A statement posted a week and a half ago on Bloomington’s farmers market Facebook page—the same day as the “Enough is Enough” anti-police-brutality demonstration—has resulted in the disbanding of the group that posted the statement.
At its Monday night meeting, the farmers market advisory council (FMAC) voted to disband the broadening inclusion group (BIG), after seven of BIG’s nine members had already resigned.
Their resignations came after a post on Facebook made by the group, which included the statement, “Our hearts break for every lost, angry, and aimless young black man and woman who commit violent crimes and claim the lives of other black men, black women, and black children—their lives matter.” The statement was denounced as racist by several hundred commenters.
Monday nights FMAC vote to disband the BIG was 6–1, with two absences, which were caused in part by audio difficulties that made parts of the meeting, conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform, difficult to follow.
What are the next steps after the vote to disband the BIG?
Responding to an emailed question from The Square Beacon, Paula McDevitt, Bloomington’s director of parks and recreation, said staff will be reviewing the FMAC chat and transcript of the recorded comments. “We will share them with the board of park commissioners,” McDevitt said.
The four-member board of park commissioners is the group that makes final decisions about the farmers market. The FMAC is just an advisory body. The board voted in early January to continue for at least through 2020.
An earlier motion at Monday’s FMAC had failed on a 3–6 vote, which would have suspended, not disbanded the BIG—but would have provided clear instructions and a written charter for the group’s processes and procedures.
The failed motion’s implication was that the statement was posted on Facebook at least in part because the BIG did not have clear instruction on its operations. Cortland Carrington, who chaired the FMAC meeting, made the motion for suspension, but when it failed, voted with the majority to disband the group.
The BIG had been created last year, to “take a forward-looking approach by providing suggestions to make the Market as inclusive as it can be” after local activists identified a market vendor 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.
The Facebook statement by the BIG came on a day when local anti-racism activism had become increasingly visible, leading up to it with nightly demonstrations on the courthouse lawn, that were 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.
Jennifer Crossley, who described herself as a Black woman, was one of a couple dozen people who weighed in during public comment at FMAC’s Monday meeting. Crossley had attended the “Enough is Enough” demonstration on June 5 along with a few thousand others. The event had been beautiful, Crossley said, but “to come home to read [the BIG’s] asinine and tone deaf statement was completely terrible and off-putting.” Crossley is chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party.
Two city staffers apologized at Monday’s FMAC meeting for the appearance of BIG’s statement on Facebook. Paula McDevitt, director of parks and recreation, said, “In the midst of [public reaction to the death of George Floyd], the parks department was wrong to have released the broadening inclusion group’s statement on June 5. … We are sorry for the pain that this statement caused to the Black community, vendors, customers, and our volunteers.
McDevitt added, “As director of the department, I am sorry and I apologize. The last thing we wanted to do was to add to the pain that so many so many people in our community have and continue to experience.”
Farmers market coordinator Marcia Veldman said, “I want to share my sincere apology for my role in the posting of the broadening inclusion statement onto the market Facebook page.” Veldman said she served as the staff liaison to BIG. Members of BIG had expressed an urgent desire to make a statement of support for the Black community, she said. Veldman said she had reservations about the statement, she “did not want to stand in the way of their expression.”
Veldman said she had requested that the statement be posted on the market’s Facebook page. “That was an error on my part,” Veldman said, adding, “I accept responsibility for it.”
An online apology had come earlier, from six members of the BIG, who responded the day after the original post, to the the several hundred Facebook comments denouncing the group’s statement as racist.
BIG’s apology drew sharp criticism from Jada Bee, member of Black Lives Matter (BLM) B-town Core Council, who said during Monday’s public commentary to the broadening inclusion group, “You had a Black man write a statement and hung him literally out to dry for the statement that he made. … You didn’t work in community with him. You let him take the fall. Y’all are backing away from the statement that you endorsed.”
Jada Bee’s reference was to Wil Stahly, a BIG member, one of the authors of the statement, who wrote on his own Facebook page in response to BIG’s apology: “BIG has posted a statement denouncing the original statement. I however, stand behind the statement. I hope everyone joins us as we broaden the conversation and our horizon.”
Stahly described himself this way: “I’m Black. I have one leg. I’m an immigrant. I’m adopted. My birth parents deceased at an early age. I’m Somalian—technically making me African American or Somali-American. Today I’m a father, a husband, a son, a home owner, and a young professional.”
On Monday night, Stahly posted a statement on Facebook shortly after FMAC’s meeting concluded. It read in part: “I wanted everyone to hear me because this is no longer just about the statement I helped create. This is now about the potential hypocrisy of systemic and inclusivity issues we are combating. There is more than one systemic system that is detrimental to all people of color.”
Much of the public commentary at Monday night’s FMAC meeting focused on the future of the city’s farmers market. Jada Bee repeated her call, made at BLM’s recent “Black Against the Wall” Facebook forum, for the city to divest itself from the market.
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.
Jada Bee is helping to support 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.”
Adding to the call during public commentary to consider ending the city’s involvement in a farmers market was Michelle Moyd. “The broadening inclusion group can’t function as long as Schooner Creek Farm is part of the farmers market,” she said. Schooner Creek is the vendor identified last year by local activists as having ties to a white supremacist group.
“There’s no such thing as inclusion, when you have a white supremacist group operating freely at the city’s farmers market,” Moyd said.
Moyd singled out a comment made by a FMAC member at Monday’s meeting who had wanted a more “cerebral” response to BIG’s Facebook post. The reference to “cerebral” meant that anyone who had commented on the post “didn’t have a thought in their head,” Moyd said. She added, “If you can’t see what the insult in that is, I don’t even know where to start.”
Moyd urged FMAC members to disband the BIG and to “seriously consider getting out of the city market business—because it is clear that you do not understand what it means to do anything that resembles diversity and inclusion.” Moyd is a professor of history at Indiana University.
The next regular meeting for the board of park commissioners is scheduled for June 23.
[Note: An initial version of this article included as the opening to one of the paragraphs: “Jennifer Crossley, a Black woman, …” Other speakers were not identified in terms of their race. It is fair to ask: Why not? It was a choice made based on the fact that Crossley introduced herself as a Black woman and stressed that point. But the article does not provide that context, when it easily could and should have. The text has been revised to reflect that she introduced herself that way: “Jennifer Crossley, who described herself as a Black woman, …” ]