Vauhxx Booker and his attorney, Katharine Liell, are calling on the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana to convene a grand jury to look into a reported July 4 racial attack on Booker at Lake Monroe and several similar incidents in the district.
Speaking at a Friday evening news conference at Peoples Park, Liell said the great thing about a grand jury is that citizens can indict, allowing them to take back part of the legal process.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, Bloomington resident and Monroe County Human Rights Commission member Vauhxx Booker posted on Facebook his personal account of the interactions he and his friends had with a group of white men near Lake Monroe on the national holiday, complete with videos.
“It’s not the most preferable thing but we are at this point where we’ve seen too much feet dragging,” Booker said, explaining why they are calling for a grand jury. “We’ve seen too many other folks victimized like myself without adequate response, and it has become necessary that the government step in and do what the government’s supposed to do — protect the citizens.”
Indiana Conservation Officers are leading the investigation into the incident and are expected to turn their findings over to the local prosecutor’s office so officials there can decide whether to file any criminal charges. The Federal Bureau of Investigations confirmed on Thursday that it is also investigating the case as a hate crime.
Liell said Monroe County has a small prosecutor’s office that is obviously struggling to get ahead of this case and to bring those suspects in and arrest them. She added help is needed from the federal government to step in and protect the residents of southern Indiana.
The local prosecutor’s office received more than 35,000 emails and 10,000 phone calls this week regarding the incident at Lake Monroe.
Amid criticism for not taking immediate action, Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant said in a Thursday news release that she doesn’t have control over how long an investigation takes, adding that it has not been unusually long thus far. Once she has received the report from the conservation officers, she will review it and determine what, if any, charges will be filed.
However, given the outpouring of calls from the community that the prosecutor’s office takes swifter action, Booker wonders how many people need to step up before action is taken. He believes the information shared so far is more than enough for some arrests.
Booker acknowledged that calling on the U.S attorney to convene a grand jury may extend the process timeline.
“I have concerns either way but here’s the thing: justice can be delayed but it can’t be denied, and the only question is how long are we going to delay justice?” Booker said.
Along with calling for a grand jury to be convened, Patrick Ford, an organizer of the local activist group Enough is Enough, said they are also calling for either the immediate suspension or termination of the DNR officers who responded to the incident on July 4.
Activists gathered in solidarity with Booker also expressed concerns about similar incidents that occurred in the community recently. Ford said along with what happened to Booker there was also what happened to Dee Davis, a Black local resided and basketball standout, who on July 2 had a Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department detective stop and question him while he was going for a morning walk in his neighborhood on Bloomington’s south side.
Some who gathered together on Thursday said such issues have been a problem for much longer.
“I’ve lived here for 15 years, and I can tell you, this is not an isolated incident,” said Amrita Myers with Black Lives Matter Bloomington. “It’s part of a lot. It is the culmination of a long series of small escalating incidences that have happened over a long period of time.”
Myers said this country does not have a justice system, it has a legal system. She added it needs to be reformed from the bottom up because it is not working for people of color like her. Myers said this includes reallocating police funding to more social service efforts.
Bloomington City Clerk Nicole Bolden said racism is a choice and it is something that can be unlearned. She challenged the community to put in the work to ensure it is not tolerated.
“I’m going to say this, Bloomington is roughly 4.5% Black, but a problem for 4.5% of us is a problem for 100% of us,” Bolden said.
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