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Living Black In Bloomington-Normal: Leon Jones

Leon Jones
Willie Thomas
Leon Jones is a Bloomington native and Bloomington High School graduate who's bringing awareness to racism's impact on Black mental health.

Leon Jones is a Bloomington High School graduate and a Bloomington native.

He spoke with Darnysha Mitchell for the WGLT series Living Black in Bloomington-NormalContact us if you'd like to be featured in the series.

Do you have a specific instance or experience that you would like to talk about?

I was having drinks with friends at a local bar. And one of the bouncers approached my party and asked one of the persons of the party to leave due to baggy jeans. Like this all started due to baggy jeans. And he was asked to leave the bar due to the jeans, and because the person he asked to leave was with other people, you know, he just pretty much singled me out. Me and that other person. I was with that person. And he just kind of told the cops that he had asked me to leave and everything, like he had already talked to me. Which I had never talked to this guy. He never said anything to me.

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When he came to me, he came back with cops. ... I was slammed up against the bar, had stitches in my chin. A real traumatic event took place in my life. I fought for that, I fought for that. I was innocent. I did nothing. I was having drinks with a friend's birthday. I’m still tore up from that situation mentally.

What was going through your mind when you saw him approach with the cops?

I understand that the cops were doing their jobs, and it stems from what this particular individual told them. I was in jail five, maybe not even two minutes. I think the only reason why I was released as fast as I was because I was bleeding. The correctional officers released me, it wasn’t the cops. They said, "Man, you’re bleeding, you need to go."

What police was it that came? Was it Normal or Bloomington police?

This was Bloomington Police. 


But the fact that I went to court and through the court systems innocent like, look, I was not resisting and they charged me with trespassing. How do you charge me with trespassing in a bar? Where I showed my ID to get in?

There's a lot of things about this situation that has never sat well with me and it will never. And I appreciate you guys for letting me use this platform to express some of this because it's really built up fury and rage and all of those sorts of things.

There's this expectation for the Black community to be strong. Black women and especially for Black men to be strong despite whatever occurs. What are people not understanding that you're feeling?

My opinion, Black people weren’t raised to hate white people, despite all of the things that white people have done to my grandmother, my grandparents my my great grandparents. They tell us these stories. They did not teach us to hate white people or to reciprocate that type of behavior. They didn't do that to us. I grew up in an all white mostly white high school around here.

What high school did you go to?

I graduated from Bloomington High School in 2001. I came here about ‘89, ‘90. Coming from that type of environment, west side of Chicago to here, it was a change. It was a big change. It was a shock, going back and forth to visit. I don’t think that a lot of people realize the effect that racism, white supremacy has on the Black community. It's deeper than just denying jobs and things of that nature. It's really to me has gotten to my mental (state).

And have you been able to receive any help? 

I don't know who to reach out to. I don’t know who to call. I don’t know who to rant to about these problems. It's always "file a police report" and do this and do that. I have seen them tear up police reports and throw in the garbage. Like, who do we talk to when we have these problems and issues? We need somebody there for us. 

You mentioned you’re doing research. What are you finding in your research that you’ve been doing?

A lot of things were taken from Black people that aren't in our history books. I'll use Black Wall Street as an example. I'm 37 years old. I didn't find out about Black Wall Street till three, four years ago. Those types of things, that stuff was buried. Why would they do that?

And that leads up to these types of situations and these problems that we are having today in our society, culture, world, or what have you. And I think me personally, I'm living and I'm seeing things like this going on every day. When you turn on the news, and it's all you're seeing is nothing but Black people upset. People are looking for ways to vent and you calling me allowed me this platform. So I’m venting at this point. And I appreciate that.

And have you had the chance to have these conversations with people close to you?

All the time. All the time. They know how passionate I am about these types of situations. Because again, I've lived through certain things that follow me every day. I don't go anywhere without knowing these could happen at any given time.

When you're out there protesting, knowing that you've been a victim of being wrongfully arrested, what's going through your mind?

Within the past year, I've been pulled over 10 times. Seven of those 10 times, I was ticketed, had to go to court and it just made up things to get in my car or see who's in my car, make sure I'm valid. It's just, it's more like nitpicking as far as I'm concerned. It's just constantly picking. My license is good. My insurance is good. My car is fine, it’s not making any noises, all my lights and everything are working. They make up that too. "The license plate doesn't work." That's a real good one that they like to use to just pull people over and make a small situation bigger than what it is. Particularly to African Americans, people of color. It's a known tactic, like “Oh, you didn't stop all the way at the stop sign.” Now you want to search my car. OK, I got passengers in my car. They’re of color. Now you want their IDs.

But we have a lot of people that don't even know the real laws and know that they shouldn't even be talking to these people in the car. But if you give them some smoke about them questioning your passengers, now it's a problem with them. And it just it just a whole bad situation. It’s rarely ever good for a person of color.

Now with social media, people are using their phones to record these interactions with the police and posting them. If these interactions weren't being recorded, do you feel like the Black community would be listened to or even believed? 

Not to the extent that we are. Not to the extent because these things are happening every day. And they have been. It’s just more of the fact that of course we have more cameras around, cell phones. And stuff is being seen more and is getting more of a reaction. 

When the Black community shares stories on how police interact with them, there can be pushback, like “What did you do?” Or “Well, you shouldn't have done this. You should have done that.” What do you say to those reactions?

So those are just people denying the real things that's going on as far as I'm concerned. If I'm saying something and somebody is pushing back about what I did or about what I'm saying, you’re in denial and that’s just how I feel. You’re not down for the cause. George Floyd for example. [They’re saying] “Oh, this man is a criminal” and all that stuff. That had nothing to do with nothing. So why is that relevant? 

What do you hope to see change?

I would like to see more resources available to people of color regarding mental health because I'm seeing a lot of people including myself needing help.

As far as change, I just want to be left alone. I'm not hurting nobody, I'm not doing anything to anybody. But I'm being treated like a hardened criminal. And it's been that way for us. And it's I'm tired of it. Just let us live.

There's often a stigma around mental health in the Black community. Do you think it’s something the Black community should address more?

Absolutely. Absolutely. Mental health in the Black community is always something that is rarely talked about. It's not talked about. And things that deal with white supremacy that directly relates to the attitudes and the mentality of people of color. And a lot of people are not aware of it, and I'm here to help shed some light to that. When you're driving in your car and the cops get behind you, you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not bothering anybody, the police get behind you and your heart drops to the floor. You’re about to run the car into the fire hydrant on the corner, you run a stop sign because your foot sleepwalk or something is going on with you mentally and physically. Heart pounding out of your chest. There's something wrong. There’s something wrong.

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Darnysha Mitchell is an Illinois State University student and reporting and social media intern at WGLT.