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Black Lives Matter BloNo's New Demands Include Police Budget Cuts, More Black History In Schools

Olivia leads discussion
Ryan Denham
Olivia Butts from Black Lives Matters BloNo leads a priority-setting discussion with black attendees at a June 7 event at Miller Park.

Black Lives Matter BloNo announced a sweeping platform of policy demands Friday that would shrink local police departments, remove officers from schools, and increase the visibility of black history and equity in K-12 schools and universities.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) BloNo is calling for the Bloomington and Normal city councils and McLean County Board to decrease overall police budgets 50% by 2023. That would free up millions of dollars, which BLM BloNo says it wants reinvested into “preventive, supportive, and restorative social services,” such as a re-entry program for recently incarcerated black men. 

BLM BloNo leadership team member Ky Ajayi cited an example of a drug user who he thinks would be less likely to commit theft if he or she had better access to treatment. That, in turn, would mean less need for police, Ajayi said.

“If we can shift financial resources from the police department to those who are trained and skilled and best able to respond to these specific types of societal issues, then everybody benefits,” Ajayi said. “Police are freed up to do more crime investigation and prevention. And society is being better served in terms of social services.”

BLM BloNo Demands by Ryan Denham on Scribd

BLM BloNo also demands that Unit 5 and District 87 “sever contracts” with local police and “eliminate police officers from our schools.” Bloomington and Normal police departments have school resource officers (SROs) at junior high and high schools. The school districts should instead invest money into hiring black counselors and black teachers, according to BLM BloNo.

When asked whether pulling SROs out of schools could jeopardize safety, Ajayi replied that the “need for security at our schools is an indictment of our society as a whole,” notably the proliferation of guns. He said hiring more counselors could help “diffuse and de-escalate” problems between students before they turn violent.

“We’re not saying, ‘No security at the schools. People want to kill kids? Have a field day.’ Absolutely not,” Ajayi said. “What we’re saying is, let’s be smart about this. An armed police officer patrolling the halls of a K-12 institution makes a lot of children very uncomfortable and feel unsafe in the first place.”

The group also demands that District 87 and Unit 5 require teaching a black history class that focuses on the “intersection of underrepresented, marginalized, and oppressed groups.” That need also was mentioned to WGLT in a recent interview with young black leaders, including some that started a Black Student Union at Normal Community West High School.

“The education piece—that demand—is something we heard pop up in our focus groups,” said Olivia Butts, another BLM BloNo leadership team member. “We talked to a lot of young people, and we heard over and over, ‘We didn’t learn black history in school, and we think society would be better for it if we had.’”

Included on the one-page list of demands is an end to cash bail, something for which BLM BloNo has long advocated. It also reiterated a previous demand for McLean County government to “stop profiting off of the McLean County jail,” an apparent reference to the cost of video calls between inmates and their loved ones ($7.50 per 30 minutes). BLM BloNo raised concerns about that earlier this spring when jail visitations were put on hold because of the pandemic. Jail visits have since resumed.

The list of demands was shaped in part by a public meeting of BLM BloNo earlier this month at Miller Park. The organization is now trying to turn the energy and enthusiasm of recent protests and demonstrations into political and policy change.

Ajayi, who also is a Bloomington Human Relations Commission member, said the political strategy they will use to achieve their demands is still a work in progress.

“There’s going to be pressure put on all of our local governing bodies, from the Normal Town Council, Bloomington City Council, McLean County Board, and at the state level,” he said. “We’re definitely bringing pressure to bear on all governmental bodies. The time is now for action. The time for talking and waiting—we’re done.”

“Something has to happen, and it has to happen soon,” Ajayi said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.