Tuesday Vigil Challenges Transgender Military Ban, Civil Rights Revocation

A Tuesday vigil defends transgender citizens the Administration seeks to bar from the military and challenge Justice Department efforts to remove civil rights under the Civil Rights Law of 1964 by arguing sex discrimination doesn’t apply to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The LGBTQ community and allies are invited to hold a sign of support at the vigil, from 5:30 to 6 p.m. at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts Plaza. Participants are invited to wear rainbow colors. The event is sponsored by Stand Up for Social Justice, a non-partisan coalition supported by NIOTBN, YWCA of McLean County,  the ACLU of Central Illinois, the Unitarian Universalist Church Bloomington-Normal, New Covenant Community church, Indivisible Illinois 18 and Indivisible Illinois 13.

Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights group, is gearing up to sue the Trump administration over President Trump's proposal to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

Trump announced via Twitter that he would revive a policy barring transgender people from serving openly in the military. But that announcement came with no formal guidance and the Pentagon said it would continue to allow transgender people to serve until it received new direction from the White House.

A report published Friday by the Los Angeles Blade, however, indicated that the White House had approved guidance for implementing the ban, which Lambda legal called a "mean-spirited and discriminatory attack" on the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under President Barack Obama.

The department’s move to insert itself into a federal case in New York was an unusual example of top officials in Washington intervening in court in what is an important but essentially private dispute between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues.

“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination,” the Justice Department said in a friend-of-the-court brief, citing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

Review Board Push Triumph of Collaboration

The campaign to create a new civilian police review board demonstrated not only the power of public engagement but also the strength local groups were able to exert working together, according to Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal participants in the process

Photo by Lewis Merien, The Pantagraph

Photo by Lewis Merien, The Pantagraph

The city of Bloomington is looking for people who want to serve on the new Public Safety and Community Relations Board (PSCRB). Bloomington aldermen approved board creation Monday. Mayoral appointees will advise the police chief and help settle disputes over complaints against Bloomington officers.

NIOTBN was one of several diverse community groups convened by McLean County YWCA that worked with Black Lives Matter Bloomington-Normal to help make the PSCRB a reality. Other alliance partners included ACLU of Central Illinois, Bloomington Normal Branch of NAACP, Central Illinois Pride Health Center, Illinois People’s Action, McLean County League of Women Voters, and Prairie Pride Coalition.

"I think we're off to a good start," said NIOTBN member Dontae Latson, director of the McLean County YWCA. Latson maintained "we are not allowing ourselves to fall victim to the national narrative" of Black Lives Matter and other community interests taking an anti-police stance -- "It's just not true."

The alliance' next step is to "assure that the process doesn't get watered down," lose its central focus, or become "stacked" with members of a single viewpoint, he suggested.

Camille Taylor, who helped represent NIOTBN in the alliance, noted the challenges in alliance members working together amid varying philosophies and approaches. "In theory, working with other groups is a great idea," Taylor mused, but maintaining an individual group's focus can be difficult "when not every group at the table has the same mission."

"You have to keep your eye on the prize, and recognize that every group at the table has its own identity," she urged.

Mary Aplington, who serves as co-chairman of NIOTBN's Education Subcommittee with Taylor, saw the tenor of Monday's council meeting itself as evidence of the success of community communication and collaboration. While the meeting drew a large citizen gathering, Aplington noted the Bloomington Police officers working crowd control "did a wonderful job of being respectful and sensitive."

NIOTBN Steering Committee member Mary Aplington,

Those interested in applying for the PSCRB should submit an application by Aug. 11. Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner will share the full list of applicants with aldermen, who will be asked to share their top three recommendations with him, Renner said. Two-thirds of aldermen must vote to approve Renner’s final seven picks.

Here’s how the board will be structured:

  • Members shall serve for a three-year term; however, at the inception of the board, two members shall be appointed for a one-year term, two members for a two-year term, and three members for a three-year term, so that terms are staggered.
  • The chair and a vice-chair of the board shall be selected amongst the members of the PSCRB.
  • No person with a criminal felony conviction shall be eligible to serve on the PSCRB.
  • No city employee may be appointed to the Board, nor shall any member be a current employee of, contracted by or have any official affiliation, whether current or former, with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.

Reporting System Key in Tracking, Addressing Excessive Force?

Joe Ragusa/Eric Stock


Excessive police force is a tough issue to deal with, but an Illinois State University professor and the local ACLU chapter are trying to help people understand the problem.

Photo by Joe Ragusa/WJBC

Photo by Joe Ragusa/WJBC

ISU criminal justice professor Jason Ingram says there’s no universal reporting system for instances of police force, be it excessive or deadly.

“You don’t really have a good understanding of how much force actually occurs nationally or even really at the local level,” Ingram said. “Any numbers that you hear in the media, especially in terms of the amount of deadly force, is likely going to be skewed a bit.”

Former Bloomington-Normal NAACP president Linda Foster, one of the people attending Wednesday’s forum, said there were a lot of takeaways from the program.

“My biggest takeaway is that there’s no consistency in these departments, in these cities across the nation,” Foster said.

Illinois is one of a few states to pass a comprehensive plan for police practices. The new law takes full effect in January.

Earlier in the week, Ingram told WJBC’s Scott Laughlin, police have broad powers to protect themselves and the public, which can be left for interpretation.

“What’s reasonable to some, like a police officer, isn’t necessarily going to be viewed reasonable by the public,” Ingram said. “Those are pretty permissive and intended to be so.”

Ingram said there’s no requirement officers use less-intrusive means when possible such as using a taser instead of a gun, unless a police department adopts such a policy on its own.

Ingram said he hopes new laws in Illinois regulating the use of police body cameras will prevent police brutality. He noted so far show presence of the cameras lead to more civil behavior.

“Use of force incidents and complaints of police misconduct have dropped significantly since their implementation,”

Ingram added what’s not clear is how the cameras are affecting behavior, whether officers, the public or both are less prone to confrontation with the cameras present. He said it’s also possible some misconduct claims can be proven unfounded by the cameras.

The new law will ban the police use of strangeholds when subduing a subject, but Ingram said he doubts that such force will be gone entirely.

“It will be viewed as inappropriate or excessive now but when an officer is trying to gain control of a resistant subject and it escalates, they might resort back to training,” Ingram said.

Ingram said the Community Relations Improvement Act also creates a statewide database that tracks police misconduct issues.

Below, listen to WJBC's interview with Ingram.

Police Force Focus of Nov. 4 Program; Body Cams in Bloomington's Future

Body cameras were discussed at the Bloomington City Council’ mid-October meeting.  But questions remain before they hit the streets, and Illinois State University criminal justice Prof. Jason Ingram is raising a few.

Ingram says the cameras can increase police and public safety, if they're used the right way.

"It's a camera, so it has to be turned on and it only captures what it's pointed at. So if an officer has discretion on when he or she can turn it on, there's potential for non-compliance,” Ingram said. 

Jason Ingram

Jason Ingram

His biggest issue is privacy and determining who can see the video: "Officers do have a reduced expectation of privacy, because they're a public servant, but I don't know how that plays out with citizens on camera.”

Ingram will offer his thoughts on police practices and protections at Police Use of Force: Myths and Policy Considerations, a free, public program by the Central Illinois Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Normal Public Library Community Room.

Police departments all over the country are using body cameras. Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner, who has researched the issue for the city council, says they are inevitable, and will improve safety for police and the community.

"Privacy issues are a big concern, obviously cost is a big concern,” Heffner nonetheless concedes.

His department will begin a grant-funded trial run in January. After that, it's up to the council to determine if the cameras are worth the cost.

"At the end of the day, if it turns out it's going to be somewhere around $100,000 for us to do this every year and to keep this going, than the council has to figure out is that a top priority," said Mayor Tari Renner.

Even though the cameras do face challenges, Heffner says they're excited to move forward in the process. "I think we will get better feedback from the officers once we get some cameras here to actually test,” he said.

The Bloomington police department says they'll test several types of cameras before making a decision, and Renner suggests they might go with several options, to give officers their pick.

For further thoughts on body cams, watch the WMBD-TV video at

ACLU/Prairie Pride Hosting Talk on Marriage Equality Case

The Central Illinois Chapter of the ACLU of Illinois and the Prairie Pride Coalition would like to invite you to a discussion on the Supreme Court's marriage equality case at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Normal Public Library Community Room, at 206 West College Ave.

The event will take place one day after the Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage as a constitutional right for couples across the country.

Sara Benson from the University of Illinois School of Law and ACLU of Illinois Communications and Public Policy Director Ed Yohnka will discuss their reactions to the hearing and share their predictions for the ruling on the case when it comes down.
The event is free and open to the public.

As of now, gay marriage is legal in 36 states. By the end of this Supreme Court term, either same-sex couples will be able to wed in all 50 states, or gay marriage bans may be reinstituted in many of the states where they've previously been struck down.

Tuesday's Supreme Court arguments focus on two questions: First, whether bans on gay marriage are constitutional; and second, if they are, whether those states with bans may refuse to recognize out-of-state gay marriages performed where they are legal.

The court has scheduled 2 1/2 hours of argument and will make the audio available online late Tuesday.

Four states — Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky — are defending their bans. They won their case in the lower court, and because other appeals courts threw out bans enacted in other states, the Supreme Court now must resolve the conflict.

The high-stakes legal battle is the culmination of a decades-long struggle in the courts, state legislatures and at the ballot box. During that time, public opinion has changed, and done so more rapidly — and dramatically — than on any major social issue in memory.

In 1996, public opinion polls showed, on average, only 27 percent of the public favored legalization; this year, although many states still adamantly resist gay marriage, public opinion polls put the approval number nationally at well over 50 percent.

Tuesday's courtroom battle pits states' rights against the fundamental right to marry; it pits the traditional definition of marriage against a more modern definition; and it pits majority rights against minority rights.

Before the court are the consolidated cases of 12 couples and two widowers. Among them are nurses, teachers, veterinarians, an Army sergeant and businessmen and women.