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Talking Circle Helps Residents Vent About Police Shootings

Group of 25 sits in a circle on the south side of downtown Bloomington courthouse.
Colleen Reynolds
As the sun sets, the Black Lives Matter talking circle group vows to meet again to plot action to ensure all area residents feel welcome and safe in their community.

Tears flowed around a Black Lives Matter talking circle in downtown Bloomington Wednesday night as some 25 residents, most of them white, gathered in response to the most recent fatal police shootings of black men --  Keith Scott, a father of seven in Charlotte and Terrance Crutcher in Tulsa.

Sandra Lindberg choked back tears as she wondered out loud why police are shooting so many black men. "I watched racism and ethnic ugliness in Chicago in their public schools in the 60's and when this happened, it's just like, how far is this going to go? I just don't understand how it keeps happening."

With tears in his eyes, Marcus Mendez, who is Hispanic, said he doesn’t want this community to erupt in violence and that more needs to be done to confront police and government leaders to ensure a police shooting tragedy doesn’t happen here. "This community is where my family lives.  This could easily become a Tulsa, a Ferguson, and I will not let it happen here," he said. 

Jeff Woodard, who is Black, said he fears for his family's safety at a time when it seems police shootings are out of control.  He warned the country needs to figure out what is not working between police and the black community. "We talk about terrorism and we want to find out where did this young person become radicalized and we're willing to go to Afghanistan to try to find out.  But, let's be sure  of one thing -- people will be radicalized here if we continue to sit back and let American citizens be treated like criminals."

Fear and Anger

Several residents expressed feeling fearful and angry.  One woman put it this way as she grabbed a talking stick to signal it was her turn to speak. "I'm angry, I'm tired and I fear I'm becoming numb and that scares me too." Carol Cox, who said he fought to get a black Santa Claus in the Bloomington Christmas parade in the 60's declared, "It seems not much has changed since then."  But, Cox was encouraged by the empathy and motivation he saw in the group. "This is the best I've seen of Bloomington in a long time."

Jennifer Johnson Lee, a black woman who suggested a local vigil for the black men whose lives were recently lost in police shootings, said the community has to show it cares. "All lives will not matter until black lives matter and brown lives matter and until we can start supporting each other and fighting for each other's causes instead of ignoring people who have been disenfranchised and sweeping it under the rug.  We have to stick up for each other."

Local activist and community organizer Sonny Garcia agreed with Johnson Lee and said he has started weekly Sunday night meetings. He welcomed others to join him to strategize approaches to tackling issues of local inequality including cuts to education and the level of the minimum wage. "We all need to rise up in solidarity because we all have issues we care deeply about and they're all connected."

Colleen has spent most of her adult life working the streets and beats of Bloomington-Normal for WJBC-AM where she won numerous reporting awards for hard news, feature writing, and breaking news coverage.
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