Members of the City of Bloomington’s Human Relations Commission want a do-over on last month’s police divestment discussion.
At a virtual meeting Wednesday night, commissioners discussed hosting a second Community Conversation on the topic in late October or early November.
Commissioner Ky Ajayi said the Aug. 27 five-member panel was missing some important voices.
“I was sorely disappointed that our elected officials declined to participate; I saw no one from the mayor’s office either in Bloomington or Normal,” Ajayi said.
Commissioner Anthony Jones said he wanted to see more social workers or representatives of similar industries, which advocates for police divestment say should receive additional investment.
City of Bloomington staff member Michael Hurt said two social workers pulled out of the event after agreeing to participate on the panel. One was due to a scheduling conflict; the other cited a conflict in their relationship with the police department, Hurt said.
The commissioners themselves were barred from participating in the event. Hurt said the city’s legal counsel told them the event was subject to the Open Meetings Act, meaning commissioners were not allowed to serve on the panel or ask panelists questions.
Ajayi also said he thought the majority of the panelists missed the point of the discussion.
Only panelist Olivia Butts, an organizer with Black Lives Matter BloNo, spoke in favor of redirecting a portion of local police budgets to social service agencies.
Ajayi said while the panelists representing Bloomington and Illinois State University’s police departments warned divestment would impact personnel, “that’s exactly the point” of divestment.
“The community is better served by having specialists respond to mental health issues, rather than armed officers,” he said.
Ajayi cited recent news that last week a police officer in Salt Lake City shot an unarmed 13-year-old with an autism spectrum disorder who was experiencing a mental breakdown.
“Had mental health professionals been able to attend, the gentleman would probably not have been shot,” he said.
Locally, divestment could mean reducing the number of personnel at local police departments to hire social workers at the McLean County Health Department, Ajayi said.
Ajayi is himself a member of BLM BloNo.
Commissioner Gary McGinnis said he was disappointed at the number of individuals who showed up to the discussion in person. City staff member Michael Hurt said of the 50 available seats just 22 were filled, but that many of those who reserved an in-person seat opted to watch the meeting online once that option was announced.
McGinnis said he also wanted staff to clarify whether the Public Safety and Community Relations Board plans to hold a divestment discussion before the commission moved forward with planning a second.
McGinnis added he sees no point in holding a second event if local elected officials and social services representatives again decline to attend.
“Otherwise it’s going to turn out about the same,” he said.
Ajayi said there should be a follow-up event regardless.
“I would hold it if they refuse to attend, and publicize that fact,” he said.
They’ll discuss the matter again at the next Human Relations Commission meeting at 5 p.m. Oct. 14.
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