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Black activist says he was victim of ‘attempted lynching’ by white group in incident partially caught on video

Vauhxx Booker said a group of White men assaulted him and threatened to "get a noose" after claiming that he and his friends had trespassed on July 4, 2020. (Video: Vauhxx Rush Booker via Storyful)

Indiana authorities said Monday they are investigating a reported racist attack on a Bloomington black man, who said a group of white men pinned him to a tree, beat him and threatened to “get a noose” after accusing him and a friend of trespassing on private property on July 4.

Vauhxx Booker, a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, shared partial video footage of the incident near Bloomington, Ind., in a viral post on Facebook on Sunday. The footage showed a man, apparently Booker, on all fours at the base of the tree, held down by a white man. Others off-camera yell, “Stop! Let him go!”

Booker said in the post he suffered a mild concussion and bruises, had patches of his hair pulled out, and had been called “choice slurs” during the beating.

“I don’t want to recount this, but I was almost the victim of an attempted lynching,” Booker, 36, said in the post. “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.”

In a statement, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources confirmed it responded to a 911 call for service on private property near Lake Monroe to investigate a battery. No arrests were made at the scene, but the agency said it is continuing to review the evidence and conduct interviews. It said it would not be releasing any additional information for now.

On Monday evening, hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington to demand swift arrests in Booker’s case.

“As a person of color in this community, this terrified me,” protester Rosie Maharjan, 22, told The Washington Post. “I always felt safe in Bloomington because it’s one of the more liberal areas of Indiana, and it just shows that it’s absolutely not. There’s dangerous white supremacists even here.”

The protest was peaceful but turned frightening as it wrapped up, when a speeding car plowed into at least one protester, according to a spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. The spokesman referred comment on the incident to the Bloomington Police Department, which said late Monday it had no additional information to release.

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (D) and City Clerk Nicole Bolden said in a joint statement Monday that they would be working with the Monroe County prosecutor to seek justice in Booker’s case, although the city has no jurisdiction over the investigation. The city officials said Booker was “physically assaulted and denounced and threatened with racial epithets” on “Indiana state park land at Lake Monroe.”

The incident, the officials said, exemplifies “the persistence of racism and bias in our country and our own community,” deserving “nothing less than our collective condemnation.”

According to Booker’s account, he and a group of friends went to Lake Monroe to watch the lunar eclipse on the Fourth of July. On their way to the park, he said they encountered a man in a Confederate hat who warned them they were walking on private property. He said they apologized, but attempts to “smooth over” the dispute went awry. He said the men followed him and his group as they tried to leave.

Then, he said, the men “jumped me from behind."

“The five were able to easily overwhelm me and got me to the ground and dragged me pinning my body against a tree,” he said, before they allegedly began hitting his head and pulling his hair. At one point, he said, he heard one man shout, “We’re going to break his arms,” while they were behind his back. He said he heard another yell, “Get a noose!"

He said some people started filming as more arrived to try to intervene. The full context and sequence of events is not captured in the videos posted to Facebook, which had been viewed more than 5 million times as of early Tuesday.

“Please let him go,” one man says to the group surrounding Booker.

“We’re going to, as soon as you go,” a white woman in the group responds.

A shirtless man tries swatting the camera out of the hands of the man filming, yelling expletives about “liberals."

In another video clip, apparently referring to Booker, one man screams, “You nappy-headed b----, you happy about this? You happy with your five white friends?"

Speaking at the protest Monday, Booker said he believed the white people who intervened, some of whom he did not know, “affirmed that black lives matter.”

“I’m here alive today because folks stopped being bystanders. They didn’t just film me,” Booker said.

Caleb Poer, a 19-year-old local artist and community activist, said Monday’s protest included a march and speeches outside the courthouse, demanding the Monroe County prosecutor bring charges against the men. But just as the protest ended, as people were leaving, he said he saw a red Toyota Corolla stopped in the middle of the nearby street because an electric scooter was blocking its path. A man got out of the car and threw the scooter out of the way, video shows.

A driver of red Toyota struck at least two people as the protest ended in Bloomington, Ind., on July 6. (Video: Storyful)

Then, the driver hit the gas, striking a woman who then clung to the windshield, Poer said. Another man appeared to be clinging to the side of the car as it sped away.

“The car went 0 to 50 in about three seconds,” Poer said.

The woman was thrown from the windshield a couple of blocks later, Poer said. The protest organizers tended to the woman, whom Poer saw lay bleeding on the ground. He said the man who had apparently been clinging to the side of the car appeared to be okay. The condition of the protesters was not immediately clear.

Poer said this was the second time in Bloomington that protesters have been hit by a car in recent weeks. Violence involving vehicles at protests over racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing has sent demonstrators running in cities across the country. Seattle Black Lives Matter protester Summer Taylor died Sunday after being struck by a car that busted through a barrier Saturday.

“When we have a peaceful protest, when we kneel for the national anthem, all of a sudden it becomes about being anti-American,” Poer said “When we up it a little bit, when we start marching and we get in the streets, what do we get? People trying to drive a car through us.”