What began as a group of friends gathering at Lake Monroe in Indiana to watch the lunar eclipse over the Fourth of July weekend devolved into an attempted lynching when a group of white men followed, cornered, and assaulted a Black man, Vauhxx Booker, and threatened to “get a noose” after claiming Booker and his friends were trespassing on private property. Dozens of people witnessed the incident, multiple videos were taken, but no arrests were made. Now, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has announced an investigation into the attack on Booker.
“We want this investigated as a hate crime. It was clearly racially motivated,” Booker's attorney, Katharine Liell, said. “We will continue our quest every day until some justice is served.”
Booker, a 36-year-old local civil rights activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, shared his experience on his Facebook. He recounted how he and his friends planned to view the lunar eclipse at Lake Monroe. On their way to join a larger group, Booker says he and his friend encountered a “large white male (seemingly drunk) wearing an oversized hat with a confederate flag print on it.”
Booker says that the man, who was not identified further, began following them on an ATV before stopping them to say that they were on private property. “We relayed to him that we believed the organisers had received permission from the property owners to cross, but apologised and went on to our beautiful site just off the water without any further incident,” writes Booker. According to Booker, the man did not own the property.
More people joining Booker’s group encountered more men walking up a public beach to the event meeting place. “We later found out that these individuals had blocked off the public beach way with a boat and their ATVs claiming that it was also their land,” Booker writes. “When folks tried to crossed they yelled ‘white power’ at them.” Booker and a few others decided to try to speak with the men to smooth things over. “We were calm and polite, but looking back now, it’s apparent that these individuals began targeting our group the moment they saw myself, a Black man and were looking to provoke a conflict,” said Booker.
Tensions quickly rose, according to the Facebook post, and Booker and his friends attempted to leave, but the men followed them and began yelling. “Two of them jumped me from behind and knocked me to the ground. I tussled with the two and another one joined in, then two more,” writes Booker. “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 ripping off some of my hair, with several of them still on top of my body holding me down.”
This reportedly went on for several minutes. At one point, Booker recalls a man jumping with his full body weight onto his neck. In his post, Booker says he suffered a minor concussion, cuts, bruises, and had patches of his hair pulled out during the attack.
They called law enforcement to intervene, but the Department of Natural Resources that arrived on the scene. “They didn’t contact us to ensure that no one was injured, instead they went directly to speak with the other individuals (attackers) first,” said Booker. He says that multiple witnesses spoke with the DNR and shared videos of the incident. No arrests were made.
Booker claims that the Monroe County Prosecutor’s office told the DNR there was no immediate need to arrest anyone and to simply file a report. Refinery29 reached out to the DNR, Monroe County Prosecutor’s office, and the Bloomington Police Department for comment.
Since the attack, multiple members of local government have come forward to condemn the incident. “This is not just an issue of violence,” State Senator Mark Stoops said in a statement on Monday. “This is clearly a hate crime and must be treated as such.” The Bloomington Black Lives Matter chapter is also demanding the incident be investigated as a hate crime.
On Tuesday, former Democratic presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, expressed his disgust at the situation and the lack of accountability on behalf of the state. “This violent show of racism is absolutely sickening. Something is deeply wrong in Indiana,” mayor Pete Buttigieg wrote on Twitter.
The United States government is working to pass a law that would make lynching a federal crime. As of February 2020, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was received by the Senate after passing in the House of Representatives. Last month, reports emerged that the bill was being held up by semantic debates of the Act’s definition of lynching.
Despite these measures, the concerns over the lynching of unarmed Black men continue to weigh on the entire country amid the Black Lives Matter movement. Killings like those of Ahmaud Arbery and Sean Reed are often compared to modern day lynchings, while the deaths of Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch by tree hanging show quite literal examples of violence against Black men.
Booker's story is no different, and only showcases one in many Black men who continue to face these kinds of attacks from the white supremacist state.