Last night: Community Dialogue

By:  Diane Benjamin

There must be a good name for the Pantagraph reporting of last night’s event, but I will just call it ridiculous.  “More than a hundred” people attended, yep, more than 100.  If they had bothered to ask, the church’s main floor holds around 310.  Chairs were set up behind the pews and people were standing in back.  People were also upstairs.  Yep, more than 100 attended Pantagraph, the church was packed!  Were they too lazy for a good estimate or trying to minimize the event by under-reporting attendance?

It lasted 2 hours and could have gone on much longer.  The panel consisted of the Police Chiefs of Bloomington, Normal, and ISU, the Sheriff and the State’s attorney.

For the first hour they answered questions that had been emailed and follow-up questions the crowd asked on cards distributed for that purpose.  During the second hour the crowd got to ask questions.

Bloomington’s Police Chief tried to explain the handling of the officer’s racist comments, he even proclaimed they were transparent.  That doesn’t explain why the public didn’t know about the comments until it came up in court.  That’s not transparent, that’s “Oops”.  We still don’t know when Tari Renner and David Hales found out.

I talked to quite a few audience members.  All they wanted from the City is “We screwed up”.  They didn’t get it.  One guy told me it bothered him because the comments were made to an officer of lower rank.  He felt like a superior was “training” a subordinate.

One black resident spoke about racism in the Normal Police force.  He wasn’t the only one to feel that way because applause was heard across the room at his comments.  I grabbed him for a talk, we exited the sanctuary to not disturb the crowd.  The Normal Police Chief LEFT the stage to find him.  A Normal Council member also interrupted our conversation.  Both handed the guy a business card and asked him to contact them.

Another black resident was upset at what he called the Bloomington police towing cars in an attempt to “fish for information”.  If witnesses don’t cooperate with the police, their cars get towed.  The Chief made it clear there was also just cause for the tow.  It must be frustrating for officers to not get cooperation from witnesses.  The police need to ask themselves if that tactic helps or makes it worse.

Many people made the same comments to me.  If a white person is stopped by an officer the approach is different from how police approach a black person.  Excessive force was frequently mentioned.

I spoke with more people while leaving.  2 black guys told me they were from Chicago.  The event impressed them because “at least we are talking”.

I agree.  Tension did exist, but so did a desire to fix the problems.

The “Not In Our Town” people were everywhere.  Besides the Normal Police Chief and a Council member, a NIOT representative also interrupted the conversation I had with the guy who accused the Normal Police of racism.  I took the opportunity to hand him a copy of this article:  The pledge card signers are urged to “Act Against Intolerance”.

“Intolerant words should not go unchallenged.  Declare “I object to these words and the damage they cause.  They have no place in our community” 

Renner’s comments not only denigrate the mentally ill, he is a bully.  Also on the pledge card – Renner signed – he committed to stop bullying.

Is “Not In Our Town” is serious?

(or, are the connected exempt?)




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