BLM Bloomington Facebook forum: Disarm IU police, sell the Bearcat, boycott city farmers market

Last Saturday, members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) B-town Core Council held a live-streamed Facebook event, under the banner “Black Against the Wall.”

The Facebook forum came the day after an event that was not organized by BLM.

A few thousand people took part in a demonstration that started in Dunn Meadow on Indiana University’s campus and wound up on the courthouse lawn in downtown Bloomington.

BLM’s official statement about the two different events said: “There are many groups in Bloomington working for Black Liberation using a variety of tactics. …Black people are not a monolith, and our differences should be celebrated. We are one community with many different voices that all deserve respect.”

Visible local anti-racism activism in recent days is a part of a nationwide series of protests.

They were prompted by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women. Floyd was killed on May 25 by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, when the police officer pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold, a scene that was caught on video.

Some of Saturday’s BLM Facebook roundtable featured general discussion and historical background. Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, professor of history at Indiana University, compressed a four-hundred year history of struggle for Black people into a couple-minute summary of rebellion, starting with the slave ships.

“We know that if you were to drain the oceans that the ocean floors are littered with the bones of the ancestors because …that’s where they reside, because they were thrown overboard as they they resisted,” Myers said.

But the two-hour event wrapped up with some specific local action items from Core Council member Whryne Rasheed.

The first was a call for Indiana University’s police force to transition to an unarmed force. “IUPD is a campus police force and they don’t need guns. IUPD must disarm,” Rasheed said.

Second was a call for Bloomington’s police department to sell its Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle, which was purchased for $225,157 on June 29, 2018. “BPD doesn’t need an armored assault vehicle. BPD needs to sell the Bearcat,” Rasheed said.

Finally, Rasheed called for the city of Bloomington to get out of the farmers market business. Last year, a market vendor was identified as having ties to a white supremacist group. The ensuing protests and city’s response to the situation are now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Rasheed said, “The city of Bloomington has shown that it can no longer handle the management of the Bloomington community farmers market. The city needs to divest itself of the farmers market and privatize it so that it can be managed equitably.”

In February, BLM called for a boycott of the city’s farmers market and the Herald-Times newspaper, for its coverage of the farmers market protests.

During Saturday’s BLM panel discussion, Core Council member Jada Bee described an alternative to the city’s farmers market—a new local farmers market called the People’s Cooperative Market. Among its offerings, the People’s Market gives consumers a way to buy fresh food for themselves and also donate it to others. The approach is similar to the concept of CSA (community supported agriculture) shares, or “boxes.”

As Jada Bee described it, “You buy a produce box, sponsor a produce box. You buy a meat box, sponsor a meat box. You buy a loaf of bread, sponsor a loaf of bread. You buy a dozen eggs, sponsor a dozen eggs.”

Meyers said BLM has long called for an entire boycott of the city’s market. “If you are still purchasing from that market you are supporting white supremacy, because there are open neo-Nazis vending at that market. You need to be purchasing from the People’s Community Market which is run by women and people of color and Black folk,” Myers said.

When the Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle was acquired by Bloomington’s police department in 2018, it generated a lot of controversy ahead of the actual purchase. The Bloomington city council responded to the police department’s purchase with two kinds of legislation. Now a part of local code is a requirement that would prohibit the kind of fund transfer done to make the Bearcat purchase, unless the city council reviews it.

Also a part of local code is a prohibition against using such a vehicle for crowd control or as a platform for mounting water cannons or other weapons.

From a cursory Square Beacon review of city council meeting minutes, it’s not clear if the city council deliberated on the possibility of legislatively banning ownership by the police department of a “critical incident response team armored rescue vehicle.”

Based on data provided by BPD on quarterly basis, the Bearcat has been used five times since it was purchased.

Uses of Bearcat by BPD (additional data fields available through B Clear Portal)

Date Case Number Full Call-Out Suspect Race Nature Negotiations How Received
2019-11-25 B19-49004 Yes African American Warrant Service Yes BPD Investigation
2019-08-20 B19-34655 Yes White Barricade Attempted MCSO Patrol
2018-09-07 B18-36628 Yes Asian/Pacific Islander Barricade Yes/Surrender BPD Patrol
2018-08-07 B18-31649 Yes Unknown Barricade Attempted MCSO Patrol
2018-07-23 B18-29422 Yes W Barricade/Suicidal Attempted MCSO Patrol

Beyond the specific call to sell the Bearcat, some of Saturday’s BLM discussion including a general defunding of police. Myers said:

We are talking about taking things out of the budget from certain places and then putting them into social services, mental health funding, drug treatment facilities, mediation. We’re talking about legalizing marijuana. We’re talking about legalizing sex workers. So that you decrease the need for the police force and increase other things.

Funding of police came up during the “budget advance” meeting held by Bloomington’s city council at the end of April. The “budget advance” is an occasion for city councilmembers to talk about their priorities so that the administration can take their thoughts into account as the budget gets built.

The formal city budget process starts in late August, when the city council holds its hearings on the draft budget, presented by the mayor’s administration. At the end of September is when the administration presents the final version to the council. In early October, the council votes on budget adoption.

During the late-April “budget advance” meeting, a couple of councilmembers said they were inclined to think of increasing the number of “non-badged” officers. Councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith said:

I think that there can be a good argument made for non-badged officers because really where I see the need for more police is in the social outreach with some members of our homeless community. That’s where the partnerships that the downtown resource officers have with social service agencies have really made a positive impact. And I think more of those types of police employees could be very very helpful.

The downtown resource officers mentioned by Piedmont-Smith are sworn officers, a specialty position, who are members of the police union. A social worker, Melissa Stone, who was hired by BPD in late 2019, is not a sworn officer or a police union member.

Responding to a query this week from The Square Beacon, Paul Post, who’s president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, said the full staffing level for downtown resource officers is six. There are currently only five positions filled, according to Post. He said by the end of June, eight officers will have left the department this year.

The challenge of retaining officers was one problem identified by the police union last year, as the union contract was negotiated. Officers served during 2019 without a new agreement, working under an “evergreen” clause of their expired contract. Officers are due a 2.8 percent pay increase next year under the negotiated contract.

Last year during the budget process, some councilmembers were supportive of increasing the number of sworn officers, and wondered if the increase of two positions requested by police chief Mike Diekhoff was enough.

A public conversation about the way law enforcement is funded is likely to happen at the level of county government sooner than for the city.

Tuesday night (June 9), at the county council’s regular 5:30 p.m. meeting, the last item on the agenda is “Discussion on Criminal Justice Reform Public Engagement Strategy.” The item is not meant to be a discussion of criminal justice reform, but rather to identify a time and place for a kind of town hall on the topic.

The item was added to the agenda last Thursday, when over 250 people attended a county council meeting about a request from the county sheriff to fill to vacant deputy positions.  The sheriff withdrew the request at the start of the meeting.

Last week, president of the county council, Eric Spoonmore, told The Square Beacon he thought the town hall might take place in the next few weeks, as opposed to days or months. It could be facilitated by a third party, he said, but details are not settled.

Normally, the council handles agenda items in the order they’re published. But if there were a desire by councilors to take up the town hall scheduling earlier, it would just need a motion and a vote to do that at the start of the meeting, Spoonmore said.

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