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Hamilton addresses farmers’ market suspension, protest arrest, public safety



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People walk through the aisles of vendors at the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market near City Hall on June 16. A letter sent June 4 alleges a vendor at the market, Schooner Creek Farm, is owned by white supremacists. IDS file photo Buy Photos

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said the decision to suspend the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market for two Saturdays and leave the market's 118 vendors without their usual platform was a painful yet necessary one.

"We know about the tragic events that can happen at public gatherings," he said at a Wednesday press conference, days after a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California on Sunday.

The suspension, which was announced in a press release earlier this week, came after the city identified a threat to public safety since allegations against market vendor Schooner Creek Farms of being white supremacists have caused outrage.

Last Saturday's arrest of a protestor and the presence of the Three Percenters, a paramilitary antigovernment group, heightened tensions leading up to the announcement of the suspension.

Hamilton specifically cited Indiana's lack of gun control legislation and the spread of bigotry as driving reasons behind the suspension. 

Since the allegations against Schooner Creek Farm owners Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey were outlined in a June letter, protestors at the farmers' market have regularly brought flyers, posters and pamphlets explaining their views. 

The weekly protests have grown more tense as anti-fascist protestors identifying themselves as members of "antifa" came to the market to protest Schooner Creek Farm. 

When an audience member at Wednesday's conference expressed concern over antifa members at the market, Hamilton said he wanted to be clear that the root of this problem stemmed from the alleged initial viewpoints, and he agreed with the spirit and goals of protestors. 

"There are people who respond to different things in different ways," he said.

Last Saturday, 40-year-old protestor and IU assistant professor Cara Caddoo was arrested after refusing to leave the market area. Caddoo's arrest was brought up by multiple members of the public during Wednesday's press conference.

One audience member asked, "If I go to the farmers' market with a sign that says 'Ban assault weapons,' will I go to jail?"

"Depends on where you say it," Hamilton said.

The market offers paid spots in Informational Alley, a section for informational booths and space. It costs $10 to register and $10 to reserve space for an individual Saturday, and there are 22 spaces available, according to the city's website. 

Areas outside the market are also free for protesting — Caddoo was arrested for not following the market rules, which Hamilton said are enforced in a viewpoint neutral manner.

"Sometimes people choose civil disobedience to make a point," Hamilton said. 

Another audience member said she's been a vendor at the farmers' market for 34 years, and the two weeks' suspension is breaching a legal agreement she made with the city.

"The city has broken contract with 118 vendors, so one vendor can be at the market,” she said. “I signed a contract — or, I thought I did — saying that I was gonna be part of a welcoming community."

Indiana farmers are currently struggling with the aftermath of the wettest 12 month period on record in the United States. Gov. Eric Holcomb requested the USDA grant Monroe and 87 other Indiana counties agricultural disaster designation. A two-week suspension on sales could strain vendors, but Hamilton mentioned a soon-to-be-released list of alternate selling sites for farmers.

Hamilton said the next two weeks will be spent working on programming and increasing staff and community safety before the market's reopening. 

"It's a community market with community challenges we will meet with community solutions," he said. "This is Bloomington. We got this."

But some, such as local activity and recent city council candidate Vauhxx Booker, are skeptical. 

"You don't have to be a white supremacist to side with white supremacy," Booker said. "My question is, are we going to act before the market sees bloodshed?”

"We're committed to making the market safe for everyone," Hamilton said in response. "As the chief said earlier, there's no place in America that's 100% safe."

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