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'You Holler Like Hell': B-N Leaders Speak Out Against Riot At Capitol

Mollie Ward speaks
Bloomington City Council member Mollie Ward addresses the crowd during a vigil Thursday night in front of the Law and Justice Center in Bloomington.

As Willie Halbert watched scenes of chaos unfold at the U.S. Capitol, she said she was neither shocked nor surprised.

“I heard the authorities say that they were overwhelmed,” Halbert told a crowd gathered Thursday night  outside the Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington. “How can that be? That mob planned to overtake our Capitol.” 

Plans to hold a rally on Wednesday to protest the certification of Joe Biden’s win over Donald Trump had been public knowledge for weeks.  

“At some point, we have to acknowledge where the wrong is,” Halbert said. 

Halbert, who is running for a Bloomington City Council seat in Ward 3, addressed around 50 people who assembled for a vigil to condemn Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol. She asked the crowd to recall the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in June when largely peaceful demonstrations at the Capitol were met by a heavy police presence and protestors were tear-gassed to clear the way for President Trump’s photo-op in Lafayette Square. 

“And what were they doing?” Halbert asked of the BLM protestors. “They were sharing their views and perspectives. They weren’t storming through the Capitol. They weren’t putting pipe bombs out.”

On a day that saw the U.S. Capitol come under siege for the first time since the British stormed Washington during the war of 1812, the scene of Capitol Police appearing to stand down as rioters crashed through barricades seems to have also shaken the American consciousness. 

Thursday’s vigil, organized by Grounded BloNo, an organization that delivers food from local food pantries to those in need, was billed as a “pro-democracy” gathering. Speakers, including McLean County Board member Lizzie Johnston, retired McLean County Chief Judge John Freese, and Bloomington mayoral candidate Jackie Gunderson, condemned Wednesday’s riot as an assault on America’s democratic institutions. But it was the discussion of racial injustice that drew the most impassioned response from the crowd. 

“I saw what you saw on television yesterday,” Linda Foster, president of the B-N chapter of the NAACP, told the crowd. But it was far from the first time, she said, that such disparities had been on national display. Foster noted the death of George Floyd and the brutality faced by the late congressman John Lewis as he marched for civil rights as examples of the inequity, racism, and oppression that have been playing across American television screens for decades. 

“Racism has got a hold on us,” Foster said. “We cannot continue to let those kind of behaviors go unnoticed.” 

“There were notices, warnings, but nobody was prepared,” she said of Wednesday’s riots. “They were ready for George Floyd, they were ready for Breonna Taylor, but not for this? What is this saying to us?”

Foster urged the crowd to be vigilant and vocal in the fight for equality. 

“When you see racism, call it out. When you see discrimination, call it out. And when you see white supremacy, you holler like hell,” she said.

The vigil ended on a solemn note as Bloomington city council member Mollie Ward, who was representing Not In Our Town (NIOT), closed the evening with a prayer.

“I think we as a nation have a lot to learn about what democracy looks like,” said Ward, before bowing her head. 

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