BPD Video Reflects Split Screen View On Racial Incident
Months after a Bloomington police officer was involved in a racially-charged dispute, the City of Bloomington has released officer body camera footage of the incident.
A criminal justice expert defends how the officer handled the situation, but said police also must address unconscious racial bias.
The incident involving Art and Camille Taylor happened on a Saturday last July. The city denied WGLT's request for the video under the Freedom of Information Act. It took the Illinois Attorney General's office five months to investigate and rule the city should make the video public.
On the video, Bloomington Police Officer Michael DeReu explains to the Taylors why he was at their door.
“We were called out here for a neighborhood dispute,” DeReu said.
“What dispute?” Art Taylor asked.
The officer explains he has on-camera footage of a vehicle looking like the one in front of the Taylors' house. He said someone was driving through the neighborhood blaring vulgar anti-Donald Trump music near a home that had a pro-Trump sign. It wasn't the Taylor's car.
“We haven’t moved this car all day,” Taylor responded.
The Taylors are Black. The family that called police is white. The officer is white. The suspects were said to be white. The Taylors wondered how they became involved.
“I’ve lived in his area for 29 years. In 29 years, we’re the only Black people in this entire neighborhood so if anybody should be scared, we should,” Camille Taylor told the officer.
DeReu noted the Taylors had an "Anyone but Trump" sign in their yard. The Taylors took exception.
“We work to make sure this is an inclusive community, so why someone would call the police on us, because they thought that we would do something like yelling out anti-Trump (expletive) to those people. We don’t do that," Art Taylor responded.
The Taylors said it bothered them the officer didn't give them the benefit of the doubt. They described the incident as "parking while Black."
Bill Lally is a criminal justice professor at Eureka College. He's also the assistant chief in the tiny Deer Creek-Goodfield police department. Back in the 1990s Lally also spent part of one year as a Bloomington cop.
In his academic role, Lally reviewed the body cam footage for WGLT. Lally said he doesn't see race as a factor.
“When (the officer) talked to the complainants, they said the drivers we think were white,” Lally said. “So yes, the issue of race I think was soundly put down on a number of levels.”
The Taylors contend the officer should have been clearer about who they were looking for. They say that would have defused the matter sooner. Lally called that a case of semantics.
“I tried to think about it I were in this position would I have said anything differently, and I probably would have said the exact same thing,” Lally said. “They got a vehicle that matches the physical characteristics of (the Taylor’s) vehicle.”
The city defends the officer. City Manager Tim Gleason and then-police chief Dan Donath went to the Taylors and played the video for them. Gleason said last August the officer tried to de-escalate.
“The initial response, it’s pretty obvious that within the first couple of minutes that (the officer) knew he did not have the right people involved in this,” Gleason said. “I think you see in the body cam footage where he is trying to step away, but it continues.”
Then why did the city withhold the video for so long? Would Lally have done the same thing?
“I’m going to give you two answers to that one,” Lally said. “As a former police chief, yes (I would release), as a professor, no.”
Lally said police everywhere are defensive because they believe some people will see racial bias even when it's not there. Lally acknowledged racial bias among police is real, adding he catches his own unconscious bias when he wears the badge.
“I’m a liberal arts professor who is published on racial inequality within the criminal justice system, but I found myself once again, when I’m in uniform, driving a squad car and I’m driving through a gas station, keying up on Black male drivers. Why? I know that if there’s nothing else going on, that that’s wrong.”
That is the matter Art Taylor said he wants addressed. Taylor is a former diversity trainer. He said everyone has biases and carries them everywhere they go. He said he wants officers to be mindful of that when they respond to a call.
“They are going to see what they have brought their experience with them to see,” Taylor said. “That in no way makes what happened to me any less true for me than it does for anyone else.”
Many argue race problems in law enforcement are a symptom of a larger illness--inequality. Lally said society also must address unequal access to education and jobs.
The Taylors said they plan to file a formal complaint against the Bloomington Police Department by the end of the month, but Art Taylor said he doesn't plan to bring the matter to the city's civilian review board that handles complaints against officers.
Taylor is a member of the board. He said he's had informal discussions about the matter with other board members, so they would not be allowed to formally hear the case.
There's no subscription fee to listen or read our stories. Everyone can access this essential public service thanks to community support. Donate now, and help fund your public media.