Note: This editorial was first published on March 13, 2020 on the Channel 27 News & Entertainment, Grant County’s website.
May 21, 2020
by Chaylee N. Brock
Jim Lucas is a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and represents Indiana’s 69th district. During his time serving in public office, Lucas has been called out multiple times for incidents (often social media posts) that Hoosiers and his fellow representatives have labeled as “racist.”
Within the last week, Lucas has been receiving renewed criticism for a meme he posted on Facebook regarding the stimulus checks approved by the Congress in D.C. The meme featured dancing black children and said “We gon’ get free money.”
Almost immediately, Lucas’ colleagues called out the meme as being racist, and some, including the NAACP, have called for his resignation.
Jeannine Lee Lake, a Democratic candidate running for Indiana’s 6th district and an African American woman, told the Indy Star, “It makes me want to cry… And that’s the truth. I’m just amazed. He’s a leader in our state. This is not Indiana. It’s not the best of Indiana certainly. And it’s sickening.”
Lake also told the Indy Star, “He should know how that hearkens back to black face… that kind of heralding of mocking one’s race. I’m sorry I don’t think it’s a mistake. I think he knew exactly what he was doing and I hope people express their outrage on his page.”
When Lucas himself was questioned about the meme, he claimed, repeatedly, that he “doesn’t see race” and that he didn’t see anything wrong with the meme. He told the Indy Star, “I don’t see anything wrong with it… People who want to find racism are going to find racism in anything.”
One person who possibly saw his post as racist was our own Ann Vermilion, who represents Indiana’s 31st district: or, at least, she tried to claim she thought it was racist.
Here is what Vermilion posted in response to Lucas’ meme:
I cannot stay silent any longer. My name is Ann Vermilion. Many in the State see me as a white, republican, freshman Indiana State Representative ~ finding her voice as a legislator. But my hometown, Marion, Indiana, knows me for so much more… I have never searched for my voice, only the wisdom to know when to use it.
I have the honor of living in a rural and racially diverse community. It is our strength. It is why my husband, Aaron, and I chose to move home to live, work and raise children of character.
The tragedy of racism which has been displayed these past months across our nation and most recently in our State during debated discussions and shared viewpoints, breaks my heart. Not for me or my race, but for my loved ones who, like me, were intentionally created and are loved by God ~ placed here to change the world as a race although different from mine. Many of these children of God, call me mom, daughter, best friend, family, Marion Giant Alumni, co-worker, neighbor, colleague, etc.
And now, with the current pandemic and uncertain future, when a conversation of the perils of racism should be discussed – to add salt to the wound, I witness a legislative colleague of mine express his view with insensitivity and no regard of a race other than his own. Oblivious to the hurt and damage words and actions can cause. I am disappointed. Hurt. Mad, not for me, but for those who I love that happen to be of another ethnicity. Those who have Annie Vermilion’s back. Those who exhibit unconditional love and support – Support that requires me to be as unconditional in return. I will NEVER allow Racism to be acceptable or spoken in front of me, in my City, County, District 31, State or Nation.
Be kind. Choose Love. Please.
While it seems Vermilion was trying to condemn Lucas’ Facebook post and its blatant racism, many of Vermilion’s own constituents weren’t buying it. Many accused her of being vague and unwilling to take a strong stance against his racist behavior.
In order to give Vermilion a chance to elaborate, we contacted her on Monday, May 18th, to ask for clarification. In the email sent by Channel 27 News, we included screen shots of some of the comments made on social media about her statement.
For the sake of transparency, here is the email we sent to Vermilion’s Press Secretary, Lydia Kirschner, in its entirety:
Hey Lydia, how’s it going? On May 14th Ann made a post saying that she would not stand for racism. I shared it to my newspage and the post was also shared in a group that I am a member of. There’s some concern from the voters. They feel her post was too vague, didn’t clearly state the issue or even call out Rep. Jim Lucas by name. I would like to get a response from you guys on this to use in an article we are writing on the situation. I think this is an opportunity to create an understanding between Mrs. Vermilion and the voters. I’m going to share some comments from Facebook with you.
Facebook Comment: Here’s the back story of what Vermilion was allegedly “condemning” yet she never condemns her “colleague” by name! She must not be too upset about it or she wouldn’t have been so vague about the inexcusable actions by this pathetic elected Republican.
[Author included a link at the end of his comment.]
Facebook Comment: This isn’t enough.. I see what she is trying to say and do, but [f]or REAL racial reconciliation to happen white people in her position need to step up and openly and specifically denounce racism when they see it. We as people must demand more from her, don’t be lulled to sleep by a long post and ambiguous rhetoric.
Facebook Comment: So here’s some background if you aren’t familiar with Jim Lucas… he has a history of posting disgusting racist, [sexist] memes. This is not new behavior for him. This is the second time his racism has been picked up by national news. The other times he got national coverage was when he posted some very sexist things.
But with her post who knows what she’s actually talking about because she doesn’t even say his name… given the number of racist things I’ve seen and heard said by her Republican colleagues she could be talking about something else, but only she knows.
And here’s the other issue that makes me livid… if she’s referring to Jim Lucas then that’s an easy target to make a vague post about. He represents Seymour, and she does not have to work with him directly. Meanwhile the Republicans she has to work with locally (Mike Roorbach) and in the statehouse (Andy Zay) have said their fair share of racist things and she’s posted pics and talked about how great it is to work with them.
Facebook Comment: I support her speaking out about any form of racism rather specific or in general. She could have stayed silent just like the rest. While we are in here saying her post is BS… we should be scheduling a meeting with her to discuss progression. But instead we do the same by posting words with no action. Let’s challenge her so we can gain allies to push for fairness. Sometimes I get frustrated with our people we mad when they silent against issues and now we mad because they speak against racism. What is the goal of this group? If it’s to downplay allies and their intent with no evidence that what they do or say is BS… I’m not here for it. Ya’ll said actions are better than words… So which one of ya’ll scheduling a meeting with Ann?
If you could, could you please have Ann respond to this email and we will use her response in our article.
Richarh Tyson, CEO
WMTV Channel 27, Marion
Vermilion’s office took a while to get back to us, but when they finally did respond to our email, here is the statement Vermilion wanted us to put out:
I am appreciative of all the shares and support, and respect each comment and concern. Racism is a necessary topic to continue to address and my ears are open to listening and learning. Those interested in discussing in further detail are invited to schedule an appointment at (317) 234-9499 or at email@example.com.
To say we were disappointed by Vermilion’s response and refusal to address the community’s concerns is an understatement.
For those who don’t know, I am a white person, but I write for an organization that was started and is owned by a black man, and we both have some strong feelings and opinions on this topic.
My boss and I both believe the following:
- Racism is wrong.
- The meme posted by Jim Lucas was racist.
- Therefore, Lucas deserves to be called out and should face consequences for his actions.
It really is that simple.
My immediate thought upon receiving Vermilion’s statement was that the state representative is trying to play two sides, hoping to not anger any group of supporters. It seems to me that she’s afraid to take a firm stance against Lucas’ racist actions, out of fear that she could upset white constituents, but she also has to make sure she addresses the issue in some way, to make sure she doesn’t upset her black constituents.
That’s the problem with many politicians, though, isn’t it? They talk out of both sides of their mouths, as to not offend any one group, but doing so only further muddies the waters, allowing dangerous rhetoric and antiquated stereotypes to continue to exist, to such an extent that it remains our norm and defeats any real chance society may have to progress.
I’ll give you one thing, Mrs. Vermilion: you’re right about needing to discuss racism in order to address and put an end to it, but that type of conversation should not be hidden behind closed doors, on a one-on-one basis. Discussions about race — actual, meaningful, deep discussions about race — need to take place in the proverbial town square. Racism isn’t a problem with only a select few constituents, which you can hammer out with them personally. Racism (as well as sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc) is a systemic issue that has been woven throughout every year, every week, every day of America’s existence.
It is impossible, not to mention unfathomable, to meet with and “fix” racism with a small handful of constituents, who you might find time to meet with. If we as Americans are ever going to fix these problems, we have to look both within ourselves and at one another, as a community, so we can begin to identify and put words to the injustices caused by racial disparities.
I might be white, but I see it as my responsibility to hold my fellow white Americans accountable and to call them out when they perpetuate or allow racism to continue to ravage our communities, in any way. Even if they don’t explicitly condone it, too many white people throughout history have simply turned their heads, too afraid to “get involved,” allowing a multitude of tragedies to befall, impact, harm, and even kill black Americans.
Mrs. Vermilion, your refusal to put words to the behavior of Jim Lucas is unacceptable. Your refusal to address your constituents as a whole on this topic is blatant cowardice.
The situation regarding the Lucas meme might be a “small” thing, but how would voters know what you might do or which side you might take if, god forbid, a much larger, more dangerous act of racism were to occur under your watch and in your cities? If you won’t take a firm stance for something small, how could you ever take a firm stance when the stakes are so much higher? How are your constituents supposed to have faith in you and your actions when you aren’t even willing to publicly discuss their legitimate concerns?
We both need and deserve public servants who are bold in their beliefs (no matter where they fall on the ideological spectrum) and are willing to have the difficult conversations, consequences be damned.
To my fellow residents in the 31st District: you need to remember that Ann Vermilion and all of our public officials work for us. We have zero reason to fear them, because we are the ones who decide whether or not they continue to serve our community. We hire these people, and we can fire these people.
No matter where you fall on this particular issue, the best way for any of us to have our voices heard is to vote.
If you’re already registered, you can vote in Indiana’s upcoming Primary Election, which will now be held on June 2nd.
If you are not yet registered to vote, please visit indianavoters.in.gov, where you can easily register online, as well as check your current registration status.
The deadline to be registered for the General Election is October 5th.
This year’s general election will be held on November 3rd.
I would also ask that you research and educate yourselves about each of the candidates and where they stand on the issues most important to you.
The representatives we elect should do just that: represent us.