On Monday evening at the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse in downtown Bloomington, Jennifer Crossley introduced herself to a gathering of around 400 people. She used her community leadership credentials: She’s the chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party.
But she told the group she wasn’t going to talk about that role. “Before I am a leader in this community, I am Black,” she told them.
The demonstration was pulled together on short notice. What brought out demonstrators at 5:30 p.m. on Monday were some events that unfolded over the weekend that showed racism is still deeply rooted in the Bloomington community.
On Sunday, Vauhxx Booker, who is an activist and a member of Monroe County’s human rights commission, posted to Facebook a video showing parts of an incident at Lake Monroe on July 4. The video shows him being held down against a tree trunk by a white man who would not let him go. According to Booker, the man told his comrades several times to “get a noose.”
Signs and chants, “Erika, do your job!” identified one elected official from whom the demonstrators wanted action. They want Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant to prosecute those who assaulted Booker. [Updated at 1:45 p.m. on July 7. The latest word from the prosecutor’s office as of 1:37 p.m. is: “The Indiana Conservation Officers continue to conduct interviews and collect evidence related to this case. They have been providing us with regular updates on the progress of their investigation. We anticipate receiving the case soon. As soon as that happens, we will thoroughly review all of it and determine what charges are appropriate.”]
Booker said he wants justice. And for him, that means prosecuting his assailants and holding accountable the Department of Natural Resources officers who responded to the 911 call, but did not arrest anyone.
“I want these folks to be arrested. I want them to be prosecuted. I want the message sent out to the community that his can never happen again. And if you try it, we will hold you accountable. And I want justice to be that we are going to examine our systems of power, and make sure that if officers conduct themselves this way again they will be removed from their duty,” Booker said.
Crossley called on elected officials generally for action: “I am sick and tired of standing behind elected officials who will not use their positions of power and speak up. So dammit, right now, y’all are called to the carpet.”
A few minutes earlier, Indiana University professor of history, and member of Black Lives Matter B-town core council, Amrita Myers had addressed directly one elected official who was standing in the audience, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton.
“Let me tell you, mayor Hamilton, because you’re standing right there, I’m putting you on notice, OK?” Myers said. She continued, “I’m putting every member of the city council of Bloomington on notice. I’m putting every member of the Monroe County council on notice.”
Crossley, Myers, and several other speakers, talked about some specific action they want from elected officials, among them: defunding of police; selling off Bloomington Police Department’s Bearcat armored vehicle; and the end of the city’s operation of a farmers market. A vendor who was identified as having ties to a white supremacist group sells produce there. Demonstrations last year are now the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the vendor.
Myers said, “When Nazis get to walk free, carrying guns and knives, but Black and Brown people are afraid to go shopping in their own farmers market, that is not a community that I want to live in.”
Crossley said, “We can’t address the policing issue, if we can’t address the Nazis at the farmers market.”
About the amount of funding for city police, Myers said, “Mayor Hamilton, I can’t breathe. We can’t breathe. And just yesterday I saw photographs of you on the steps of the city, swearing in…more police officers.”
The theme of breath and breathing drew on the words of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who was killed on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer when the officer held him down with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. “I can’t breathe,” Floyd had said.
In her remarks to the crowed, BLM B-town core council member Lauren McCalister used the idea of breath to frame part of the event: “We take this moment of silence for all the lives that have already been lost, the breaths that have been taken, for the moments that have been snuffed out. Whether you close your eyes or simply breathe completely in and completely out, you have have a moment of privilege in that breath. Yes?”
McCalister’s question got its intended response from the crowd: “YES!”
Myers said that inaction by Bloomington elected officials up to now had sent a signal that it’s OK to assault a Black man like Vauhxx Booker, adding, “That’s why people decided it was OK to racially profile a star basketball player.”
The mention of a basketball star was an allusion to an episode that came the day before the incident involving Booker as the target of a racist attack at Lake Monroe. A Black man, Darwin “Dee” Davis Jr., posted a video to Twitter of himself being stopped walking in his own Bloomington neighborhood for questioning by an off-duty sheriff’s detective.
When Davis told the detective, who was wearing a Bloomington South T-shirt, that he played basketball for South and had won state championships for the school, the detective did not appear to recognize him. One headline from a 2011 H-T article read “Davis no-brainer as player of the year“.
Myers wrapped up her comments with an allusion to Bloomington’s Safe, Civil and Just City” program. “Our children should not feel unsafe to walk in their own neighborhoods. If this is truly a safe and civil city, then dammit, live up to your motto.”
“Make it a safe and civil city for every one who lives here,” Myers said.
[Coverage of the injuries to two demonstrators, after the event had wrapped up: “Two injured after demonstration wraps up, one by driver of car witnesses say drove into group“]