Illinois State University Police Chief Aaron Woodruff received only light applause Monday when he told a crowd in downtown Bloomington that he condemned the Minneapolis cop who killed George Floyd.
But when Woodruff also condemned the three other Minneapolis officers “who stood by and failed to act,” the crowd erupted. They were in a position to stop it, but didn’t. Now all four are criminally charged.
“We, too, are against police brutality and excessive use of force and do not condone it in our departments,” said Woodruff. “We will not abuse our authority as we fulfill our solemn oaths to you.”
Woodruff and other law enforcement officers joined with leaders of the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP for a rally outside the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Woodruff spoke on behalf of Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner, Bloomington Chief Dan Donath, and McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage, who also were present. Donath cut his comments short at an NAACP rally on May 31, as demonstrators chanted over him. Donath later completed his speech in a video message.
Monday’s event was a smaller rally, held over the lunch hour on a workday. The peaceful event included a moment of silence lasting 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the amount of time Floyd was under the knee of now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
NAACP branch President Linda Foster said they want to build a close relationship with law enforcement to better address racism and police brutality. She suggested Bloomington-Normal already has a head start on other communities, as evidenced by a strong police presence at the event. Some officers lifted their fists in the air for the full 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
“Without them and us coming together, we’re at separate ends of the spectrum. We don’t want to be at separate ends. We need to come together so we can make a change and improve what’s going on,” Foster said. “I know we don’t always agree—and they’ll tell you that—but we can agree to keep working on it.”
Foster cited the “10 principles,” agreed to by the NAACP and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police in 2018, guiding relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Foster said “these chiefs have signed off on them.” Donath referenced the 10 principles in his video.
Despite those principles, Foster said the work was far from over. She stressed the need for more de-escalation training—included in the 10 principles as something that should be required.
“We stand together because we believe we’re entitled to a better community. Better relationships. Better policies and procedures. Better representation. Better reform. Better accountability. Better engagement. Better legislature. Better due process. And more importantly, ending the war on black and brown people,” Foster said.
There are several groups that have emerged in leadership roles in Bloomington-Normal since Floyd’s death, leading to near-daily demonstrations, protests, rallies, and public meetings.
The NAACP has appeared to embrace the police as partners most closely. Black Lives Matter BloNo hosted a well-attended public meeting Sunday at Miller Park, looking to turn anger and grief into an actionable agenda and trained network of “accomplices” (like allies, but more active). Another group, calling itself The Next Gen Initiative, has arranged several marches on Bloomington’s east side, including another one Monday night.
The groups work together at times, and some demonstrators comingle. A Black Lives Matter BloNo leader, for example, spoke at the NAACP’s May 31 rally.
In her remarks Monday, Foster did not offer any concrete plans for what comes next.
“I like to believe, and with all of our hope and prayers and open-mindedness, and those that want to see change, that it will happen,” she said.
The most pointed remarks aimed at police Monday came from the Rev. Mollie Ward, speaking on behalf of Not In Our Town. Asking police in the crowd to face her, Ward delivered a piece titled, “A Litany For Those Not Ready For Healing,” authored by the Rev. Dr. Yolanda Pierce from Howard University in 2016. It asks to “not rush to the language of healing before understanding the fullness of the injury and the depth of the wound.”
“Let us not be afraid to sit with the ugliness, the messiness, and the pain that is life in community together,” said Ward, quoting Pierce.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.