On Tuesday, July 7, for the second consecutive day, 400 to 500 people gathered peacefully at the Monroe County Courthouse to protest the racial aggression, profiling, and violence that Black people have faced — recently, historically, and continually — in and around Bloomington.
On Monday and Tuesday evenings, dozens of speakers — individuals from various groups and across the community — made their voices heard, not for those who were there just to listen but for those who would take action against entrenched and ongoing racism. They exhorted the crowd of hundreds gathered on the courthouse lawn to act, because talking and listening have changed nothing. They spoke against overfunded police, segregated schools, and tolerance for white supremacy in the city and county. They spoke about the message sent by local public officials, by their perceived inaction, that anti-Black violence is acceptable.
Some speakers called for investigating and disciplining law enforcement officers involved in recent racist incidents, for a freeze on hiring more law enforcement officers, and for city and county officials to commit to specific training in dismantling white supremacy.
Others called on Monroe County to evaluate its relationship with the Indiana Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Division of Law Enforcement, specifically the DNR’s Indiana Conservation Officers who have “repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to support anti-Black violence” at Monroe Lake.
They challenged the crowd to hold Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton accountable, to hold Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain accountable, to hold Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant accountable, and to hold the Indiana DNR Law Enforcement Division accountable. Oliphant is awaiting the DNR’s investigation of itself to see if DNR officers should have arrested racists who attacked Vauhxx Booker, a Monroe County human rights commissioner, on July 4 at Monroe Lake.
Speakers stressed that more police do not make people of color safer, prompting the crowd to shout, “Defund the Police.”
Some protesters spoke of their frustrations in expressing concerns with elected officials, offering solutions, and seeing nothing change. They urged people to vote in every election.
One speaker shouted, “Black Lives Matter,” but emphasized “All Black Lives Matter” — All Black Trans Lives Matter, All Black Queer Lives Matter, All Black Children’s Lives Matter, All Black Women’s Lives Matter, and All Black Men’s Lives Matter.
Another speaker held up a sign: “White people who say ‘All Lives Matter’ are the equivalent of the founding fathers saying ‘All men are created equal’ while owning slaves.”
Protesters reminded supporters that the City of Bloomington’s motto is “Safe and Civil” but it runs a farmers’ market that is more friendly to white supremacists than to people of color — and that the city bought a military vehicle but won’t invest in underserved communities.
Several times on Tuesday evening, a speaker would ask, “How many law enforcement agencies are in our community?” The crowd replied, “Eight!” The agencies criticized most often during the events were the Bloomington Police Department, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Indiana University Police Department, and DNR Law Enforcement.
Speakers called “No Justice,” and the crowd responded, “No Peace!”
Many times during the protests, the crowd was enjoined to “Say their names” for the lives lost at the hands of law enforcement. One such name was “Breonna Taylor,” a first responder who in March was killed in her home by Louisville police officers.
A few speakers called to reopen the investigation into the death of Joseph Smedley, a Black Indiana University student found dead in Lake Griffy in 2015, which the Monroe County coroner ruled a suicide.
White allies also spoke. They implored white supporters to take action, because carrying a “Black Lives Matter” sign was not enough, because change won’t happen unless they hold elected officials accountable and have difficult conversations with the racists in their families. Their message was that Black lives won’t improve unless white people take the responsibility to dismantle racism wherever and whenever it’s encountered.
Some people spoke of the attempted murder on Monday night when two peaceful protesters tried to prevent a car from driving toward protesters, but the car accelerated, injuring two people and eventually sending one of them to the hospital. (The driver of the car was arrested on Wednesday night and freed after posting a $500 bond, according to several news sources.)
A speaker mentioned how recent incidents have received global attention, and people are waiting to see how local elected officials, law enforcement, and residents will respond, to see if justice will be served. Someone held up a sign: “The world is watching. What will they see?”
Black speakers shared how routine activities — driving a car, going to the store, walking in their own neighborhood, sitting on their own porch — can be lethal, especially when police officers get involved. They reminded the crowd that a Black person who goes to the lake could get lynched. And that the known attackers would not be immediately arrested.
They spoke about how racial injustice, incarceration, and the for-profit prison system separates and destroys families just as effectively as slavery did. How slavery isn’t over, it has just changed names. How racism, oppression, and the constant, everyday threat of losing their life from anti-Black violence is suffocating: “I can’t breathe.”
A few speakers admitted to exhaustion from struggling against ignorance and apathy in the white liberal community at large, including allies who feel that mere empathy is enough to stop racism. But they spoke about how they get strength from their ancestors and inspiration from their children, and they reaffirmed their resolve to continue and ultimately win the fight against racial injustice, to make a better life not necessarily for themselves but for their children and future generations.
On Tuesday evening, the speakers joined the crowd, hundreds of people, many carrying signs, to march through the streets, down Kirkwood to Indiana Avenue, down Third Street to the police station, where they stopped, took a knee, and said the names of those killed by police officers. They rose and continued their march, peacefully but not quietly.
They marched on North College, passed the courthouse lawn where the protest started, to the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center, where they staged a “die-in” in the street.
Another protest is scheduled for Friday, July 10, at the courthouse.