Hey everyone, If you’ve friended me on Facebook, then you already know this.
But for those who haven’t, I feel like I need to explain the radio silence of
the past week.
Last Tuesday, on February 26th, Teal and I lost our baby. At 20 weeks into our
pregnancy, we had a miscarriage resulting in a still birth.
It’s been a really hard week. We both want to be parents very badly and very
much wanted this child. We’re grieving and slowly processing together. Part of
that processing has been gaining an understanding of the ways in which grief
affects us and just how long it could last.
The campaign is paused while we work through this. I want to continue, but I
need to work through the initial grief before I can really even make the
decision whether or not I can continue this campaign.
According to Google, to bike from Whitehall Plaza (the big box stores west of
I-69) to the College Mall would take about 30 minutes. It’s roughly a 5 mile
Of course, I can think of few people who would even attempt that bike ride. The
roads aren’t built for it. 3rd street might have bike lanes all up and down it,
but I’ve been in those bike lanes. It’s terrifying.
To go from where North Walnut meets the Bypass all the way south to the Kroger
on South Walnut is also a 30 minute trip by bike. It’s also about a 5 mile
Again, I’ve been in the bike lanes on College. They’re barely separated from
two lanes of traffic that can move really fast. They eventually disappear into
the 3rd lane of traffic with a sharrow.
Only about 3 to 4% of trips happen by bike in Bloomington right now. There’s a
good reason for that.
How often have you seen a bike using one of those sharrow lanes on College or
Walnut? How often do you see bikes actually using those lanes on west 3rd
Now think about how many bikes you see on the B-line trail, every day.
More than 70% of trips in Bloomington happen by car right now.
What if we built out protected bike lanes on all of these roads? What if 3rd
street was an east / west bike highway with one lane each way for cars (and a low
speed limit) and a broad boulevard for cyclists? What if Walnut and College
were structured similarly? Could we take the 70% of trips that happen by car
and make half of them happen by bike?
It might seem like an impossible goal, but in Copenhagen 45% of all trips
happen by bike. Only 35% happen by car. To travel from one side of Copenhagen
to the other by bike is a 50 minute, 8 mile trip.
We can do this. Bloomington is compact enough that most trips could happen by
bike, if only the infrastructure were built to prioritize bike travel.
I’ve gone to City Council meetings on and off to advocate for issues I care
about for years. In the past, I’ve gone to a council meeting or two, spoken to
an issue on the agenda and then continued about my life.
Some fights we win. Some we lose. Some we take a compromise. Life goes on.
Climate change is different. This moment in history, is different. In October,
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did everything they could to
light a fire under our collective rear ends.
After the IPCC Report came out, I started going to council meetings much more
At first, it was advocating against taking debt to build two parking garages.
In the context of climate change, taking on millions in debt to build garages
that last 50 years makes zero sense. The council was slow to respond, and even
the most climate focused of the current representatives didn’t go as far as to
vote down both garages. After that, I started reaching out to those who seemed
to be listening for meetings. And for the rest, I started coming to council
just to step up to the public comment microphone.
For several weeks, I built up the argument for drastic climate response in 3 to
5 minute chunks. It still seemed like most of the current council members were
struggling to wrap their minds around the full scope of the issue - and the
I wanted them to panic. We need them to panic. (And then take a breath, and get
to work.) They weren’t panicking.
That’s why I decided to run.
I know, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with. Not only do you have to
believe that we have to change drastically, you have to believe that drastic
change is possible. You have to believe it’s with in our power on the local
level. And you have to be willing to completely set aside business as usual, to
Well, I believe that it’s not just possible, but imperative for the survival of
future generations. It is with in our power on the local level. In fact, one
way or another, the local level is where change is going to have to come.
We can do this.
We just need leaders who will panic. Then take a breath and get to work.
I didn’t make the decision to run lightly or eagerly. I’d be lying if I said
this felt like the best time in my personal life to be approaching an
undertaking of this size. But given what we face, I had to do my part.
Last October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has
consistently underestimated the consequences of climate change, released a
report in which they did something unprecedented: they called for a World War
II level mobilization to cut carbon emissions by 45% in the next decade (by
2030) and by 100% in the next three decades (by 2050). If we don’t, they
predict we’ll start to see “catastrophic” consequences as early as 2040. That,
in and of itself, should drop your jaw. UN bodies seldom call for drastic
action like that, and calling for a world wide mobilization of that scope and
scale is unprecedented.
We can’t wait any longer. We can’t keep making tiny, incremental improvements
and hoping, praying, someone else is going to fix this for us. Every community
is going to have to do its part, and we have to do our part. Right here, right
now, in Bloomington. If we get help from State or National governments, great!
But we have to set a goal of cutting our own emissions by 45% in the next
decade and start working towards it. We have to try.
Our leaders, unfortunately, aren’t really even trying. Not really. Not yet,
anyway. Mayor Hamilton has pushed for some progress on sustainability, but his
policies don’t even begin to go far enough. There are some on the City Council
who appear to be trying to grapple with this issue, but few seemed to have
fully grasped the consequences of our plight. It’s not good enough.
We have to do better.
So, I’m going to do my part. If nothing else, I can make sure we have this
conversation and grapple with the issue. I can put the goal on the table and
say “We have to go there”. We have to work to cut our emissions by 45% in the
next decade. That means completely reconfiguring our transportation
infrastructure to support low emissions modes (walking, biking, and public
transit). It means getting solar and wind on the grid by any means necessary.
It means helping people retrofit their homes for energy efficiency so we can
cut home heating oil use. And it means finding ways to put pressure on local
industry to cut their own emissions.
It’s not going to be easy. And, in some cases, it may mean asking people to
change long ingrained habits. But if we want there to be many future
generations, we have to grapple with this challenge. I truly believe we can.
Previous generations have overcome challenges just as great. Now it’s our turn.
On February 6th, the Herald Times posted a short article about purchases
being made by the Bloomington Police and Fire Departments. Contained in that
article was this unassuming snippet, which set off a firestorm.
The Bloomington Police Department this spring will receive a Lenco BearCat;
the letters stand for “ballistic engineered armored response counter attack
truck.” It is not a military surplus vehicle, but is being purchased new for
It will be paid for with local income taxes, city spokeswoman Mary Catherine
Bloomington’s Police Department is purchasing a Lenco BearCat. This is a Lenco
When I first read those sentences, I didn’t quite believe it. I had thought
that our administration understood the problems inherent in the militarization
of the police and wouldn’t have supported this.
I reached out to various folks I know in the mayor’s office to find out what
the deal was. Apparently, it was first brought up in the budget talks in
August. The CIRT team (essentially our SWAT team) asked for it. They get called
to incidents all over the southern part of the state.
They want the armored truck for protection when they’re approaching an incident
site. That’s the most dangerous part of incident response. Right now, they
approach in unarmored vans and are vulnerable. They are asking for the BearCat
as a replacement for a used Brinks bank truck they used for the roughly ten
years spanning from 2002 to 2012.
In response to the viral uproar, the Police Department posted a “Talking
points” document to social media, further clarifying their case.
Since 2012 when the last armored vehicle was retired due to poor condition,
the Bloomington Police Department has been without the protection and
capability afforded by such a vehicle, placing officers, suspects and
innocent civilians at risk. The CIRT vehicle will only be used at the
direction of the Chief of Police and only to deal with situations in which a
heavily armed threat is imminent or believed imminent. The use of CIRT and
any special equipment utilized by CIRT is governed by department General
The lack of an armored vehicle added to the danger level faced by all
involved in several recent local instances:
a stand-off with an armed suicidal suspect on South High Street
a confrontation with an armed suspect on Strain Ridge Road
an incident on West Vernal Pike where a group of home
invasion robbery suspects had barricaded themselves
a hostage-taking on South Rogers, which ended with the law enforcement use
of lethal force
Since I started researching and writing this post at the beginning of this
bruhaha, Black Lives Matter has disrupted Mayor Hamilton’s State of the
City speech to protest the BearCat. The City Council held a Town Hall to
elicit feedback on the purchase. Steve Volan enlightened us as to how,
exactly, it got to the point where the purchase was nearly a done deal with out
anyone catching wind of it (including, apparently, the council). The Council
responded to questions taken at the town hall and the Police Department
elaborated on their talking points in an executive report. The conversation is
on-going, with Mayor Hamilton announcing a decision whether to back out the
purchase or go ahead with it coming at the end of March.
I’m willing to explore the argument that there is a real need for some sort of
armored vehicle. But a BearCat should not be that vehicle. A quick google
turned up other perfectly viable options, like this armored van used
widely in Canada. If, at the end of this piece, you find my reasoning
convincing, please reach out to the city ask them to stop the purchase of
Is the BearCat a Military vehicle?
At the heart of the issue is the question of whether the BearCat is a Military
(militaristic, military-style) vehicle. The council has requested the police
not militarize in the past. They kept a careful watch on the Police Department
to prevent them from taking advantage of the Military Surplus program and
obtaining anything like an MRAP. So it’s clear at least some in our city
government understand the problems inherent in police militarization.
But the Bloomington Police Department are arguing that the BearCat is a
civilian vehicle. It’s not military surplus. It has a civilian frame (that of a
Ford F550 truck). They’re saying that it doesn’t represent a militarization of
the police and so it shouldn’t fall under the same restriction.
I strongly disagree.
Though the Lenco BearCat may not be a military surplus vehicle, it is a
military vehicle, and it does represent a militarization of the police.
From Lenco’s own website:
Lenco trucks can be used in a variety of missions. The BearCat, our best
selling truck, may be used as a S.W.A.T. or Military Counter Attack and
Rescue Vehicle and is often used in hostile Urban Environments or as a
Patrol/Reaction Vehicle on a Military Base. The BearCat, with its standard
NIJ IV armor and 4WD system, can carry up to 10 people through varying
terrain. The BearCat has been embraced by several DoD and DoE Security
Forces and, because of its affordability, low maintenance expenses, ease of
use and superior armor level, is increasingly the replacement vehicle of
choice for up-armored Humvees. It may also be equipped with our optional
Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting
System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.
Let me just emphasize a few parts of that.
The BearCat […] may be used as a […] Military Counter Attack and
Rescue Vehicle and is often used in hostile Urban Environments or as a
Patrol/Reaction Vehicle on a Military Base.
Military Counter Attack. Often used in hostile Urban Environments. Often used
on Military bases.
The BearCat has been embraced by several DoD and DoE Security Forces and
[…] is increasingly the replacement vehicle of choice for up-armored
The DoD is increasingly replacing its Humvee fleet with BearCats. This doesn’t
sound like a civilian vehicle. The Military seems be quite amenable to it!
It may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with
Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and
Mark 19 weapons system.
The M60 and M240B are heavy machine guns. The Mark 19 is a grenade launcher.
That Weapons Ready Mounting System can also mount high powered water canons, by
the way, and was used to do exactly that against protesters at Standing Rock,
soaking them with water in sub-zero temperatures leading to hypothermia and
This is how Lenco has promoted the BearCat to police departments in the
I’m sorry, this is not a civilian vehicle. This is a military Armored
Personnel Carrier. BPD may have ordered an unarmed one, but the BearCat is
thoroughly armable. Counter Assault Truck is right there in the name. It’s
not a defensive platform. It’s not a “Protected Escape Truck”. It’s a
Counter Assault Truck.
A quick aside is necessary here. In their recent executive report on the
whole situation, our BPD made the claim that “BearCat” isn’t an acronym for
anything, attributing the claim that it is to an erroneous wikipedia page.
However, if you search for the phrase “Ballistic Engineered Armored Response
Counter Attack Truck” you will find it in news articles going back to the
BearCat’s introduction, including several articles reproduced on Lenco’s
page. What seems likely is that Lenco faced a backlash for its use of the
acronym, and, in a classic example of corporate gaslighting, dropped it.
At its most stripped down, a BearCat is still a mobile sniper platform sporting
gun ports from which officers can fire rubber or real bullets depending on the
situation. And from what I’ve been told, that’s more or less exactly how the
BPD CIRT team intends to use it. They intend to bring it to barricade or active
shooter situations and snipe the shooter or barricader out of it.
Like I said, I’m open to hearing the argument that our police need some sort of
armored transport to bring them safely to, and remove them safely from, active
shooter situations or barricade situations. But that doesn’t have to mean
letting them purchase a military weapons platform.
Of course, how you feel about our police purchasing a weapon of this sort
depends heavily on whether you trust our Police Department. Or the institution
of policing in general. Many people, especially people of color, have very
good reasons not to trust either.
The Context of Policing in America
In recent years, we’ve seen a wave of deeply disturbing revelations about
police activities across the US. Black Lives Matter has highlighted instance
after instance of police officers using excessive force against people of
color, especially black men.
Many of these instances involved the police killing unarmed black men who posed
no threat to them. The instances seem endemic to policing in America,
occurring in cities big and small and in almost every state in the country. It
seems new ones continue to occur on a weekly basis. Few of the officers
involved face any sort of justice, even when there is clear video evidence
showing that their use of force was in no way justified.
Because no government entity tracks police involved shootings, The Washington
Post and other news organizations have had to comb through local news
reports to tally the number of officer involved shootings across the
country. In 2015, the Post counted 965. Of those, only about half involved
suspects armed with a gun. 281 were armed with “another weapon”. 90 were
unarmed. Even though Black men only account for about 6% of the US population,
they made up 40% of unarmed men shot to death by police that year.
Keep in mind, Philando Castile, who was shot while legally carrying a
firearm and did everything by the book during the police stop, technically
counts as armed.
Other tallies in that year came up with even higher numbers. The Guardian
counted 1146 that year. Fatal Encounters, a blog and independent
research organization founded by the former Editor of the Reno News and Review,
and a journalism instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, counted
1,357. That same year, there were only 13,286 total gun homicides.
Of which about 475 occurred during mass shootings.
Britain had 3 police involved killings in 2015. The number of killings since
2000 fits on a Freddie Grey and Sandra Bland, stand out in that
But that’s just the tip of the ice berg.
As BLM has worked to shine a light the issues of race and policing, research
has highlighted just how deep the problems racial profiling and
excessive force go.
In lawsuits and investigations, the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded
that a number of major police departments have engaged in a pattern or
practice of excessive force. The Cleveland Police Department was most
recently found to be an offender, but it follows a long line of other
wayward law enforcement agencies: Seattle, New Orleans,
Portland, Newark and Albuquerque among them. Clearly, cases
like Eric Garner’s are not isolated — police use of excessive force is
a systemic, national problem.
We’ve seen how that targeting results in the vastly disproportionate mass incarceration of people
of color. These are structural issues, embedded in how we do policing
But that’s not all.
In 2014, we saw the militarized response to the protests against Michael
Brown’s killing in Ferguson. That same year, the ACLU completed a year long
report on the militarization of the police. It revealed some disturbing
facts about how the police have been using their SWAT teams with their
military style equipment:
Among the notable findings:
62 percent of the SWAT raids surveyed were to conduct searches for drugs.
Just under 80 percent were to serve a search warrant, meaning eight in 10
SWAT raids were not initiated to apprehend a school shooter, hostage taker,
or escaped felon (the common justification for these tactics), but to
investigate someone still only suspected of committing a crime.
In fact, just 7 percent of SWAT raids were “for hostage, barricade, or
active shooter scenarios.”
In at least 36 percent of the SWAT raids studies, no contraband of any kind
was found. The report notes that due to incomplete police reports on these
raids this figure could be as high as 65 percent.
SWAT tactics are disproportionately used on people of color.
65 percent of SWAT deployments resulted in some sort of forced entry into a
private home, by way of a battering ram, boot, or some sort of explosive
device. In over half those raids, the police failed to find any sort of
weapon, the presence of which was cited as the reason for the violent
Ironically (or perhaps not), searches to serve warrants on people suspected
of drug crimes were more likely to result in forced entry than raids
conducted for other purposes.
Though often justified for rare incidents like school shootings or
terrorist situations, the armored personnel vehicles police departments are
getting from the Pentagon and through grants from the Department of
Homeland Security are commonly used on drug raids.
It’s notable that much of the reasoning that BPD is using to justify the
purchase of a BearCat is very similar to the public reasoning used by
departments across the country - talk of hostage situations, and mass shootings
loom large. Strangely, many of those departments use very different reasoning
with the each other and with the military when making requests for equipment.
No community, they argued, not even the smallest one, is safe from worst-case
scenarios like mass shootings, hostage situations, or terrorist attacks. The
use of this military equipment has resulted in “substantial positive impact
on public safety and officer safety,” Jim Bueermann, the president of the
Police Foundation, a research group, said in a 2014 Senate hearing on police
militarization. He cited hostage situations, rescue missions, and heavy-duty
shootouts where the vehicles had come in useful.
But in private, police justify these same programs in radically different ways.
Mother Jones obtained more than 450 local requests, filed over two years,
for what may be the most iconic piece of equipment in the debate over
militarizing local police: the mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, or
MRAP.* And an analysis of these documents reveals that in justifying
their requests, very few sheriffs and police chiefs cite active shooters,
hostage situations, or terrorism, as police advocates do in public.
Instead, the single most common reason agencies requested a mine-resistant
vehicle was to combat drugs. Fully a quarter of the 465 requests projected
using the vehicles for drug enforcement. Almost half of all departments
indicated that they sit within a region designated by the federal government
as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (Nationwide, only 17 percent of
counties are HIDTAs.) One out of six departments were prepared to use the
vehicles to serve search or arrest warrants on individuals who had yet to be
convicted of a crime. And more than half of the departments indicated they
were willing to deploy armored vehicles in a broad range of Special Weapons
and Tactics (SWAT) raids.
In 2015, we learned about Homan Square, the off the books interrogation site
Chicago police had been using for decades to violate citizens rights. Suspects
would be disappeared to Homan Square, where their attorneys couldn’t find them,
held there for hours or days and aggressively interrogated.
We also saw police across the nation react with derision and disgust to the
body camera video of an officer in Ohio who didn’t shoot a suspect, and
successfully de-escalated the situation.
In 2016, we saw an officer in West Virginia get fired for trying to de-escalate
a situation. That officer recently won a civil case against his department,
but that does nothing to allay the clear cultural trends.
Through out all of this there were almost daily reports from across the country
of people of color, especially young black men, being killed at the hands of
police. Police might say they train in and practice de-escalation. The
evidence strongly contradicts that.
But it gets even worse (as if Homan wasn’t bad enough).
In 2017, we saw the Charlottesville police stand by as neo-nazis invaded the
town, shot at protesters, assaulted people, [threatened a synagogue filled with
faith leaders], and killed a young woman by driving a car into a crowd. After
the dust cleared, it took national pressure on the Charlottesville Police
Department to get them to pursue the neo-nazis responsible for the violence,
even when they were caught on video.
In 2018, we’ve seen police in California revealed to be actively working with
neo-nazi groups to track down and harass anti-fascist protesters.
And we’ve seen widespread corruption revealed in the Baltimore Police
Department. The trial has seen some truly stunning revelations:
Ward said the officers kept BB guns in their vehicles “in case we
accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.”
He did not say whether the officers ever planted a BB gun on anyone.
Ward testified that his squad would prowl the streets for guns and drugs,
with his supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, driving fast at groups of people
and slamming on the brakes. The officers would pop their doors open to see
who ran, then give chase and detain and search them. Ward said this
occurred 10 to 20 times on slow nights, and more than 50 times, “easy,” on
busier nights. The officers had no reason to target the crowds other than
to provoke someone who might have drugs or a gun into running. “A lot of
times” guns and drugs were recovered in this way, Ward said.
In one incident, police took a man’s house keys, ran his name through
databases to find his address, went into the home without a warrant and
found drugs and a safe. The officers cracked open the safe, which had about
$200,000 inside. They took $100,000 out, closed the safe back up, then
filmed themselves pretending to open it for the first time. “Nobody touch
anything,” Jenkins can be heard saying on the video, which was played for
All of this isn’t even touching on things like the police’s widespread abuse of
civil asset forfeiture, or the many stories from small town departments that
don’t grab national attention, like this one from 2006 that reveal officers
egregiously abusing their power the moment they feel even slightly challenged.
After that story aired, the police harassed and pursued the reporter who
recorded it, arresting him on a charge of “violently resisting arrest” and
getting him fired.
This section of this post is already absurdly long and this is just the stuff I
remembered hearing about and was able to find in a night or two of Googling.
As I’ve worked on this post I’ve continued to find more examples of police
racism, abuse of power, overreach, corruption, and authoritarianism.
Of course, anyone knowledgeable about the history of the police as an
institution in America will tell you that none of this stuff is new. There are
whole books written on the abusive and racist history of policing in this
country. On the targeting of minorities and marginalized populations. The
abuse of power. The corruption.
Simply put, the way we do policing in this country, the way we hire police, the
way we train them, the procedures we instruct them to follow, the rules that
govern them – all of it. It is all deeply, fundamentally broken.
Bloomington and BPD Are Better
Over and over again through out this debate, the Bloomington Police Department,
and those supporting the purchase of the BearCat, have made an argument that
boils down to “The Bloomington Police Department is better”. Bloomington isn’t
Ferguson they say. They point out that BPD meet most of the ACLU’s
recommendations from their report about militarization of the police. They’re
trained in deescalation and the reasonable use of force. Our BPD won’t use the
BearCat against protesters.
I’m going to jump right past the problems inherent in the purchasing process
for this BearCat, I think Steve Volan covered that fantastically. Suffice it
to say, if BPD really did “know what Bloomington wants” as Chief Diekhoff says,
they’d have at the very least flagged the BearCat as a potentially
controversial purchase and asked Mayor Hamilton to hold some public engagement
around it. Instead, it sure looks as if they tried to sneak it by as a fait
To the larger question, would it surprise you to learn that Bloomington has a
greater racial disparity in our arrests than Ferguson does? That’s what the
Indianapolis Star found when they looked into it after the Ferguson protests.
In more than 40 percent of the nation’s police agencies studied, the
disparity in arrests was higher even than in Ferguson, Mo., where the arrest
rates of blacks are nearly three times those of whites. That was true in
Among those departments with a higher racial disparity in arrests than
Ferguson were Avon, Bloomington, Carmel, Fishers, Greenwood, Indianapolis,
Johnson County, Kokomo, Lafayette, Speedway, Westfield and West Lafayette.
Bloomington’s just so segregated that, if you’re white, it’s easy not to
I grew up on Bloomington’s wealthy, and white, south east side. I grew up in
the Elm Height’s neighborhood near Bryan Park. I don’t think I can remember
seeing a single person of color living in my neighborhood during my childhood.
I only rarely saw Police cars, and then it was just them driving by.
I now live on Bloomington’s poorer, and more mixed race, west side – just down
Adams from Crestmont, one of Bloomington’s public housing developments. I see
people, often people of color or low income people, pulled over by police on a
regular basis – monthly, if not weekly. I’ve seen more than a few arrests,
something I didn’t see once while growing up on the south east side.
There’s a national (and deeply problematic) trend of poorer and more racially
diverse neighborhoods being more heavily policed. Which leads to higher levels
of arrests and ticketing. Which leads to those neighborhoods getting labelled
“high crime” (though the stats that justify the label are just “high arrest
numbers”). Which justifies heavier policing and creates a feedback loop that
harms low income people and people of color.
From what I’ve seen, Bloomington isn’t exactly bucking that trend.
I’ve heard from friends who were there during the final days of the Occupy
protests that they overheard BPD officers lamenting the hands off approach
dictated by Chief Diekhoff. Many have tales of beatings and police brutality
at the hands of BPD officers when the order to break up the encampment was
finally given. My friends of color have many tales of harassment and
unnecessary escalations at the hands of BPD officers.
The stats on our CIRT team’s outings aren’t on the City of Bloomington’s Data
Portal, so there’s no way to confirm that they’re only being called out for
barricade or active shooter situations. There’s no way to compare them to the
numbers from the ACLU’s report on police militarization.
What’s more the complaint process goes through the Police Chief, not through
any citizen body. According to the complaint form, at no point in the
complaint process does anyone outside of the Police Department even see the
complaint. Marginalized people who’ve had bad run ins with police are not
likely to trust a complaint process that goes through the Police Chief.
The data in City’s Data Portal about complaints against the Department is
exceedingly vague. There are only 19 complaints recorded. I can’t help noting
that only a single complaint in the last two years has lead to any sort of
I know some people may look at this and go “Well, this is mostly anecdotal.”
But often, when there are structural power imbalances like this, anecdote is
all you have. The #MeToo movement is built almost entirely on anecdote: victim
after victim standing up to tell her story.
One of the key pieces of hard data we do have, the racial disparity of arrests,
is very telling. It should give anyone who thinks BPD are better than other
departments serious pause.
And then, in the midst of all this, BPD showed us exactly how they treat people
of color in Bloomington.
With a Family of Color, BPD Escalate
On February 18th, The Herald Times ran a front page article detailing a recent
encounter between the Bloomington Police Department and a local family of
color. An encounter the Bloomington Police Department escalated beyond all
Apparently, the previous Saturday, a social media post was brought to the
attention of BPD. It featured two young – 10 and 11 – boys of color posing
with, apparently, real weapons and a caption that angrily referred to some of
their classmates saying they would be “lit up”.
In the current moment, an action like that was bound to create a powerful
reaction. BPD were entirely justified in investigating.
They tracked the boys down to a residence, that was apparently hosting some
sort of party or event, the article isn’t terribly clear on the matter. I’m
guessing some details have been obfuscated because the boys are minors.
Once they arrived at the residence Laquita Perry-Leverston revealed to them,
and they confirmed, that the “guns” in the social media post were BB-guns. The
BB-guns didn’t represent a danger to anyone. It’s a good bet that BPD were
told that the boys didn’t have access to real firearms.
At this point, were they the experienced, respectful, and well trained police
force, worthy of our trust, we’ve been told they are, they would have
deescalated the situation. They would have stepped back and reassessed whether
they really even needed to proceed. They would have worked to calm those
present and, if they felt it absolutely necessary, just confirmed that there
were no real firearms present before ending the whole encounter.
They obtained a search warrant and began removing people from the building. In
the course of removing people from the building, they came across the
Perry-Leverston’s 17 year old son, on probation for a previous armed robbery
conviction. This young man was reasonably agitated on encountering the police,
having experience with the criminal justice and the prison system, and when
they went to remove him from the building he requested they respect his
personal space: (“Don’t touch me.”)
They could have respected his request and found a way to calm him. Instead
they escalated, and arrested him on a charge of “resisting arrest”. That
classic, all purpose, self referencing charge the police can apply to anyone
who’s rights they want to disrespect. Never mind that they had absolutely no
reason to bother the young Perry-Leverston in the first place, other than that
he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When his parents, Laquita and Paris Perry-Leverston, expressed their entirely
reasonable outrage at this turn of events, the police further escalated. They
arrested both the elder Perry-Leverstons and charged them with Disrupting the
Peace and Resisting Arrest.
In the end, they found no firearms. Only one more BB-Gun. But instead of
admitting that they were in error, and perhaps finding some non-criminal way to
discipline the two young boys, they brought all 5 of those they arrested, the
two boys, the 17 year old Perry-Leverston and his parents, to prison and
charged them all.
In the end, 5 people of color, who didn’t represent an active threat to anyone
were in prison and charged with crimes.
I find it very hard to believe a white, middle class family would have been
treated this way in Bloomington. This whole affair is a classic example of the
unjust, and, yes, racist treatment people of color experience at the hands of
the police across the country.
If you’re still arguing that our police force is different, maybe you should
step back and ask yourself what else has transpired in our town that you might
have missed? How else have our officers treated the marginalized and
dispossessed, those who don’t necessarily have the tools to call attention to
Conflict of Interest in Bloomington
While we’re on the topic of whether or not Bloomington does policing better
than other places, a local BLM activist, investigating the Perry-Leverston’s
case, recently brought a serious problem in our local judicial system to my
Apparently the search warrant that lead to the Perry-Leverston’s arrest was
signed by Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff, the same judge currently slated to hear
their cases. Judge Diekhoff is Police Chief Mike Diekhoff’s wife.
I called the County Court to try to confirm if, in fact, Judge Diekhoff had
signed that warrant. Or signed any criminal warrants. The County Court didn’t
know if they were public records or not. They passed me off to the Clerk’s
office, they didn’t know either.
I finally wound up with the Prosecutors office. After a moment of confusion
the secretary passed me off to a gentlemen who didn’t identify himself. I,
stupidly, neglected to ask him to identify himself. Whoever I was speaking to
told me that search warrants are public records unless they’ve been sealed. He
was about to send me off on another merry go round the County’s departments in
search of this particular warrant when I decided to just tip my hand and ask my
question. I told him why I wanted to know and then asked him if Judge Diekhoff
ever signed criminal search warrants.
“Well, of course she does! She deals with criminal and police matters all the
“She signs warrants… for her husband?”
“Of course she does!”
What is Judge Diekhoff doing signing warrants for, or hearing cases brought, by
her husband’s officers?!
That’s a serious ethical violation. I’m no lawyer, so it’s possible the
gentleman in the prosecutor’s office was right when he told me that it’s not a
legal violation.1 But if it’s not a legal violation, then it’s a moral one.
A very serious failure of moral judgement. It’s a massive conflict of interest!
Our criminal courts are supposed to be adversarial, with the judges acting as
neutral arbiters and facilitators. There is no way for Judge Diekhoff to be
truly neutral when her husband’s officers are on one side of that court room.
There is no way she can truly hold warrants to the proper legal scrutiny when
it’s her husband or his officers asking her to sign them.
Not only are there emotional issues involved, but there are financial ones as
well. She stands to lose or gain by the twists and turns in her husband’s
career and those can play out in the warrants he gets and the cases his
I know many in Bloomington hold both Judge Diekhoff and Chief Diekhoff in the
highest regard. With respect to those people, many I count as friends, it
doesn’t matter how highly you think of people. The whole problem with conflicts
of interest is that human psychology and bias prevent us from being neutral in
those situations. It doesn’t matter how much we might try, it doesn’t matter
how much we might intend to do the right thing, it is simply not possible for
us to as unbiased as we should be when we have a conflict of this sort.
Frankly, the fact that neither Judge Diekhoff, nor Police Chief Diekhoff,
recognized the problems inherent in a wife signing warrants for, or trying
criminal cases involving, her husband’s police officers seriously calls into
question both of their judgements. They should know better. And they should
have worked to avoid the situation.
A conflict of interest of this sort, involving Judge and Police Chief,
especially, is not only inappropriate, it’s dangerous and it’s a violation of
the public trust. This same Police Chief wants us to believe he can be trusted
to know when it is and isn’t appropriate to deploy a BearCat.
What About Protecting Our Officers?
The fact that I don’t trust our officers (or Police Chief) with a BearCat does
not mean I don’t value their safety, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t other
possibilities for protecting them.
A quick Google Search turned up this rather fetching looking SWAT van made by a
Canadian company. It’s a Ford Transit 350HD built for SWAT teams. It’s
armored to the EN1063 BR6 standard. That’s the European armor standard and BR6
is the second highest rating. Somewhere between NIJ III and NIJ IV, it can
take multiple shots from a high powered rifle, and plenty of hits from an
Best part about it, it’s just a van. It’s not a military vehicle. No weapons
mounts, no gun ports, and no battering ram. It is civilian, armored transport.
Our officers do have a right to protection, but they do not have a right to
military style hardware. And we can give them that protection with out further
militarizing them. We can buy them an armored van.
But that shouldn’t be the end of the conversation. Bloomington is our city.
We can truly make it better. We can to listen to what the activists of Black
Lives Matter are saying. They put a big pile of reforms on the table, Shaun
King’s reforms, and we’d do well to listen. These reforms won’t solve all the
problems inherent in policing – those problems run very, very deep – but they
take a big step in the right direction. And it’s a good place to start.
After posting this, I decided to see if Google could confirm for me that
there was no law barring Judge Diekhoff from signing warrants for or
presiding over cases for her husband’s officers. Google was very helpful.
From Title 28 of the United States Code:
(a) Any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.
(b) He shall also disqualify himself in the following circumstances:
(5) He or his spouse, or a person within the third degree of relationship to either of them, or the spouse of such a person:
(i)Is a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, or trustee of a party;
(ii)Is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding;
(iii)Is known by the judge to have an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding;
(iv)Is to the judge’s knowledge likely to be a material witness in the proceeding.
Granted, I’m not a lawyer. This is the United States Code, so it’s possible it
only applies to federal judges and doesn’t apply to local judges. But if
that’s what our local Justice officials want to hang their hats on to excuse
this, then we need to clean house.