News Releases

Messmer: Strengthening laws against rioting 2.19.2021

Over the past year, cities across the U.S. have been the scene of repeated and prolonged riots.

In Indianapolis, there were two people murdered and two others shot, along with armed robberies, looting, arson, assaults and attempted rape during the riot activity from May 29 through June 6. According to Downtown, Inc., at least 112 street-level businesses in downtown Indianapolis were damaged, destroyed, set on fire or looted during that time, and early estimates of property damage were at least $8 million dollars.

All Americans have the right to protest peacefully and make their voices heard. But what we have seen in the past year is criminal activity on a massive scale, with rioters using the term "protest" as a cover to destroy lives and property.

As the largest city and our state capital, the economic well-being of Indianapolis affects all Hoosiers. We cannot allow the riots of 2020 to become part of Indianapolis's or Indiana's long-term image.

To address this problem, the Senate has passed a number of bills to strengthen our state laws regarding rioting.

Senate Bill 198 would increase criminal penalties for rioting if it causes serious bodily injury, death or significant property damage. The bill would also allow anyone who conspires to commit a crime during a riot, but who doesn't commit the crime themselves, to be charged with conspiracy.

Another bill that would increase penalties for rioting is Senate Bill 194. This legislation would increase the penalty for obstruction of traffic if a person blocks a public safety vehicle responding to an emergency call.

Another provision in Senate Bill 198 would allow the Attorney General to prosecute rioting crimes if the local prosecutor declines to do so. Senate Bill 187 would withhold state funding for local governments if they refuse to protect their local monuments from destruction or vandalism.

To assist victims of rioting, Senate Bill 199 would make it clear that Indiana's "castle doctrine" allows a citizen to point a firearm in self-defense if someone attacks their business. In addition, Senate Bill 198 would allow a person to sue a local government to recover actual damages that occurred as a result of the local government's failure to prevent or suppress property damage during a riot.

As a society, it's imperative we support peaceful protests while also protecting individuals and personal property if a protest turns violent. These bills will make important improvements to our current laws by protecting the first amendment and each person's right to life, liberty and property.