PSCRB 'Just the Beginning' -- Y Mission Impact Director

Local civil rights leaders claimed victory Monday as the Bloomington City Council voted to create a new civilian board to advise the police chief—a step that supporters hope will improve how the city deals with complaints against its officers.

The vote was 8-1, with Ward 8 Alderman Diana Hauman the only “no” vote. Hauman, who represents the city’s southeast side, said she gathered input from many members of the community but still had concerns about the new board’s purpose and how its members would be selected and trained and what they’d be tasked with doing.

“I’ve given this eight months of thought, inquiry, research, and sleepless nights,” she said.

Hauman said she was disappointed that so many of the board’s advocates “said basically negative things about our police” during recent forums, including a 35-minute public comment session that opened Monday’s meeting.

“I heard very few people say thank you,” Hauman said. “I have a feeling that our police are being profiled just as members of the alliance (pushing for the board) indicate that police are profiling people of color. I’m sorry, but that offends me as a person.”

Monday’s vote caps a months-long effort by local organizations such as Black Lives Matter lobbying for creation of a board. It came in response to growing tensions in Bloomington between police and many members of the minority community, some of which were documented in a May report.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner initially opposed creation of the board as other Illinois communities have done, but he appeared to soften his stance as public debate advanced.

Bloomington officer Stephen Brown, representing the police union (PBPA Unit 21), told aldermen before Monday’s vote that he’s in favor of building a better relationship between rank-and-file police and minority groups. He denied that Bloomington police target people based on their race.

But he said supporters of the new board have shifted their agenda and now want an outsized role in shaping policing policy. He questioned why they didn’t support controversial efforts to open a so-called police “community house” when it came before aldermen in January.

“It seems that we’re being painted as racist in this town,” Brown said, alleging that some who support the board want only to make life more difficult for police. “You have to ask yourself, as citizens of this town, do you want law enforcement’s job to be more complicated, or easier? Because if it’s easier, you’re going to be safer.”

Not In Our Town, YWCA McLean County, and the ACLU of Illinois joined Black Lives Matter in advocating for the board. Many spoke passionately at council meetings in recent months.

“This is just the beginning,” Jennifer Carrillo, director of mission impact at the YWCA, told a crowd of board supporters—many wearing Black Lives Matter shirts—as they cheered outside City Hall after the vote. Carrillo urged them to consider applying to serve on the board.

How Board Will Work

The seven-member Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB) is “purely advisory” to the city manager and police chief. Felons and police officers won’t be able to serve on the board—a controversial decision that civil rights advocates, aldermen, and board opponents wrestled over.

Among the PSCRB’s formal duties will be adding a “resident perspective” to the evaluation of civilian complains against police, as well as educating the community all the ways citizens to make formal and informal complaints. Members of the board will be appointed by the mayor with the with the approval of the Bloomington City Council by a two-thirds vote of all aldermen currently serving.

Its formal power is limited. The city’s police union contract does specifically limits “re-investigations and prohibit(s) the compulsion of police officer testimony in front of citizen review boards,” the city says.

“This is not an oversight board,” said Mayor Tari Renner. “It’s an advisory board.”

Ward 7 Scott Black said he wants to periodically check on the effectiveness of the board in the years to come.

“My focus right now is to make sure that folks feel that there’s an institution that will help them be heard,” said Black. “This document is the result of a lot of people working very hard toward a common goal.”

Bloomington Council Passes Community Relations Board Plan

During the Bloomington City Council meeting on Monday, July 24, the council passed (8-1) the ‘Public Safety and Community Relations Board’ (PSCRB) in front of a packed house of hundreds of supporters. The advocacy originated from grassroots activists and community organizations who worked tirelessly for this effort to come to fruition. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

The most vocal advocates of the ordinance was an alliance of community organizations convened by YWCA McLean County. The organizations include ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington Normal Branch of NAACP, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Illinois People’s Action, McLean County League of Women Voters, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and Prairie Pride Coalition.

“Police accountability and transparency is key to improved community relations,” said Ky Ajayi, Black Lives Matter representative. “The establishment of the PSCRB is an excellent step in that direction.”

With the passage of this ordinance, residents will have the opportunity to submit their complaint to the PSCRB, which will then be routed to the Bloomington Police Department, instead of filing directly with the department. The police department will still conduct complaint investigations as they always have, but with this board, a resident will be able to request a review by the PSCRB to ensure proper protocols were followed. In addition, the board will promote alternate avenues available to residents to make complaints, assist in clarifying and improving procedures related to complaints and assure access to these policies and procedures are open and transparent.

“The Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP is pleased to see the passage of this ordinance,” said Quincy Cummings, president of the local NAACP chapter. “The transparency provided by establishing this board will encourage more people to comfortably file complaints.”

Another important feature of the board is the ability to recommend changes to the police department. The PSCRB will be empowered to conduct community outreach and recommend necessary policy changes to improve police and community interactions. 

“The establishment of the board is a huge first step towards becoming a community in which police and residents can trust one another,” said D. Dontae Latson, CEO of YWCA McLean County. “We still have a lot of work to do—and this board is only the beginning—but we are committed to playing a role in the process of building and healing community relations.”

Throughout the city council’s public discussion on this issue, which took place over the course of several special sessions, countless stories and testimonies were shared by community members who have been directly impacted by what many describe as ‘disproportionate policing.’ Many cited a recent report by the Stevenson Center, which indicated that in Bloomington, black people are twice as likely to be pulled over by police; and once stopped, are over twice as likely to be searched compared to white people. These residents showed a unified and steadfast support for the creation of board to address these issues.

Citizen Review: A Nationwide Perspective

Bloomington City Council is expected Monday evening to review a compromise proposal for a Civilian Review Board addressing police-related complaints.

Here is a roundup of civilian review efforts and debate across the U.S.:

Urbana: 'Systemic' review

The Urbana Civilian Police Review Board (CPRB) is a city board, with subpoena power, established by Mayor Prussing and the Urbana City Council in 2011 to provide a fair and independent process for the review of citizen complaints concerning sworn police officers. The Board is not a part of the police department.

Charged with offering a citizen’s perspective to the review of complaints and to provide a systematic means to promote and maintain positive police-community relations, the Board reviews complaints in a fair, thorough, and timely manner and reports board findings to the Mayor and Chief of Police.

  • Board Membership. The Board is comprised of seven (7) members appointed by the mayor with the approval of the city council. Members are chosen from diverse segments of the community. Members serve without compensation for a term of three (3) years. Terms of office are staggered.
  • Meeting Schedule. The Board holds regular quarterly meetings on the 4th Wednesday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the Urbana City Council Chambers.  Special meetings may be held as deemed necessary. Board meetings are open to the public in accordance with the Illinois Open Meetings Act and public participation is welcome.
  • Agendas and Minutes. To view prior meetings as well as their agendas and minutes, please visit Archive of Agendas and Minutes.
  • Broadcast Meetings. If you prefer to view Board meetings remotely, please note that meetings are broad cast by Urbana Public Television through Comcast on channel 6, AT&T U-Verse on channel 99 and streamed on the web.

Baltimore: Broad perspectives, strategies?

Mayor Catherine Pugh wants a newly appointed civilian oversight panel to recommend ways to improve the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and the public, offer cultural diversity training and better recruit officers from within the city.

Pugh named nine people to the Community Oversight Task Force this week. The task force was required by the consent decree the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to force the police to address widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory practices.

"I trust them to make great decisions," said Pugh, joined by some task force members at City Hall. "They have a lot of work ahead of them."

Among the volunteer members is the Rev. Marvin McKenstry of West Baltimore's Victory House of Worship.

"My personal goal is to serve the city that I love and bring a different perspective ... the perspective of the people to the conversations that we need to have," said McKenstry, 42, who also helps young people find jobs and volunteers for several endeavors.

Pugh appoints nine to Baltimore Civilian Oversight Task Force mandated by consent decree. The task force members were selected from more than 100 applicants. Pugh said the consent decree required her to appoint five members to the task force by July 1, but she asked the Justice Department to expand the task force to nine members.

They must work at least 10 hours a month for the next eight months, soliciting information from city agencies, community members and organizations to help develop a road map for the city to meet the requirements of the consent decree, Pugh said.

Before their report is finalized, Pugh said their ideas will be presented to the public for feedback.

Mayor's nominees to Civilian Review Board include academics, attorneys and a former Baltimore sheriff's captain.

Former state Sen. Ralph Hughes, 69, of Mondawmin said the task force also will evaluate the effectiveness of the Civilian Review Board, which investigates complaints against police. For years, the board has been criticized for being ineffective and powerless.

"What can we do to improve it?" he asked. "What recommendations can we make to the General Assembly to improve the Civilian Review Board?"

Appointees also include attorney Denise Duval, retired police Col. Edward Jackson, political science professor Danielle Kushner and school mediation coordinator Daniel Levine. Other members are Valencia Johnson and Andrew Reinel. A ninth member still has to be named.

Jackson, who retired from the Police Department in 2004, said he believes a response by law enforcement is appropriate only when interventions by family, community, and faith-based groups fail to address a problem.

Nashville, Tennessee: 'It will make us all safer'

Complaints against police officers continue to spark national discussion, and in late June, that conversation took the shape of a town hall in Nashville.

According to the NAACP, there are nearly 700 citizen complaints filed every year against the Metro Nashville Police Department.

The Community Oversight Now Coalition, which is made up of multiple local organizations, hosted a town hall to talk about creating an oversight committee board.

More than 100 cities across the country have a similar board.

On Thursday, dozens showed up at the Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church to talk about how a board would positively address police accountability and increase trust between Davidson County residents and law enforcement.

"And that will reduce violence -- it will make us all safer -- if people feel that level of respect with the police and from the police," said Kyle Motherhead with the Community Oversight Now Coalition.

"I know there are people in the powers to be that don't think it's necessary, but they don't have black sons or daughters -- but especially black sons. They don't understand the reality when our sons are pulled over and they are behind the wheel," said Jackie Sims with Democracy Nashville.

The group says it's been working on the concept for many years, but it came together after Metro Officer Joshua Lippert shot and killed Jocques Clemmons back in February. Lippert has since been cleared of criminal charges.

Monongahela, Pennsylvania: Deterrent or disruption?

Monongahela City Council heard a request July 14 for creation of a civilian police review board.

Resident Chad DeSantis, who brought the issue before council, said residents have raised a number of concerns on social media. “People are being pulled over for a burnt-out license plate light, when it isn’t burnt out,” he said.

DeSantis also noted that in 2009, Monongahela police officer George Langan was arrested and accused of selling cocaine and interfering with drug investigations in the Mon Valley, and in 2011, former part-time officer David James McClelland was involved in the robbery and murder of Evelyn Stepko of Coal Center. DeSantis asserted a civilian police review board would provide checks and balances.

Councilman Ken Kulak questioned what a review board would have done differently regarding the police officers DeSantis mentioned.

 “These things were resolved,” said Kulak, adding that he didn’t think a review board would have changed the outcome. “You are going to have problem employees in any job. What would the review board have (done) in these instances?”

DeSantis said if there was a review board at the time, it might have served as a deterrent.

Monongahela police Chief Brian Tempest said that if anyone has a complaint against an officer, they can come to the police department and file a complaint in person.

 “I believe our officers do a fine job,” said Tempest. He added he is not saying there can’t be times when an officer steps out of line, but if that happens, he encourages residents to file a complaint with the department.

 

 

Directory Offers Resources for LGBTQIA Community

Dave Bentlin commemorates the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings at Bloomington's The Bistro.

Dave Bentlin commemorates the victims of the Pulse nightclub shootings at Bloomington's The Bistro.

The Prairie Pride Coalition has launched an LGBTQIA+ friendly business directory aimed at guiding members of those communities to retail, service, health care, legal/financial, and worship resources.

The directory debuted last month at The Bistro, during a ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando.

PPC Director Dave Bentlin said most of the businesses were recruited through Facebook, although members of the LGBTQ+ community already had a pretty good idea of who should be in the guide. Bentlin said there was no push back and no one said they didn't want to be in the directory.

Forty-nine people died and 58 were wounded when a single gunman attacked the Pulse crowd.

Bentlin hailed the NIOTBN-supported directory as a strong signal that "we can no longer call Bloomington-Normal a conservative community and just leave it at that," he said.

"I think there are certain issues where this is a conservative community, but I believe on social issues that more and more this is becoming a progressive community, where people have a  live and let live attitude and they want to see people treated fairly and justly," he said.

"I'm impressed everyday in most ways with Bloomington-Normal. The fact that both Mayors have introductory pieces in this directory, it's a firm position that a lot of elected officials might be afraid to make," said NIOTBN's Martin Ross, who helped design and edit the directory. 

The directory is available at area businesses and organizations listed in the guide. Business are identified as gay-friendly with a rainbow window cling for the storefront door or window.  Bentlin said he thinks the guide may demonstrate the community's buying power to the business owner.

The guide will also be available at the PPC's website

Citizen Review Board Nearing Critical Vote?

The Bloomington City Council is expected to vote Monday night on a proposed ordinance to create a civilian police oversight board, but its membership would not include convicted felons or police officers.

One of the hurdles for some aldermen has been whether to allow convicted felons to serve on the proposed board.

"I think I am not alone in saying that most of us on the council had many, many conversations across the community about this ordinance and how it needed to read and what its focus should be," Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt said Thursday.

"A group of aldermen worked very hard to try and synthesize all of the ideas with the product that we have in front of us now," said Schmidt. "I also think most of us made some compromises on some things.

"But the heart of the ordinance is something I know a majority of us can support," she added. "It provides a structure for us to build a stronger police-citizen relationship. There are a lot of tools in it that focus on helping communication and education across the board."

An alliance of community organizations — including Not in Our Town, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, YWCA of McLean County, and Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal — has asked for a citizen review board for police. Some community activists also wanted to allow convicted felons to apply and to exclude anyone affiliated previously or currently with law enforcement.

"Essentially we came back to where we were kind of at to start with on those issues — that the felons are prohibited even if they're nonviolent felons and even if (their crimes) occurred 20 or 30 years ago, and no law enforcement officials," said Mayor Tari Renner.

Ky Ajayi, a member of the local BLM chapter, said he has mixed feelings about the revised ordinance.

"I will be glad if a review board is created." he said. "I will be disappointed that people who have been convicted of crimes in the past would not be eligible to be considered for membership on the review board."

If that happens, he said, "people who have served and paid their price to society for whatever mistakes they have made are not afforded full rights of citizenship.

"I think people who have been through the process can bring a unique perspective to the review process."

Police Chief Brendan Heffner previously said he is against felons serving on the board unless someone from law enforcement also is allowed to serve.

Ajayi said he would be pleased if the exclusion of city employees and anyone with current or former affiliation with a law enforcement agency is in the ordinance.

In May, a request by the local Black Lives Matter chapter to create a community board to review public complaints about interactions with Bloomington police officers gained community momentum. Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal (NIOTBN), YWCA McLean County, NAACP Bloomington-Normal and the Central Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — supported Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal in calling for a civilian review board.

In a joint statement, the five groups said many residents, particularly people of color, lack confidence in the process for filing complaints about police officers and in investigations conducted solely by police.

Mayor Tari Renner pledged "a broader discussion about what the overall concerns are, what the issues are, what does our current process look like and what our options are." "One, obviously, is a review board and that certainly will be discussed,” Renner said.

"Black Lives Matter has shared some principles it would like to see shape the board, and hopefully at the committee-of-the-whole meeting the City Council will agree that these are good ideas and should form the basis for a board,” said Ajayi.

Few public complaints are formally submitted to Bloomington police, the groups related, but that fact may be misleading.

"We believe it is dangerous to assume that the low number of complaints filed against officers are a measure of public satisfaction, when it may instead be an indication of public distrust with our current complaint process," according to the groups' statement.

The organizations suggest that "in order to maintain public trust," the review board consist solely of volunteer members of the public to remain an impartial body.

The community groups also recommend expanding the avenues for filing complaints by allowing people to file them directly with the review board, with the city's human resources department or through the current process at the police department.

While the police department would investigate the complaints and make determinations, a review board could provide an avenue for people to appeal department findings they dispute, said the organizations' statement.

"We recommend that BPD make all investigative material related to the complaint available to (the review board)," the groups said.

The board could make nonbinding recommendations to the police chief or city manager to consider, according to the groups.

NIOT member Mike Matejka said people may feel more comfortable taking complaints to a review board, and the review process would be more productive than having people just raise these issues in public forums.

"People constantly voice complaints when we have these large public forums," said Matejka. “It's really not fair to the police because they can't answer an individual situation in front of a crowd."

In mid-June, an alliance of nine community organizations gathered on the steps of the McLean County Museum of History Friday to urge the Bloomington City Council to create an oversight board.

"We urge all council members to vote in favor of it," said Jenn Carrillo, YWCA mission impact director before introducing the representatives who spoke at the press conference. In addition to ACLU of Central Illinois, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal, Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP, Not in Our Town Bloomington-Normal and YWCA McLean County, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Prairie Pride Coalition, Illinois People's Action, and the McLean County League of Women Voters joined in the effort.

But continued delays in bringing the plan to a vote elicited frustrations in early July

“We are disappointed this process has been delayed once more," NIOTBN member and YWCA Director Dontae Latson stated. "During the June Committee of the Whole session, we heard a majority of council members express support for the passage of the PSCRB ordinance. Council members had ample opportunity to ask questions, offer revisions and raise any outstanding issues with the ordinance during that session. We believed their concerns had been sufficiently addressed in the proposed revisions. The delay raises concern that an already vetted and modest ordinance may be weakened. We remain hopeful the city council will have the courage to vote and pass the PSCRB ordinance.”

Seventh Art Stand Offers Insights on Islamic Culture

Understanding Islamic People -- Not In Our Town and the Normal Theater are happy to promote The Seventh Art Stand, a nationwide series of films presented by movie theaters and community centers across the U.S. as an act of cinematic solidarity against Islamophobia.

In May 2017, screenings across the U.S. will showcase films from the countries affected by Islamophobia and the travel bans. The Network of Arab Alternative Screens (NAAS) joins U.S. theaters in this coalitional effort to elevate the cinemas and stories of our friends and fellow filmmakers abroad. We believe it is crucial to build a tradition of sharing more stories, voices, and faces on our screens.

Visit https://www.seventhartstand.com.

May 1 March Declares 'Immigrants Are Welcome Here'

Paul Swiech

The Pantagraph

Chanting "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here" and "Immigrant rights are human rights," about 300 people marched Monday evening from outside the McLean County Museum of History to outside Bloomington City Hall to support immigrant families in McLean County.

Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Photo by Gabriel Jiminez Glez

Responding to Trump administration comments about increasing deportations through partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, several speakers called for the City Council to adopt a "Welcoming City" ordinance, which would bar the city and Bloomington police from reporting people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.

"We can't control what is happening in (Washington) D.C., but we can here," said Illinois People's Action board member Sonny Garcia, who was among several people who spoke at the rally in front of City Hall. He asked the City Council — which swore in newly elected members Monday evening in City Hall just before the rally — to "stand up and say 'no' to hate and be an example to the nation."

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner came outside to welcome the marchers.

Calling the United States, "a nation of immigrants," Renner said "the better part of humanity has to prevail and, here in Bloomington, it will prevail."

Renner told the marchers that "our police force does not work with ICE" but stopped short of endorsing the Welcoming City ordinance.

"In this moment, there is no moral choice but to fight back. Because all of us are all implicated in what is being done, in our name, to our immigrant sisters and brothers." D. Dontae Latson, CEO, YWCA McLean County.

"In the face of overwhelming national enforcement, we need more than promises and words. We cannot only declare we are on the side of our immigrant neighbors and tell them everything is okay. We must decide to do more. We must decide to pass the Welcoming City ordinance." Charlotte Alvarez, executive director, The Immigration Project.

"I am an Uber driver. About a month and a half ago I had some riders try to assault and kidnap me. This was very traumatizing and I wanted my attackers to be prosecuted. But, I was advised not to press charges as it would be worse for me and my family because of our immigration case. I decided not to press charges against my attackers because of my husband's immigration status. It makes me very sad to know that these men never had any consequences for their actions and may act again." 'Stephanie,’ Bloomington resident.

"We may not be able to control what is happening in DC, but we certainly have the power to determine how our immigrant brothers and sisters are treated right here in McLean County," Sonny Garcia, Board Member of Illinois People's Action.

"We are here today to join our immigrant brothers and sisters in building power to advance our shared struggle. Together, we will fight for and win our collective liberation." Divah Griffin, Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

He told The Pantagraph earlier that the city legal department is analyzing a Welcoming City ordinance, but there are concerns.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos also told The Pantagraph earlier, "While I'm generally supportive of what they're trying to accomplish, that particular document is difficult to support because there are legal issues."

Renner and Koos have expressed concern about endorsing a document that puts police at odds with federal agents. Renner may issue a mayoral proclamation as an alternative to the ordinance.

But Jenn Carrillo, YWCA McLean County mission impact director, told The Pantagraph after the rally, "We need to go beyond a proclamation and codify it in an ordinance."

Carrying signs that read "Blono is better when we keep families together" and "Migration is Beautiful," many marchers — some shivering in the wind and 47-degree temperatures during the lengthy rally — also held plastic monarch butterflies. They have become a symbol of the immigration rights movement because they migrate from Mexico to the United States and Canada.

"Migration is not only natural but beautiful," said YWCA CEO D. Dontae Latson.

The Rev. Doug Hennessy, retired pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington, said: "God's Word tells us every person without exception has inherent human dignity and is worthy of respect. That families are meant to be together. That this one small planet is meant to be shared, not divided."

A Welcoming City ordinance "would be an important way for our community to say to our brothers and sisters and families who are most immediately threatened by the current situation, that we stand in solidarity with them," Hennessy said.

"The war against immigrants is a war against people of color," said Divah Griffin of Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal.

Among those who marched and rallied were David and Abby Warfel of Bloomington and their sons, Sam, 15, and Joe, 10.

"We're here to support the immigrant community," Joe said. "No human is illegal."

"We want to help families to stay together," Abby said. "We wouldn't want to be separated from each other. We want others to have that same sense of safety."

"The national climate on immigration is very distressing and we want to do something to make our community safer," said David Warfel, noting his ancestors emigrated from Germany.

"I want other families to have the same opportunities that my family had," he said.

For highlights of the march, visit https://www.facebook.com/YWCAMcLeanCounty/videos/10155242100266382/

Voices of Pride to Present New Dramas

New Route Theatre is excited to present its second annual Voices of Pride new play festival. This festival, featuring LGBTQ-themed works, is produced in partnership with the Prairie Pride Coalition.

These staged readings will run from May 4 through May 7:

May 4 at 7:30 p.m. - A PEFECT FIT by Lia Romeo and directed by Kat Gregory. Featuring Connie Blick, Heather Ann-Marie Morrow, Genevieve Pilon, Carolyn Stucky, and Chloe Szot.

May 5, 7:30 p.m. - POSTCOITAL VARIATIONS by Alex Dremman and directed by Joe McDonnell. Featuring - Paige Brantley, Jennifer Cirillo, Mathew Frederick, Lauren Hickle, Elante Richardson, and Wesley Tilford.

May 6 will include readings of all four plays throughout the day:

A PERFECT FIT - 11 a.m.

HIS/HERS ESCAPADES - 1 p.m., by Christoper Van derArk and directed by Don Shandrow. Featuring Kyle Berry, Ramsey Hendricks, Rachel Hettrick, Timothy Jefferson, Everson Pierce, and Austin Travis.

A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING - 6 p.m., by Peter Macklin directed by George Jackson. Featuring Everson Pierce and Joe McDonnell.

POSTCOITAL VARIATIONS - 9 p.m.

May 7 will conclude the festival with A BEAUTIFUL BUILDING at 2 p.m. and HIS/HERS ESCAPADES at 6 p.m.

This year’s festival will be held at the Chateau Bloomington Hotel and Conference center in the Jesse Smart Auditorium.

Ticket prices will be $10 per reading or $5 for students and seniors and $25 for festival experience ticket for all four readings.

To reserve tickets e-mail us at new.route.theatre@gmail.com. Tickets will also be available at the Garlic Press, 108 West North St. in Uptown Normal, starting on April 25, or may be purchased at the door based on availability.

A cash bar will be available before and between readings with appetizers available at a modest price. There will be dinner breaks on Friday and Saturday evening.

A reduced room rate is available for those attending from out of town. For more information on room rates contact the Chateau by calling 309-662-2020 and mentioning Voices of Pride, New Route Theatre, or Prairie Pride.

BPD Embracing Aspects of 'Community Policing'

Jon Norton

WGLT

The advocacy group Black Lives Matter BloNo has been asking the Bloomington Police Department to adopt "Community Policing" rather than what it characterizes as a "Broken Windows" approach to policing. Broken Windows theory argues that focusing on small crimes such as vandalism and toll-jumping helps create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, which leads to less serious crimes being committed.
 

Community policing has a number of core tenants, including assigning officers to specific geographic locations over long periods of time, even decades. It also involves requiring officers to walk or bike their beats as much as possible, and to emphasize problem solving over reactionary policing. Bloomington police chief Brendan Heffner said his department employs all of those tenants, albeit in a limited fashion. For example, he said officers have assigned patrol areas every time they are out.

"We have officers that bid (per their shifts) their patrol areas, so they are actuallyin certain areas for long periods of time, so that helps," said Heffner. "What I think the public doesn't realize is, say, you're an officer on the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift, or the day shift and you change shifts, your patrol area might change as well."

So those officers may essentially patrol a neighborhood for up to a year, which proponents of community policing might say is short of the desired "years" or even "decades" where an officer can really get to know an area and its residents. As for foot patrols, Heffner said his offers do get out on both foot and bike, and said he would like to increase the time they spend out of their cars in the coming months. He also said officers on foot increases their response time when dispatched to other crimes.

"We encourage officers to get out of their cars when they can to talk and engage with people" said Heffner. "Sometimes people are a little taken back because they've only seen or heard things and never had an officer say hello. And we have some officers who are a little shy about that because of the atmosphere, they don't know how to be treated."

Heffner says he tells his officers to be consistent, in that consistency, professionalism, and being genuine reflects on the officer, and those overtures comes back to the officer. 

One of the criticisms of community policing nationwide is that it gets embraced at the upper levels of law enforcement agencies, but the concept itself, such as how how to talk with or approach citizens while on foot patrol doesn't get down to the street level officer. A YouTube video from two years ago filmed by a man walking in west Bloomington has made its rounds on social media. It shows the man and and another interacting with Bloomington police officer who had stopped his car after noticing the two walking. The man filming immediately asked if they were being detained or under arrest as the officer walked up to them. They explained in a direct manner that they don't answer questions from police. The officer explained he wanted to talk with them and get to know them under the guise of community policing. The conversation quickly devolved into the pedestrian clearly stating he didn't trust police, and the officer continuing to talk with the pedestrian in a belittling manor.  Heffner said he has been aware of the video for awhile.

"I actually told that officer 'do not stop doing what you were trying to do.' That obviously was not the best contact, but that is not how everyone feels. If you want to know if our officers try to get out there and do that ... they do," said Heffner.

Acknowledging that the conversation was adversarial from both parties, Heffner said his officers have to act in a more professional manor.

"One thing people have to realize is that we are human too. But we try to be above that. Can we do better? Yes we can, and we strive to do that, and we learn from it. And I hope people understand no matter what you think of the video, it was one video. Because we have a LOT of positive contacts with the public," said Heffner.

Click "Listen" below to hear Heffner talk more about how the Bloomington Police Department approached community policing, including his reaction to data released last year showing blacks stopped and frisked more often than whites during the first six months of 2016, despite finding less drugs or illegal weapons on blacks than whites.

Matejka Second Consecutive NIOTBN Leader to Receive Peace Prize

The Pantagraph

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

Mike Matejka and wife Kari Sandhaas. Photo by Archana Shekara

A labor official involved in anti-discrimination efforts and other community activities has been named this year's recipient of Illinois State University's Grabill-Homan Peace Prize.

Mike Matejka of Normal, governmental affairs director for the Great Plains Laborers District Council, was recognized for his work with Not in Our Town: Bloomington-Normal.

The 1974 ISU graduate also is a member of the Normal Planning Commission and former member of the Bloomington City Council. He serves on the boards or committees of the Autism Friendly Community, Easterseals, McLean County Museum of History, the Illinois Labor History Society, the Children's Christmas Party for Unemployed Families and Secretary of State Jesse White's “Life Goes On” organ donation effort.

He also is a member of the Humanitarian and Social Aspects Committee of the town of Normal's 2040 Planning Commission. He was a founding member of the Central Illinois Food Bank.

Noha Shawki, director of Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies at ISU, said Matejka “has impressed me with his empathy, his compassion, his leadership and his commitment to peacemaking and to community service.”

The award was presented Monday at ISU's Alumni Center. First given in 2011, the annual prize goes to a member of the Bloomington-Normal community who has demonstrated commitment to community peace and justice activities.

Previous recipients have been former Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal Faith and Outreach Committee Chair Kelley Becker, Mary Campbell, Tina Sipula, Rick Heiser, Barbara Stuart, and Deborah Halperin.

The peace prize is named in honor of history professors Joseph Grabill and Gerlof Homan, co-founders of the Peace Studies Program at ISU.

Disorganizer United for Black Lives Matter Fundraiser

Jon Norton

WGLT

"Whenever I call it a jazz band I do air quotes. 'Jazz.'" said Disorganizer mandolin player Stefen Robinson, gesturing with the index and middle fingers of both hands over his head.

Why?

"Because I don't even know what that means anymore," continued Robinson. "Are you talking about Miles Davis? Are you talking about Wayne Shorter? Are you talking about Kneebody?

We're all influenced by jazz, and the other three dudes, (bass player) Ryan Nolan, (drummer) Michael Carlson and (saxophonist) Travis Thacker are influenced by jazz," said Robinson.

Robinson was self-deprecating while describing the group's serendipitous origins. He and Thacker connected at Carl's Pro Band Center in Bloomington and eventually brought in Nolan to play bass during jam sessions.

"It got to the point where very quickly I said 'I'm a terrible drummer ... do you know a drummer?'" laughed Robinson. "That's how I met Michael.  They called in Michael. At first it was two drummers, I was playing drums, Michael's playing drums, and then it just became kind of stupid. So I said 'I play electric mandolin.' I'm actually way better at that than drums."

That self-awareness extends to the rest of the group. It's a trait that has them playing an April 15 fundraiser at The Bistro in Bloomington for Black Lives Matter BloNo. Robinson, who teaches social studies, sociology, and history at Normal Community High School, says the group is intentionally anti-racist.

"Not just, as I describe in my sociology class as passively anti-racist, but actively anti-racist in any context we can," said Robinson. "to try work toward a just society without the racial stratification that we see."

Black Lives Matter. The name itself repels many, especially, but not exclusively, non-blacks.  When I mentioned to Robinson that a local blogger recently questioned "don't white people know that Black Lives Matter hates white people?," for once he paused. "I am intimately involved with the people working with Black Lives Matter. None of them hate white people." chuckled Robinson.

Some believe the term implies that white lives or police lives don't matter. Many respond to "Black Lives Matter" with "All Lives Matter."

"I have to have conversations with my students about this, often," said Robinson. "I wear my Black Lives Matter shift to school. Weekly. I do it so we can have these conversations. I'm not doing it to promote a specific agenda I have outside of school, but to raise conversations so students can have these dialogs."

Disorganizer is inspired by some of the free-jazz players from back in the day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and Ornette Coleman. Some of the same players composing music in reaction to or inspired by events in the 1950's and 60's that Black Lives Matter and others are shining a light on today. Robinson said he has used some of that music in his classroom, but said that today kids react more favorably to politically charged hip-hop. But he credits Coleman for the melody on "It shoots, It Hits," one of the four songs on their recently released untitled EP.

"That title comes from the 'Zen and the art of Archery,' this really famous book in the Zen world. It's this concept that this guy was studying archery and couldn't get it right. And his teacher was trying to get him to the point where he didn't think he was shooting the arrow. I wanted to compose this song where it built in a way where the tension keeps increasing. And then like this guy holding the bow, all of a sudden, the arrow just shoots. The guy doesn't ever let the arrow go, it just shoots. And that's the right moment to end the song." said Robinson.

 

Passover Celebrates Freedom

Howard Packowitz

WJBC

Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Moses Montefiore Temple, Bloomington

Jews around the world are celebrating freedom as the eight-day Passover holiday began at sundown (Monday), and one local man is remembering the lessons his late father taught him about the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage.

McLean County Board member and retired professor George Gordon shares the story taught to him by his father, Rabbi Ted Gordon, who died in 2005 at age 96.

Gordon says the Torah, which is the Jewish law, is not clear how long Israelites were in bondage. It could be anywhere from 30 to 400 years.

Gordon’s father suggested the Torah might be intentionally vague.

“Dad speculated that was done by someone whose identity we’ll never know to emphasize the point even harder that slavery was not something we enjoyed or that anybody should enjoy and that freedom is a major point, but a point made more significantly by the addition of the number 400,” George Gordon said.

Gordon says each Passover, his father reminded him that no one really knows how long Israelites were in bondage.

“Emphasizing 30 years and 400 years makes the point more poignantly and more convincingly that the Israelites were in slavery for such a long time,” Gordon said. “That’s why we value freedom so much.”

Rabbi Ted Gordon was a reform rabbi in Philadelphia. In his 90’s, he led Bloomington’s Moses Montefiore Temple for two years.

Hindu Festival of Colors Lights Up Fairgrounds Saturday

Dan Craft

The Pantagraph

If a rainbow suddenly turned to powder and poured down in Technicolor torrents over the McLean County fairgrounds this Saturday, you'd get something close to the second annual Festival of Colors.

The event, a local version of Holi, the ancient Hindu religious festival, is brought to us in living color ... literally.

"For the first event last year, we had a little over 250 pounds of colored powder," notes event co-organizer Vinod Nambiar. 

It was completely gone before the event was scheduled to end ... "up in the air, on the floor, everywhere."

Color, you see, is the whole point of Holi, a spring-based festival celebrated mostly India and Nepal in February or March.

As part of the celebratory rituals, colored powders are flung every which way ... dabbed over faces, smeared on clothes, tossed into the air, thrown underfoot and generally left permeating every pore and molecule.

The Twin Cities' version of Holi debuted in late March of last year inside Bloomington's Interstate Center.

It was the brainchild of fellow State Farm Insurance employees Nambiar and Leyons Philip, both members of B-N's Indian fusion band, Exit 167 (named after the I-55 exit ramp into town where the men found their fellowship and music).

Hoping to spread the music of Exit 167 outside their built-in audience of B-N's Indian-Asian community, the men decided to branch out into event management.

Their first endeavor was last year's initial Festival of Colors, a many-hued success for all concerned.

"Holi is basically a celebration of friendship, unity and togetherness ... a festival of love," says Nambiar. "In recent years, they've started spreading out of India and into Europe and the United States."

Nambiar and Philip put their heads together. "Let's try to do this here in a big way the first time."

Hence their choice of the Interstate Center, where they figure around 500 or 600 people would turn out to toss colored powder and enjoy some food and music on the side. 

To their surprise, double that number turned out. "People were ecstatic ... they loved it. And the kids had a ball," recalls Nambiar.

Best of all, he says, the crowd mix wasn't exclusively Asian-Indian, with an estimated 35 to 40 percent of the attendees hailing from outside that community.

For the second fest, the organizers decided to move the event into April and outdoors, the McLean County fairgrounds.

A large, 5,500-square-foot tent will provide protection of the weather doesn't cooperate.

About that colored powder, which is central to the festival's hourly "Throwing of Color" rituals: "It is 99.97 percent cornstarch-based," notes Nambiar, meaning it won't stain or wreak other fabric havoc.

The powder comes in five colors representing love, forgiveness and other matters of the heart and soul: red, neon green, yellow, orange and blue.

During the throws, the power will be tossed into the air and allowed to permeate the atmosphere as well as cover the floor, says Nambiar.

In addition, everyone entering the festival gate will be marked with a dab of color on the forehead or skin area of your choosing (not mandatory).

Thereafter, you're on your own.

"There are some do's and don'ts," Nambiar adds. "We discourage people from bringing in any outside colors. That's to assure that we know everything is 100 percent safe and organic."

In addition, "We do tell people not to dress in their best." Though the colors won't stain, the substance will cling to clothes and shoes.

"So we try to tell people to make sure you shake really well before you get into your car to leave," he says. "And then take a warm shower when you get home."

Women's and Gender Studies Symposium Friday at ISU

The Women’s and Gender Studies Symposium will highlight the student research by WGS minors, Queer Studies students, and other students in the Illinois State University campus community. This year the keynote speaker will be Mariana Ortega.

The annual symposium, now in its 22nd year, will be held between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 14, in the Old Main Room of the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.

The symposium showcases the scholarship being done by students at Illinois State University and neighboring institutions. The event is free and open to the public. The symposium, much like

Women’s and Gender Studies discipline, is committed to a transformative analysis of gender as it intersects with class/caste, sexuality, race, ethnicity, ability, age, coloniality, and transnationality.

Ortega will give the  symposium keynote address “Bodies of Color, Bodies of Sorrow, and Resistant Melancholia” at 1 p.m. Ortega is a professor of philosophy at John Carroll University, who works on Latina feminisms. Her most recent book is In-Between: Latina Feminist Phenomenology, Multiplicity, and the Self (2016). Ortega studies questions of self and sociality, identity, and visual representations of race. She will be on campus interacting with Visual Culture students and members of the WGS community during her visit.

The WGS scholarships will be presented at the symposium. This is the inaugural year for the Rhonda Nicol Memorial Book Award. Nicol taught WGS courses in the English department for over ten years. She passed away suddenly last year. The book awards will be presented for the outstanding graduate and undergraduate papers.

The symposium is sponsored by the Alice and Fannie Fell Trust, History Department, Philosophy Department, MECCPAC: A Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of the President, Harold K. Sage Foundation, the Illinois State University Foundation, College of Arts and Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program.

Asian Heritage Week Wraps Up With Indian Cuisine/Show, East Asian Films

Illinois State University's Asia Connect this week is celebrating the first annual Asian Heritage Week, running from April 10-15. All events are free unless otherwise noted.

Monday's celebration included “Iran: An Ancient Civilization,” a presentation by Amir Marmarchi, Department of Economics, and Elahe Javadi, School of Information Technology; and a Japanese tea ceremony presented by Jennifer Gunji of Japan House in Urbana,

Tuesday's events included “Korean Alphabet Design and Historical Context,” presented by Alice Lee, School of Art, and "The Battle for Human Rights in North Korea: Is There Any Hope for Change?” by North Korean policy expert and human rights advocate Suzanne K. Scholte. Wednesday's offerings were Asian Film Festival entries The Color of Paradise (Iran) and How to Win at Checkers Every Time (Thailand), at the Normal Theater

Thursday's observation featured “Vietnam: From Lotus Pond to Dragon Land,” presented by Tuyen Tonnu, School of Music, followed by Vietnamese cooking class demonstrations by Tonnu.

A Friday Asian dinner and show will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the ISU Center for Performing Arts, including Indian cuisine and the play Harvest by Manjula Padmanabhan. Tickets are available at $30 for paid AsiaConnect members and $35 for non-members -- payment can be made to Miranda Lin, School of Teaching and Learning, care of DeGarmo Hall, Room 212.

Heritage Week ends Saturday with the Asian Film Festival entries The Boy and the Beast (Japan), at 1 p.m., and Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass (Vietnam), 7 p.m., both at the Normal Theater. The Boy and the Beast is a fantasy anime about a young boy named Kyuta orphaned after his mother’s death, who finds himself on the streets of Shibhuya in Tokyo and ultimately taken by Kumatetsu, a grumpy and lazy warrior beast as an apprentice to learn Kendu, a Japanese martial art. Yellow Flowers on the Green Grass, set in Vietnam in 1989, explores the relationship between two brothers as they seek to uncover the truth about the myth of the princess of the enchanted forest and the man-eating tiger that guards her. It was the Vietnamese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.

Asia Connect, an affiliated group at Illinois State University, strives to promote cultural diversity across campus.

IWU Workshop/Dinner Focuses on Religious Diversity

Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, will lead a workshop from 4 to 5 p.m. in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center Davidson Room.

This workshop is for all students, faculty, and staff, and is designed to sharpen skills in both recognizing religious intolerance (especially anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) and supporting a religiously diverse campus where all worldviews are welcome.

The campus community is also invited to a 6 p.m. dinner and keynote address.

MixFuzeEvolve Day of Multicultural Celebration

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BCAI School of Arts's 2nd annual MixFuzeEvolve fundraising and community-unifying event fused local cultures Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Hansen Student Center.

In addition to exhibits and performances featuring a variety of international cultures, the event included Native American, Indian, Latinx, Indonesian, Nigerian, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Hands-on crafts helped participants learn how to concoct tactile creations from China, India, Nigeria, and elsewhere.

Bilingual Education/Entertainment Focus of Library Event

The 10th Annual El Día de Los Niños/El Día de Los Libros will celebrate bilingual education at 11 a.m. April 29 at the Bloomington Public Library.

Attendees will enjoy bilingual storytelling with Mama Edie, Bilingual Storyteller, dance performances with Ballet Folklorico de Central Illinois, crafts, the Clothespin Puppets, face painting with the Zoo Lady, and community exhibits.

The Oogies Food On Wheels and Healthy in a Hurry food trucks will also be present selling their fare.

Preview the event on Facebook.

Latson, Jani To Be Honored at Leadership Graduation

McLean County's Multicultural Leadership Program will honor Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal leader and McLean County YWCA Director Dontae Latson at MCLP's April 22 Class of 2017 Graduation Celebration.

Jani and Latson

Jani and Latson

The Graduation Celebration is an event that recognizes the hard work of service-oriented local citizens. Latson will be awarded the MCLP's Community Service Award for a Local Community Leader, while Tejas Jani will receive the Community Service Alumni Award. Jani is State Farm android test lead and a 2014 MCLP grad.

Kira Hudson Banks

Kira Hudson Banks

Speaker for the graduation is Kira Hudson Banks, Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Louis University and racial equity consultant for the “Forward through Ferguson” Ferguson Commission. The Edwardsville native will address diversity and inclusion; her work has been published in journals such as Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology and American Psychologist.

Banks argues inclusivity "requires the vulnerability to have an acknowledgement and a humility to realize that we all have biases.”

Reservations for the celebration are available through Thursday. Visit http://public.bn-mclp.org/even…/graduation-celebration-2017/ for information.

Cummings Makes History for Town of Normal

Chemberly Cummings last week made local history as the first African-American elected to the Town of Normal City Council. Cummings is a major supporter of and volunteer with the McLean County YWCA, chiefly through the Y's Girls BE U program.

Cummings, a 34-year-old State Farm business architect who lives at 1416 Montgomery St., said she's running to "provide diversity of thought, experience and knowledge." She was the only female candidate for council.

"Many residents feel diversity and inclusion is just (tongue in cheek)," she said. "How (do) we make all citizens feel welcome?"

Cummings said she hopes to help officials keep "making the town of Normal not just a place to live, but a place to work and play."

"(That's about) finding new ways to attract businesses that can provide jobs to our community, as well as making our community attractive to where people want to live," she said.