Law enforcement is investigating and conducting interviews after a Bloomington man was allegedly assaulted and, he said, almost lynched by a group of white people on July 4th.
The victim, Vauhxx Rush Booker, a human rights activist in Bloomington, posted his account of the episode alongside witness videos on his Facebook page. In his retelling of the alleged assault, Booker, who is Black, recounts being beaten, jumped on and bashed into a tree by a group of white people who’d been harassing and following his group after they entered the wooded area near Lake Monroe, hoping to watch a lunar eclipse.
He said that he was ultimately let go when bystanders started to gather, but that the alleged assailants first urged the witnesses to leave and called for “a noose.”
When officers responded to his 9-1-1 call, Booker wrote, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division first interviewed the alleged assailants before checking if he was okay. He wrote that law enforcement made no arrests on the scene after they called the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office who told the officers to just file a report.
Neither the county prosecutor nor the DNR confirmed that part of his account to TPM.
DNR spokesperson Capt. Jet Quillan told TPM that officers “responded to a call for service regarding a battery on July 4, 2020 at approximately 8 p.m. on private property adjacent to Monroe Reservoir property” after “a 911 call was transferred to Indiana Conservation Officer Central Dispatch.” He said that the investigation is active, and that a final report will be sent to the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office.
Though the alleged attack occurred twelve miles outside of the city of Bloomington’s jurisdiction, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (D) has been in contact with Booker, law enforcement, the governor and the county prosecutor, spokesperson Yael Ksander said.
Ksander said that it is “not clear” to the Mayor if the county prosecutor will press charges.
“The Indiana Conservation Officers (ICO), the law enforcement division of the Department of Natural Resources, is providing the Monroe County Prosecutor’s office with their investigative reports, witness statements, and digital evidence,” she said. “The prosecutor’s office will review the materials submitted and make a determination of charges to pursue.”
The alleged attack sparked protests outside the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington Monday evening, a peaceful demonstration which ended violently.
As the crowd dispersed for the night, witnesses reported and caught on camera a red car plowing into the protesters, carrying two along on the hood of the car. They flew off when the car turned a corner. One of them, a woman, was reportedly taken to the hospital for treatment.
This is in Bloomington where a car apparently drives through PEOPLE protesting after incident between a Black man who was pinned against a tree while people yell to let him go. Officials agree that it was racially motivated.@brettkast is on this story.
Courtesy:Rodney C. Root pic.twitter.com/HxuOqffART
— Courtney Crown (@CrownJournalist) July 7, 2020
Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), who called Booker’s alleged assault “sickening,” issued a call to action in response to the car attack.
“Indiana must confront the racism that threatens lives even in one of its most progressive cities,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is a moral emergency.”
In his Facebook post, Booker recounted that he and some friends were headed to the lake to watch the eclipse when they were accosted by a “large, white male (seemingly drunk)” wearing a Confederate flag-printed hat. The man followed them on an ATV, saying that they were on private property. Booker said that they apologized, though they had the property owner’s permission to be there, and crossed over to the lake.
Shaken, Booker wrote that they told the rest of the group coming to watch the eclipse to come by way of the public beach to avoid the man. But there, the man’s friends had blocked off the public land with their boats and ATVS, claiming it as their own property. Booker said that one of them yelled “white power” when the rest of the group tried to cross.
Booker said that they attempted to engage the group in conversation — but their attempts were futile. When Booker and his friends decided to leave, the group funneled them onto a trail, blocking off the beach path. Then, Booker said, he was attacked.
“The five were able to easily overwhelm me and got me to the ground and dragged me pinning my body against a tree as they began pounding on my head and ripped off some of my hair, with several of them still on top of my body holding me down,” he wrote.
He said that they got “more enraged” as the beating progressed, and at one point he felt a man jump on his neck. He recalled one of the men’s daughters screaming for her father to let Booker go, which attracted more people to the scene.
“The attackers told the growing group, ‘we’re going to break his arms’ (while literally attempting to bend my arms behind me) and then stated to the members of their party several times to, ‘get a noose’, amongst some other choice slurs,” Booker wrote. “With me still pinned underneath them they kept telling onlookers to leave the ‘boy’ and that everyone else (all white) could go.”
At that point, some of the onlookers started filming the scene with their phones.
In one of the videos, which Booker said shows the alleged attack, the group is still huddled around a tree holding Booker, who is slumped on the ground. The nearby woman, wearing a bathing suit and sandals and holding a beer can, can be heard imploring the group to let Booker go. Many of the bystanders echo her call.
At one point, one of the men with his hands on Booker turns and says “you go!” jabbing a finger at one of the bystanders. A woman next to him, wearing a towel over a bathing suit, adds “You go and we’ll let him go.”
The other videos show the aftermath of the scene, after Booker was released. Those who allegedly assaulted him followed the group of witnesses, telling them to get off the “private property.”
One of the men, shirtless and wearing swim trunks, repeatedly calls the group “liberal fucks” and claims that they “invaded us.” He also called one, a Black man, “a nappy-headed bitch with your five white friends.”
“Big Black was what started all of this,” the same man said, with two of his friends sometimes restraining him.
Booker said that he came away from the attack with a “minor concussion, some abrasions, bruising, and some ripped out hair patches.”
“I don’t want to recount this,” Booker wrote at the start of his post, “but I was almost the victim of an attempted lynching. I don’t want this to have happened to me or anyone. It hurts my soul, and my pride, but there are multiple witnesses and it can’t be hidden or avoided.”
Katharine Liell, the Bloomington attorney who is representing Booker, wrote on Facebook that the prosecutor’s office is actively reviewing the case and has called in DNR who will have to answer some “tough questions.”
“Based upon my experience,” she added, “arrest warrants will be issued.”