The crowd at Sunday’s racial justice rally in downtown Bloomington was huge and diverse—young and old, black and brown and white, veteran activists and first-timers.
Allen Chambers says the turnout was bigger than he thought it would be. He says it feels like progress.
“Everybody’s just fed up with what’s going on all around the world at this point,” says Chambers, who is black. He owns his own business, A to Z's Catering and Parties, and is now a regular demonstrator against racism and police brutality, including events Saturday and Sunday.
“We just want our voices to be heard right now,” said Chambers, who said he’s experienced police brutality himself in Bloomington-Normal.
But the message was partially trampled by overnight looting at Target and Walmart in Normal just hours after Sunday’s NAACP-sponsored rally. Small crowds—compared to the huge turnout downtown—encountered police as they moved from store to store.
“That’s ridiculous. That defeats the purpose of what we’re starting to do,” Chambers told WGLT on Monday morning.
He said the vast majority of the Sunday demonstrators—“9 out of 10,” by his estimate—had nothing to do with the looting. But they’ll all pay the price, he said, because it’s only going to make it more difficult for the movement to achieve its goals.
“Now, when we gather, we’re gonna have a lot more police presence, and that’s really not needed. Because sometimes that can go left,” Chambers said.
The Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP organized Sunday’s event that was peaceful despite a few tense moments. The organization wants “our issues to remain the headline,” not the looting carried out by unknown parties, said Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson, the branch’s first vice president and state NAACP secretary.
She agreed with Chambers that the looting dilutes the message.
“We want to be sure that delineation is there, that the NAACP did not participate or was responsible for any of the aftermath, if you will,” Campbell-Jackson said. “I implore our young people to come to the table with us. I understand that they’re hurt. But there is another way we can affect change so we can have the proper outcome and not allow our message to be clouded with all these other factors.”
Aside from that, Campbell-Jackson said the organization was very pleased with the event. The NAACP is figuring out its next moves, but the No. 1 priority is solidifying relationships—with police departments, policymakers, even school districts, she said. Future town hall meetings and rallies are coming, she said.
“Everybody’s really energized,” Campbell-Jackson said. “We want to take that energy and put it to good use.”
Ky Ajayi from the Black Lives Matter BloNo leadership team was one of the featured speakers at the NAACP rally. On Monday, the group posted a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Facebook, saying “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots,” King said in March 1968. “It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Joseph McDonald, 28, was one of the demonstrators marching in the streets Sunday in Bloomington. He was one of two people injured when a motorcyclist plowed through the crowd as it made its way south on Madison Street downtown. The motorcyclist has since been arrested. McDonald returned to the demonstration as soon as he got out of the hospital.
McDonald knows his history, including that Monday is the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in Oklahoma, when racist attackers torched “Black Wall Street” and killed hundreds.
McDonald said he doesn’t agree with looting. But he also questions a prescription for only peaceful demonstration.
“How can we be peaceful if we’ve been peaceful for 50, 60 years now, and nothing has changed? It’s still the same,” he said. “At the same time, these people are not looting the right places. If you ask me, loot something that’s gonna hurt the pockets of the people who put us in this predicament. Don’t loot us black folks’ businesses. Don’t loot fellow Americans—Caucasians, Hispanic, whatever—who are down with us, and with us. You’re supposed to be hitting people’s pockets when they’re racist."
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