BLM Btown's Statement on our Anti-Racist Training and our local elected officials response.
After national and local protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other recent victims of police violence, Black residents of Bloomington and Monroe county were victimized in three separate and escalating incidents of harassment and violence in the first week of July. Bloomingtonians responded by holding demonstrations in front of the Monroe County courthouse and at the People's Park. At these demonstrations, the people called for city and county officials to be accountable for racial violence that takes place on their watch.
In a fairly standard move, the City Council and Mayor’s office denounced those incidents using platitudes of support and sadness. BLM B-town and the community put pressure on them at the demonstrations and in an online campaign to participate in an anti-racist policy training that BLM B-town had created for elected officials. The creation of this training was born from a request for help from City Council members. BLM B-town also extended the offer of anti-racist policy training to the Monroe County Council and Monroe County Commissioners after conversations with certain County Councilors indicated the need for such a training for them as well.
Due to this pressure, the City Council and the Mayor’s Office have expressed commitments to participate in “some sort” of anti-racist policy training to make Bloomington safe, civil, and just. The problem is that since the rise of #BlackLivesMatter as a movement, there has been an explosion of opportunists, eager to profit by offering “anti-racism workshops” which give politicians a gold star but yield no substantive change in terms of how officials approach policy-making. The burgeoning anti-racist training industry operates like “degree mill” online universities that offer cut-rate credentials, but no actual education. Many of the police guilty of the recent murders of unarmed Black people had taken these types of “workshops.” We need our city officials to participate in real, anti-racist training, not a perfunctory “workshop” that produces no substantive changes. This is why BLM B-town created our workshop: to address local needs and locate changes in current policies.
This is another concern: Bloomington has a habit of hiring or working with outside consultants who are unfamiliar with our community. Last year, after repeatedly failing to deal with active white supremacist recruiters operating in its own Farmers’ Market, the City contracted with an Ohio firm to conduct an assessment of racial injustices in Bloomington. The report generated by this assessment (written by a former mayor of Rochester, New York, who visited Bloomington only three times) underplayed the problem, refusing to point to clear and admitted problems with racist policy-making by our community’s legislators. As outsiders, the authors of this report had no investment in seeing Bloomington remediate its racist ways. In fact, their motivation may have been the opposite: if things stay bad, they can come back in another five years to do another study on our dime.
As Bloomingtonians, we have an obligation to ensure our elected officials are trained in anti-racist policy-making that specifically targets local issues from the perspective of progressive Black community members. This means the training should be focused on specific policies made by our legislative bodies that have caused disproportionate harm to our BIPOC communities. It should come from people who live here and are thus motivated to hold Bloomington city officials accountable. Black, other marginalized Bloomingtonians, & BLM B-town as an organization are not interested in giving our elected officials a participation trophy for anti-racism in exchange for a check: we need our city officials to stop passing regressive laws and making regressive decisions that oppress and harm us.
As was mentioned earlier, thanks to the efforts of community members who pressured the Bloomington City Council, Monroe County Council, and the Mayor of Bloomington to “Take the Training” proposed by BLM B-town (a proposal submitted via email with supporting documents), officials from each of these bodies have come out with statements affirming that they do, in fact, want and need this SORT of anti-racist training. None of these bodies has moved from talk to action with BLM B-town, however.
County Councillors contacted us, stating that all members (save Marty Hawk whose recent, racist, baseless attacks against Black activists make it clear where she stands) were interested, but they have yet to confirm or schedule their training. The City Council, after soliciting a proposal for an anti-racist policy training course from BLM B-town, have since resorted to inappropriate and time-wasting demands. One white City Councilor segregated one of our BLM B-town Core Council members for an almost two-hour conversation, insinuating that the rest of the Core Council was perhaps not qualified to be leading such a training. It was at best a racist tactic of divide and conquer, at worst a white supremacist attempt at the suppression of our collective voice.
The Mayor's office, in response to our proposal, has introduced a series of bureaucratic gate-keeping measures that reproduce exactly the sorts of racist policy our training is meant to address. These gatekeeping measures include “qualifications checks” performed through an undisclosed process with NO transparency other than a verbal assurance that of course the process will be “fair.” This amounts to a nearly entirely white government body attempting to set the terms of how Black-activist, anti-racist trainers are to be vetted. This results in a system where those who need to learn how to become anti-racists get to decide who is “Black” enough & qualified enough to teach them how to become anti-racists. This is the cycle of oppression and white supremacy being played out within this selection process.
In addition to displaying a profound disrespect for the time of Black educators who are offering to provide a much-needed service to our city officials, the process itself is evidence of the sort of policies Bloomington and Monroe County need to dismantle. Furthermore, it is clear that none of these bodies actually read our proposal, given that the questions they asked of us could simply have been resolved by reading said proposal and the accompanying emails around the proposal; or by doing a quick google search and reading through BLM’s website. It seems as if the city and county are interested in the idea of being anti-racist, but don’t want to do the hard work of learning how to actually be an anti-racist.
We should mention that the County Commissioners have yet to respond to our requests. Additionally, we must note last year’s scandal involving a former County Commissioner. It was BLM B-town that pointed out the racism in the sexual harassment of an employee contracted by the county, a Brown Saudi American male who has harassed by a white female County Commissioner. When that story broke, all three of the current County Commissioners issued statements in support of their now-former colleague, despite the overwhelming mountain of evidence against her. Those County Commissioners showed clear racial bias in their statements about the 2019 situation, and when called to task for it, refused to address the racial inequality of the individuals involved.
Given all we have outlined here concerning the inability of our elected officials to commit to BLM B-town’s anti-racist policy training, despite the public claims by many to need and want such training, BLM B-town is asking our community members for help in holding our local officials accountable.
If you believe that your city and county elected officials need further direction in crafting anti-racist policies, demand they commit to anti-racist policy training that is:
* Specific to Bloomington and Monroe County
* Directed by members of the Bloomington and Monroe County community
* Focused specifically on anti-racist policy-making rather than general "implicit bias" training
* Carries a component of local accountability
* Is led by diverse Black progressives from the community
* Rooted in the #Black Lives Matter ethos of dismantling anti-Black white supremacy
Please help us hold them accountable and get them to “Take the Training!”
As the long-overdue national recognition that Black lives matter increases, so, too, does the backlash of anti-Black violence. Bloomington, despite its progressive aspirations, is not immune.
Though the violence Black Bloomingtonians face is often less virulent (and less visible) than in other parts of the nation, our city still propagates an insidious neoliberal racism that keeps our police overfunded, our schools segregated, and our farmers’ market full of dangerous racists. Combined with more explicit calls to violence coming from national leaders, including the President, we are seeing an escalation in violence even here. The City of Bloomington and Monroe County at large are showing, if nothing else, a high level of tolerance for white supremacy that continues to foster violence against Black bodies. Many progressives in our community pride themselves on tolerance.
But, when it comes to white supremacy, we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves: how much hate should we tolerate?
In the last week, there have been three racist incidences that have taken place in or around Bloomington. These incidents show an escalation of violence, and law enforcement’s complicity in that system of violence.
-July 1, 2020: Black IU football players on a boat at Lake Monroe are racially profiled by the white occupants of another boat at the lake, and by responding DNR Officers. (https://www.idsnews.com/…/arrest-at-lake-monroe-spurs-iu-fo…)
-July 3, 2020: Darwin “Dee” Davis, Jr., a lifelong Bloomingtonian and Bloomington South basketball star, is profiled while walking in his own neighborhood. He was stopped by an off-duty Lawrence County police officer, and forced to produce ID for “walking while Black.” Davis recorded and then recounted the experience on his Twitter Feed. (https://twitter.com/DeeDavisX/status/1279107572092620801).
-July 4, 2020: Vauhxx Rush Booker of the Bloomington Human Rights Commission is assaulted in an obvious hate crime at Lake Monroe. Mr. Booker was physically assaulted by no fewer than five white men who expressed an intention to lynch him. They jumped him from behind, pinned him to a tree, beat him, and repeatedly called for someone to get a noose, all while yelling racial slurs. Video footage shows Mr. Booker’s white friends pleading with the men to let Booker go. Friends of the would-be lynch mob also stepped in, begging them to stop what they were doing. White allies recording the incident were themselves assaulted for daring to record the event. 911 dispatchers sent DNR officers to Lake Monroe. DNR declined to arrest Booker’s assailants, claiming the Prosecutor’s office had told them “there was no immediate need to arrest anyone, and that the officers would simply file a report.”(https://www.facebook.com/vauhxx/posts/10222147157086001)
Bloomington: what level of white supremacy are YOU willing to tolerate? In just the last week, Black Bloomingtonians have been threatened and harassed on three separate occasions. Each time, this mistreatment of Black people was either co-signed or perpetrated by local law enforcement. This sends a clear message that in the City of Bloomington, and in Monroe County, anti-Black violence up to--and possibly including--public lynchings is acceptable.
In two of these situations, there were people who were willing to intervene where law enforcement did not. There were people who were NOT willing to tolerate this level of violence. This is a principle of community defense in action.
These recent examples make it absolutely clear that Bloomington and Monroe County do not need more police. Police do not make BIPOC and other marginalized people safer. What Bloomington and Monroe County need are more community members who will not allow this sort of violence to happen, and who will hold the authorities accountable for their support and tolerance of white supremacy.
In line with our overall commitment to de-policing our communities, and in light of the past week’s events, BLM-Btown demands that:
1). The attack on Mr. Booker must be immediately investigated as a hate crime.
2). The officers involved in all three of these incidents must be investigated and disciplined before their prejudice and negligence threatens the lives and safety of more Black people.
3). Monroe County must commit to investigating its relationship with the DNR, as they have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to support anti-Black violence on Lake Monroe.
4). The City and County must commit to a freeze on all law enforcement hires, effective immediately.
5). Both the City and the County must commit to specific training in dismantling white supremacy in their policy and funding decisions to disrupt their long history of damage to BIPOC communities.
This is just the beginning of the kinds of actions the city and county we call home must take to demonstrate that they value the health, the safety, and the lives of their Black residents. If Bloomington wants to claim the label of “Safe and Civil,” our City needs to make this a reality for Black Bloomingtonians as well.
Core Council, BLM-Btown