount of time spent behind bars in the pre-trial for many, which is known to be a factor leading to increased recidivism.

Senate Bill 7 expands the jurisdiction, duties, and responsibilities of law enforcement agencies operating in downtown Indianapolis. It is a direct response to the events of the summer of 2020 when people marched to demand an end to police brutality after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by racist police. This bill will not increase protections to the community but rather increases the harassment that poor and houseless individuals face downtown.

Senate Bill 8 prohibits charitable bail organizations from posting bail for more than two people in any 180-day period. It also prohibits any government agency from providing grant money to a charitable bail organization and prohibits such groups from using any state-funded grant for bail purposes. The bill particularly targets The Bail Project, which has operated successfully in several other states to provide bail to the indigent while, at the same time. Instead, the bill promotes the interests of the for-profit bail bond industry. The Bail Project has helped 1,000 clients in Marion and Lake Counties, 84% of whom have not spent further time in jail.

Senate Bill 9 requires police to automatically respond to any person on electronic monitoring whenever their device is cut off or loses signal. This will endanger many workers’ jobs who often lose GPS signals due to device malfunction while inside warehouses, distribution centers, and factories.

Lastly, Senate Bill 10 gives more money to police departments to target “violent crime reduction districts.” The language in this bill is a thinly disguised euphemism for over-policing Black and brown neighborhoods. To address harm and violence, communities devastated by neoliberal economic policy desperately need the money to go to social safety nets. Increased policing does not reduce violence; in fact, it increases the chance of harm at the hands of the police.

All these proposed bills increase the likelihood of further incarceration of workers, especially Black and brown workers, in the state’s largest urban area, Indianapolis. The state itself has set its sights on the city, with a cynical use of rising violent crime as the cover to criminalize its most diverse population. These bills do nothing to address the socio-economic conditions that give rise to harm and violence but tighten the belt of the judicial system around those most disadvantaged in those communities.

During the hearing, the Republican senators defended their bills from questions by minority committee members and, at times, the debate became heated. The GOP elected officials stated they were acting in the interest of their constituents—a constituency that consists of majority-white townships or adjacent, rural, and primarily white counties. Sen. Taylor, often a lone voice in the hearing, was repeatedly shut down by Chairman Young and could not proceed at various points with his questions, which often highlighted the blatantly racist motivations behind the bills.

During the public testimony portion of the hearing, several police officers and the president of the Indianapolis Fraternal Organization of Police (FOP), Rick Snyder, spoke in favor of the bills and were given nearly 30 minutes to speak, while those who spoke after them and in opposition were limited in their time to about four minutes. Michael Moore, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, challenged the constitutionality of Senate Bill 6 and vowed legal challenges based on the Eighth Amendment prohibiting excessive bail.

Jake Watkins, Vice President of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers’ International Union (BCTGM) Local 372A, called the laws a “racist backlash to the popular uprising in 2020.” That statement yielded unintended consequences. As he exited the room and began to shake hands with other speakers, someone followed. Shouts of “I’m going to beat your ass, you fucking idiot” were heard throughout the room.

Political and racial oppression are so intertwined in Indiana, that when people speak against them they become targets. The protection from violence that day did not come from the uniformed officers, but rather from the representatives of non-profits, unions, and members of the communities present.

The next step for these anti-worker and anti-democratic bills will be a third reading and a vote before being sent to the House. Aside from a few spokespersons at the hearing, it is uncertain what effective fightback will occur. The Indiana legislature is overwhelmingly in the hands of the Republican Party, and mass organizing around this and other anti-democratic bills being proposed faces significant obstacles at this time.


Jake Watkins
Jake Watkins

Jake Watkins is a representative of the BCTGM local 372A in Indiana. Born in Santiago, Chile, he is an activist with the Young Communist League and CPUSA.

Jason Jones
Jason Jones

Jason Jones is a social worker writing about Indiana. One of his favorite quotes is “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." -Antonio Gramsci. Jones is a fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Beisbol Cubano.