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Indiana officials from all sectors condemn racism, violence, and George Floyd murder

MICHIGAN CITY — While protests and civil unrest continue across the country in response to the George Floyd murder, municipal, civic and religious leaders in Indiana are condemning both the killing and the violence that followed.

In Michigan City, a protest Sunday remained peaceful, though there was some vandalism later at Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets and nearby shops. Area protests through the week in Portage, Crown Point and other cities also remained mostly peaceful.

But violence in Chicago, Indianapolis and even Lake County brought outrage from all sectors.

“We, like so many of you, are outraged by this tragic death,” the Most Reverend Robert McClory, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Gary, said of the killing by police in Minneapolis.

McClory said “racial injustice” should be condemned and peaceful protests respected.

“In many communities, including Northwest Indiana, people have gathered to express their extreme sadness, justified frustration and anger with the injustices that many in our nation endure,” the bishop said.

“Violence and self-destruction should be rejected. Peaceful protests should be met with understanding and compassion.

“In a particular way, I am asking our priests to include special prayer intentions in all our Masses for an end to injustice and the scourge of racism, and that we be inspired to bring compassion, mercy and justice to this hurting world.”

Michigan City Mayor Duane Parry, in a statement, said, “As a nation and in our community, we have witnessed and shared in the grief over the tragic death of George Floyd ... We also have seen the protests and sometimes violence and destruction that has occurred in some cities.”

He acknowledge the efforts of police and protesters.

“I could not be prouder of the men and women that put themselves and our City ahead of everything else to ensure a safe, peaceful protest...” and “I want to thank the demonstrators who peacefully exercised their right to free speech.

“The protest was motivated by a desire for justice, equality and accountability ... I am angered and disappointed though by the individuals who chose to engage in unnecessary acts of violence and destruction, which undermined the true meaning of the protest.”

Also denouncing violence was Vanessa Allen McCloud, president of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, who joined Urban League executives across the country in a joint statement.

“Our communities are overwhelmed with grief. We are heartsick over the inhumanity we have witnessed...” and “appalled by the callous response from the authorities...

“Cities across the nation have erupted in rage and despair. As civil rights leaders who are committed to racial justice, we share the protesters’ anguish, and the heartbreak of the communities where uprisings have turned violent.

“There are those who are inciting violence and mayhem. And there are those engaged in peaceful protest. No one should assume they are the same people, and we refute any attempt to discredit or dismiss the just cause for which people are marching based on infiltrators bent on sabotage.”

The Urban League mentioned specific actions like widespread use of body cameras, and, revision of use-of-force policies, “But even more ... we need a revision of our culture ... we call upon all community leaders, elected officials, corporate leaders and social institutions to join us in pursuing policies that promote racial reconciliation.”

Among those hearing that message was MCPD Chief Dion Campbell, who said: “The Michigan City Police Department strongly denounces the actions that resulted in the tragic death of George Floyd ... It’s a sobering moment for us as we reflect on this unfortunate incident and the need for on-going high level training in the use of force continuum.”

He said the MCPD leadership is “committed to building a strong culture that reflects the value of human life, while providing safety and security for all of our citizens.”

Steve Witty, executive director of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, said the events can be a teaching moment.

“We support those that peacefully seek social justice. We are most saddened by recent events that have increased the racial divide in our country,” he said.

“This time in our history can be a valuable, teachable moment for the players we serve. By coming together with love and compassion for all, we can overcome these issues and make the world a better place for all.”

The national League of Women Voters said transparency and justice are needed.

“The League of Women Voters grieves the murders of George Floyd and the countless other black lives that have been tragically taken at the hands of rogue law enforcement...,” the League said in a statement.

“We also mourn those who have lost their lives or been harmed, mentally or physically, as a result of America’s pervasive culture of anti-blackness. The systems of oppression that have perpetuated the myth of white supremacy in our country must be dismantled if we are ever to become the nation we pledge to be – indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Similarly, the Disabled American Veterans organization said recent events should “give us pause to reflect upon our great nation’s promises and ideals, as well as its injustices and shortcomings.

“As veterans, we have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and hold sacred the rights of all Americans whom we fought to defend ... many of our brothers and sisters-in-arms sacrificed their lives or became seriously disabled protecting the very freedoms our fellow citizens are exercising on the streets of America today...”

But it said, “DAV does not condone acts that exceed those rights and specifically condemns actions inciting violence, inflicting physical harm and causing damage to private and public property... We encourage dialogue and actions that can drive the kind of meaningful, positive and lasting change so many veterans fought side-by-side to defend...”

Promising to work toward change was Chief Justice Loretta Rush of the Indiana Supreme Court.

“Despite all we have worked to pursue, justice remains elusive to many persons of color ... There is a disconnect between what we aspire for in our justice system and what we have achieved,” she said in a statement.

“That may be hard to hear for all of us who work every day for fairness, but we must hear the voices that cry out in our streets and towns. We must acknowledge and confront the reality that our fellow community members say is their experience. And it is imperative we take action to change that experience – not ignore, justify, or disparage it.”

She said judges must “elevate the role of implicit bias training in our curriculum and educate ourselves about disproportionality and racial disparities in the justice system...

“Victims of biased hatred and racism must be able to rely on the courts. They must be treated with dignity, and those who stoke the fires of that hatred and racism must be held accountable.”

The chief justice also said, “Families affected by poverty in our state must be shown both fairness and compassion, no matter their color. The disadvantaged and vulnerable must be protected...

“Children, individuals, and families of color have at times been treated more harshly and punished more severely than their white counterparts. It is a fact, and it must stop.”

Speaking for the Indiana Department of Correction, Commissioner Rob Carter said Floyd’s death “reflects deeply ingrained, long-standing divisions in our society” that have given rise to hate.

He said like police officers, IDOC “has a duty to protect”; and like the protesters, is “charged with promoting change in people...”

He called on everyone to “take a hard look inward and re-examine your attitudes and beliefs. Acknowledge your ingrained fears and biases, and ... work to replace them with attitudes and actions that promote social equity and harmony...”

He said all Hoosiers must acknowledge that racial inequality exists; “work to protect black people as we do white people”; and “refuse to allow ourselves to blindly accept biased attitudes fueled by fear and hate.”

Schools could look very different under state COVID-19 guidelines

INDIANAPOLIS — Modified school days, more outdoor class time, mask-wearing and health screenings for students and staff are among steps schools should consider before reopening, according to state education officials.

All Indiana schools closed in mid-March and shifted largely to online coursework. The state Department of Education on Friday released reopening guidelines, but they are not mandatory. The state is leaving the ultimate decision on resuming classes, sports and other activities to local schools.

Specific social distancing recommendations in the report include scheduling groups of students to attend in-person at school on alternate days or half days to minimize the number of students in buildings. They also suggest keeping the same students and staff members together as much as possible and increasing space between desks.

A three-phase plan for the return of extracurricular activities would allow them to resume by Aug. 15.

Anyone who tests positive or exhibits one or more symptoms of the virus should not be allowed to enter the school, according to the guidelines.

Because temperature screening “can present challenges” and “will not eliminate the risk” of the disease spreading on buses or inside buildings, self-screening at home is the at-minimum recommendation.

And while mask-wearing is recommended by the education department and the CDC, school districts can decide whether to make it a requirement.

“Providing students with a quality education is critical and therefore it is crucial we offer considerations focused on getting students back in the classroom in a safe manner,” state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said.

She is expected to discuss the guidelines further during an online meeting with school leaders Tuesday.

The guidance comes sooner than originally planned. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is “convinced” schools will be able to reopen safely, previously said he would issue guidance in July. Educators and school administrators, however, pushed for earlier directions: Most districts begin school by early August, meaning they would have little time to prepare.

On Friday, Holcomb reemphasized the recommendations are not mandated and there are no enforcement measures to ensure schools comply. Rather, he said, these “guardrails” are intended to help local administrators determine what’s needed for their schools to open safely.

“We believe where we are right now, schools can and should open for instruction,” Holcomb said. “We wouldn’t have made that decision or endorsed that proposal if we thought otherwise.”

But it remains unclear whether students, families and teachers will feel comfortable returning to school.

Indiana State Teachers Association President Keith Gambill said teachers and school staff “must be part of this planning” to reopen. Parents, he added, need reassurance that schools “will be a safe place.”

While schools consider reopening plans, the state also announced testing of all staff at long-term care facilities will start soon

Dr. Dan Rusyniak, chief medical officer for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, said the testing at the long-term care facilities would likely take place between June 15 and July 3.

The state didn’t release guidelines for how the testing would take place. It can either be through kits distributed to the nursing homes or a state strike team sent to test staff members.

“We know that the majority of COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities occur when a staff member contracts the virus and unknowingly brings it into the facility,” Rusyniak said.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health website, of the 2,052 people who have died from the coronavirus, there have been 945 deaths in 243 long-term care facilities. Of the residents and staff in long-term care facilities, 4,357 have tested positive.

Zach Cattell, president of the Indiana Health Care Association, said the association has made it clear from the start of the pandemic there was a need for essential personal protective equipment and testing.

“The first priority was to get personal protective equipment to the hospitals. We should have been included. Nursing facilities need help,” he said. “Nursing homes are hot spots in some communities. We need long-term help.”

The cost to test all 50,000 employees every two weeks would be $10 million.

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Michigan City men will stand trial in August for murder on Chicago man

MICHIGAN CITY — The jury trials for two Michigan City men charged with murdering 29-year-old Sirus Scott in April are still on track to begin Aug. 3.

Christopher Martisa Deal and Mark Anthony Wright appeared for their omnibus hearings in La Porte Superior Court 1 on Thursday.

The judge chastised Deal, 20, for not taking his murder case seriously, as Deal had yet to hire an attorney. A public defender was appointed to represent him going forward.

“I would like to go on the record and state that the Michigan City Police Department used fear ... to get a false statement out of me,” Deal said. “I am standing on that, that the statement I made was not true at all. It was false.”

Judge Michael Bergerson scolded Deal again, advising him repeatedly to stop talking, as he was giving information to the state on what his trial strategy might be.

Wright, 22, asked that he be allowed to post 10 percent of his bond, but the judge denied the request on the basis that it’s a murder case.

Both Deal and Wright are scheduled to return to La Porte Superior Court 1 on July 2 for their final pretrial conferences.

Bergerson said it will be the last date by which he would be willing to consider a plea to any charge other than murder.

Although they are suspects in the same murder case, Deal and Wright are charged separately – Wright with murder, and Deal with aiding, inducing or causing murder.

According to the probable cause affidavit, Deal was driving his silver Ford Fusion in the alley behind the 100 block of East William Street on April 5, when Wright fired multiple shots out the passenger window, killing Scott.

Scott was the boyfriend of Wright’s child’s mother.

Deal reportedly told officers that Wright and his ex-girlfriend had argued outside her East William Street residence on multiple occasions throughout the day, and that Scott pulled a gun on Wright during the first confrontation.

Wright left, but returned a second time, at which time Wright and Scott pulled guns on each other, Deal told police.

Again, Wright left the area, but returned later with Deal driving. It was during that third confrontation that Scott fired multiple shots at Deal’s car before Wright fired back, Deal said.

Scott was transported to Franciscan Health Michigan City, where he succumbed to his wounds.

Deal was arrested on April 6, after police matched the victim’s girlfriend’s description of the suspect vehicle with his.

Wright was arrested after a brief foot pursuit on April 7.

Both remain in lockup at the La Porte County Jail – Wright on a $1 million bond and Deal on $250,000.

Should they be convicted of their respective murder charges, each would face a prison sentence of 45-65 years.

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