Not In Our Town (NIOT) hosted a virtual event on Monday evening designed to spur community conversations around race.
The discussion was the first in a series of five “circles” that facilitator Kevin Jones hopes will “provide an opportunity for people to express their thoughts and feelings about racism and racial violence.”
A former administrator of the Regional Alternative School in Bloomington, Jones is now a consultant and trainer in restorative practices. With applications in criminal justice, education, and elsewhere, restorative practices is a branch of social science that studies ways of improving and repairing relationships between people and communities.
Jones said recent traumatic events like the death of George Floyd and the ongoing crisis of COVID-19 have created a need for restorative work.
“We’ve been busy reacting,” he said, adding restorative discussions “ask you to reflect.”
Monday’s event was organized by Jones and the Rev. Brigitte Black of Wayman AME Church in Bloomington. Jones said he hopes it will serve as the first step toward understanding, healing, and action in the wake of recent acts of police brutality.
About 35 participants broke into discussion groups to answer questions about their reactions to Floyd's death in Minneapolis. The small group settings were intended to function as safe spaces for members to process difficult thoughts in the absence of debate. Afterwards, the groups reconvened to compare notes.
Impressions of the group work were mostly positive. Participants reported feeling encouraged by the honest, familial atmosphere. There was a consensus, across race and background, that Floyd’s death beneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer was abhorrent.
But some participants saw the display of solidarity as worrisome.
“We’re talking to the camp,” said Linda Foster, president of the Bloomington-Normal chapter of the NAACP. “We need to go outside the camp.”
Foster alaso lamented the continued media coverage of the looting that occurred amid the protests following Floyd’s death.
“We want to focus on the looting,” she said, of coverage that often includes photos of suspects. “But we don’t see the officers’ pictures and they caused death.”
“The breaking of glass wasn’t the beginning,” Foster said. “The kneeling on the neck was the beginning.”
Art Taylor, who serves on the Bloomington Public Safety and Community Relations board, described the experience of his small group discussion as cathartic. “It allowed me to blow off some steam,” he said.
Taylor and his wife, Camille, said they were treated unfairly by a Bloomington police officer during a recent incident in their neighborhood.
“The George Floyd murder made me a little bit numb,” Taylor said. “The reason it made me numb is because it’s not the first time.
“But it is one of the first times it’s been caught on TV.”
Taylor compared the images of Floyd’s murder to the day in 1965 that the late John Lewis led civil rights protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
“In a peaceful protest, they were met with horses, and dogs, and billy clubs, and police who were beating the crap out of them," he said. "And it was caught on TV. And the outrage that occurred was something that you just could not ignore.”
The same can be said of the murder of Floyd, too, Taylor said. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, it was simply the first time it was broadcast on such a considerable scale. And once seen, it was impossible to ignore.
“If you did not think that there was something wrong with that, I don’t know what planet you were on,” Taylor said.
“But like Linda said,” Taylor went on, adding to Foster’s comments, “Here it is several weeks later and people are trying to change the subject from what the original point was. And the original point is that police brutality exists and Black lives are in danger.”
“We need to include more people who don’t get it,” Taylor said. “And help them to get it. Help them to see. And that’s what I’m hoping these circles will help people to do.”
“Circles” continues online through August--from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Mondays. Registration is open to all.