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White cop allegedly prepared to draw weapon on black Region lawmaker at Statehouse

White cop allegedly prepared to draw weapon on black Region lawmaker at Statehouse

From the ICYMI: Here are the most-read stories from the past week series

Indiana State Police are investigating an alleged racial profiling incident Saturday at the Statehouse, where a Capitol Police officer reportedly prepared to unholster and draw his gun while yelling at state Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary.

There are no known video recordings or photographs of the confrontation that followed Melton and state Sen. J.D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, leading a few dozen Indiana Racial Justice Alliance rally participants from the Statehouse lawn into the building for safety as severe thunderstorms rolled through the capital city.

According to Belinda Drake, a Democratic Senate candidate from Indianapolis, a white Capitol Police officer rushing toward the group saw Melton and yelled at him to "freeze" while unsnapping the holster on his firearm — "presumably in preparation to draw his weapon at an unarmed black senator."

"Senator Ford tried to deescalate the situation, tried to get the trooper to take notice and listen, but the trooper was so singularly focused on Senator Melton," Drake said.

"Senator Ford was eventually able to get the trooper to hear him and to ease his aggression toward Senator Melton. The difference in how aggressively the trooper treated Senator Melton compared to how generously he treated Senator Ford was unnerving."

Ford, who is white, represents the north and west sides of Indianapolis in the Senate. He's a graduate of Purdue University Northwest in Hammond.

Melton described the situation as "unfortunate" in a statement issued Monday. A video recording of his speech at the rally Saturday suggests Melton clearly was shaken by it.

"That was just an interesting exchange behind us, so bear with me for a second," said Melton, who was wearing a T-shirt featuring the words "I can't breathe," as spoken by George Floyd, a black man, moments before he died while a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck.

"An incident just occurred and just that quick, it could have escalated. Just that quick. The reach for a weapon. That don't make sense."

Melton said he's spoken to Senate leadership and Capitol Police about a formal review of the incident.

At the same time, Melton said: "I want to be clear that I don’t want this situation to become a distraction from the work that we're doing through the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus on our police reform agenda."

Ford said while it's understandable a police officer might not recognize two state senators dressed in casual clothes, the disrespectful treatment Melton received is an unacceptable way for police to engage with anyone in the Statehouse.

"These kinds of incidents are all too common for black and brown Hoosiers," Ford said. "The only difference is that this time I had a front-row seat and got to see with my own eyes exactly why so many Hoosiers are so upset with the way they are often treated by law enforcement."

The Statehouse generally is closed to the public on weekends and largely has been closed to everyone since March, including state employees, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Visitors to the building normally have to pass through a metal detector.

In this case, the senators said they used their electronic key cards to open the Statehouse door to get people out of the storm that ultimately felled numerous large trees in Indianapolis, including some near the Statehouse.

The Statehouse incident follows a July 4 confrontation between Vauhxx Booker, a black man, and group of white men at Lake Monroe, near Bloomington, Indiana, that's been described as an "attempted lynching" since one of the white men reportedly said, "Get a rope" while they pinned Booker to a tree.

Drake, who is black, said the two events show "it doesn’t matter how far we think we've come, we still have so much further to go. ... Last week, it was being black in the woods. This week, it is being black in the Statehouse."

"It didn't matter that Senator Melton is elected to state office. It didn't matter that Senator Melton was being responsible and doing the right thing by going to talk with the trooper. It didn't matter that Senator Melton was doing everything that the trooper yelled at him to do. It didn't matter that Senator Melton was cooperating. It didn't matter that Senator Melton was unarmed. None of that mattered," she said.

"What happened to Senator Melton was an act of systemic racism through the use of racial profiling by law enforcement, and it glaringly points to the need for structural change in Indiana."

Indiana State Police Sgt. Ron Galaviz said a formal complaint about the alleged Statehouse incident "has been received" and "an investigation is currently underway."

He did not indicate when the investigation will be completed.

The Region responds to the death of George Floyd

Collection: The Region responds to the death of George Floyd

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, organizers throughout multiple municipalities in the Region joined with others in rallying against systemic racism.

View stories, photo galleries and videos reported by staff and correspondents from multiple days of protest coverage.

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