For Ky Ajayi, it hasn’t just been a long week. It’s been a long three years.
That’s how long Black Lives Matter BloNo has been working to dismantle systemic racism in the community.
“Here we are in 2020, still talking about the same stuff,” Ajayi said. “I’m done.” By “done,” Ajayi doesn’t mean giving up; just the opposite. “There’s a systematic problem, and dammit, we’re going to fix it,” he said.
Ajayi was one of several BLM BloNo organizers at a public meeting Sunday afternoon at Miller Park in Bloomington. Well over 500 people attended the meeting that included updates on the group’s organizing efforts, a caucus to set forthcoming priorities, and member trainings.
Ajayi called on the group to build on the momentum sparked by outrage at the death of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“When we saw brother Floyd get the life choked out of him on video, it moved white people to finally say, ‘Damn, that ain’t right,’” he said, adding, “Black folk lead this movement, and we need soldiers.”
Addressing the crowd of not only black but also a large number of white and other ethnicities, he said, “Y’all are our soldiers. You are the power that are going to help us get over the hump.”
Following speakers’ remarks, BLM BloNo organizers invited members to join one of five trainings: police de-escalation, first aid for protestors, protestors’ rights, security, and marshalling and crowd control.
At the de-escalation training, one attendee said she noticed participants in Black Lives Matter marches didn’t receive the same police protections as participants in climate change or women’s rights marches.
Training leader Louis Goseland said the way that cops show up to movements led by people of color is not the same way they show up to movements led by white people.
“That’s why it’s a really important role and something that’s of great responsibility to actually de-escalate that,” he said.
Goseland characterized the role as a police liaison: someone working to quickly establish a relationship between the police and demonstrators in situations where tensions among both groups are likely to run high.
He said the role is even more important with the rising trend of spontaneous events organized via social media. In those situations, it can be difficult for police or attendees to identify who’s in charge.
Goseland said it’s imperative that police buffers introduce themselves to both the organizers and the officers on the scene to establish communication between the two.
One example of the benefit of having that communication came when a man allegedly set off a smoke bomb at a protest on Wednesday.
“Everyone started to panic, like, ‘Oh God, are they tear gassing us?’” Goseland recalled. “Being on the perimeter, we were able to quickly ask the officers, ‘Was that just you? No? Okay.’” Quickly communicating the non-threat to the crowd allowed the demonstration to continue without incident, Goseland said.
Bloomington resident Teresa Carroll said she wanted to attend the de-escalation training because she has some friends and family members who are police officers.
“So I want to support them, but I recognize that change has to happen, and I don’t think that only being in conflict is going to do that,” she said. “So I’m very interested in seeing how the two sides can work together as opposed to just clashing.”
BLM BloNo organizers also held a separate caucus for black attendees to set the group’s new priorities.
Olivia Butts said the group has held a list of demands since its formation in 2017, but “because of the moment right now, we’ve decided to revamp them.”
BLM BloNo will announce its revamped platform via social media on Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The group also is planning a mobilization for the same day.
Jenn Carrillo, a Bloomington City Council member (Ward 6) and BLM BloNo co-founder, explained black leadership is one of the group’s core values.
“It should be black folks in our community who are at the center of the conversation and who are making decisions about where we go from here and how we use this power,” she said.
Organizers asked participants in the black caucus to write their priorities on large sheets of paper, then use stickers to vote on where they think the group should focus its efforts. After all groups had returned to the pavilion, the caucus presented the priorities they’d come up with, including:
- Electing a new sheriff
- Enacting fines and other repercussions for abuse of/absence of police body cameras
- Requiring local police to hold 60 college credit hours, in line with state police requirements
- Reallocating a portion of police funding to low-income schools
- Requiring curriculum on the history and culture of people of color in elementary, middle and high schools
Laina Carney, an assistant professor of dance at Illinois State Univeristy, said she wants schools to require fine arts education for students of color. She’s not only the youngest professor, but the first black professor, in her department.
“I just meet too many students of color, and especially black students, who have no idea that the dances that they do on TikTok are valuable,” she said. “They don’t know that they can get a scholarship and have the education system fund their future.”
Kayla Cobb said there need be more black teachers in local schools in the first place. The recent Normal Community High School graduate said in her 13 years in Unit 5 schools, she had just two black teachers.
“Until there are more black teachers in these classrooms, we’re not going to learn who we truly are and what we can be,” she said.
She also called for more black residents to serve on local school boards.
The next public Black Lives Matter BloNo meeting will be July 5.