Bloomington city council condemns racist hate: “We don’t want to overlook what’s happening today, while we’re trying to fix yesterday.”

cropped Jim Sims Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 8.18.22 PM

On a 9–0 vote Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council approved a resolution condemning “hate based on racial, social, and cultural bias” and committing to providing “appropriate resources to ensure civil and human rights are protected and afforded to all individuals.”

The resolution was sponsored by Jim Sims, the council’s only Black member, and co-sponsored by the other eight members.

The resolution grew out of conversations with constituents over a few years, Sims said, and one question that arose in connection with the topic was: Why doesn’t Bloomington already have a resolution like this?

One amendment to the resolution was offered by council president Steve Volan, who asked that one of a couple dozen “whereas” clauses be revised to include a specific name, of a person murdered by a white supremacist in 1999.

The final version read: “…including Won-Joon Yoon, an Indiana University student from Korea, killed in front of the Korean United Methodist Church which borders the IU campus.”

Volan said at the time he was living in the neighborhood across from the church when Yoon was killed. “The outpouring of grief was a significant part of the city’s history,” Volan said, and led to the creation of Bloomington United,  In a way that had not happened before, it caused the city to start to formally address the problems that led to the resolution, Volan said.

Other councilmembers recalled where they were when they heard the news of Yoon’s murder. Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said that it happened on July 4—she was returning from fireworks at Memorial Stadium. There was an irony to the fact that the murder came on the same day as the celebration of the nation’s great qualities, which includes its diversity, Piedmont-Smith said.

Councilmember Susan Sandberg said on the day of Yoon’s murder, she was singing in the Bloomington Pops orchestra chorus during the Picnic with the Pops—it was an annual Fourth of July event, she said.

At the council’s meeting, Sims described the same vignette that he talked about in an interview with The Square Beacon earlier in the day:

I was on a trip in New Orleans. And remember looking at the news and Mayor [John] Fernandez was on the news down in New Orleans. And I didn’t think much of it at the beginning, and then it hit me, it was like, Jim, you’re in Louisiana, what is our mayor doing on TV?! And that was him making a statement, because Won-Joon Yoon had been killed by the white supremacist, who wreaked havoc between here and Illinois.

Sims told The Square Beacon that he felt support from the city administration for the ideas expressed in the resolution, going all the way back to Fernandez:

All the way back to as far as I can remember, Mayor Fernandez, every mayor and most of the administration folks I have talked to, have always been for this position. It might have been just speeches in some way. It might be talking about inclusiveness, things like that. It might be something where they’re talking about LGBTQ. Or the homeless. But the position that I think the city administration has taken, as far back as I remember, is nonsupport of this racist ideology.

In a phone interview earlier in the day with The Square Beacon, Fernandez said about the resolution, “I think it’s appropriate to memorialize that commitment. We strive for a more perfect union, it’s a journey not a destination. … It’s not a one-off. It can’t be.”

Fernandez said that he does not think opposition to racism in Bloomington is just “lip service.” As examples, Fernandez pointed to several initiatives, like Bloomington United, the city’s human rights commission, and several programs that grew out of the Safe and Civil City initiative.

Wednesday’s resolution mentions the Safe and Civil City initiative in the context of the need to continue to work at the problem:

WHEREAS, Bloomington is proud of its motto that ours is a Safe and Civil City, but
acknowledges that creating such a community requires constant work, awareness,
communication and a willingness to admit faults; and

The need to work to make the resolution relevant and meaningful to life in Bloomington, and not just recorded as a historical document, was a theme that ran through several remarks from councilmembers, including Sims.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty took as a springboard the first “whereas” clause, which says the city “has a responsibility to oppose, and aid in eradicating, systemic racism, racial bias and racial animus.”

Structural racism is deeply rooted, Flaherty said, and it’s a part of current housing policy, transportation, the criminal justice system, education, and public health system. When racist acts are not overt, it’s too easy to forget about the ongoing impacts, Flaherty said. He pointed to the disparate impact of COVID-19 on the Black community as an example.

Councilmember Kate Rosenbarger said, “Simply saying it doesn’t make it so—there’s so much more we need to do. We have to act.” As an example, Rosenbarger pointed to single-family zoning, as rooted in systemic racism. “This truth can be difficult to grasp,” she said.

The historical roots of single family zoning was a fiercely debated topic last fall during the hearings held by the plan commission and later in front of the city council, on the unified development ordinance.

Councilmembers Dave Rollo and Isabel Piedmont-Smith talked about the fact that in time of crisis, like the current economic hardship, it’s the ugly side of humanity that appears. Piedmont-Smith said the resolution needs to be followed by actions.

For Sims, one key to making the resolution a “living document” is the way he approached creating it, by recruiting help from others in the community. “It was not done in a vacuum,” he told The Square Beacon.

It was not Jim in his desk area and his lawyer. We reached out to the city administration, many of the city administrators, several of the boards and commissions that are advocating social justice and social equity, things like Bloomington’s human rights commission. And generally people out in the public, I asked them to edit or add or give me your thoughts. What we have today is a combination of what we started with, which was a template actually from Boise, Idaho. That was the initial template that we started with.”

Among those that Sims asked for help was local activist Abby Ang. “I offer her my undying gratitude,” Sims said during Wednesday’s meeting. The template for the resolution came from Ang.

Ang is an activist who last year identified the ties of a city farmers market vendor to white supremacist causes, which led to protests through the summer. The vendor has filed suit in federal court over the protests and the city has countersued.

Sims told The Square Beacon previously, that he supports he Black Lives Matter boycott of the farmers market. “I support the farmers market boycott call, and I will not visit the farmers market as long as known white supremacy advocate are vending…”

Asked by The Square Beacon about the timing of Wednesday’s resolution, Sims said it was not meant to coincide with the early-April opening of the farmers market this year. His boycott position has not changed, but the resolution had a different origin, tracing back several years, Sims said.

But as the farmers market issue evolves in the next few months, Ang told The Square Beacon should could imagine herself citing the resolution as a part of mix. “I think the farmers market was in the back of our mind for sure with what’s been going on.”

As for making the document a living document, Sims said, “The only way that I know to make that happen is to internalize the principles of this resolution and then act accordingly. I don’t want this to be a resolution that is just put on books and we say: Yeah, Bloomington did that. I want us to live and operate in that manner.”

How do we live and operate in that manner? “That is the hard part,” Sims told The Square Beacon. “That’s like having the Bible be a living document. How do you do that? It’s about belief. It’s about faith. It’s about internalizing things. It’s about action.”

Quoting someone Sims described as “a strong community person,” Sims wrapped up the night: “We don’t want to overlook what’s happening today, while we’re trying to fix yesterday.”