Around 7,000 people of all ages attended a protest led by IU students Friday to protest police brutality and the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The protest began in Dunn Meadow, where people were able to spread out over the large grassy field. Medics walked around with marked shirts, and attendees were offered decorated signs and free masks. Temperatures soared into the high 80s, and free water was everywhere.
Jaylynn Burney worked one of the snack tables on Seventh Street, handing out chips, granola bars and water. She said the black community in Bloomington came together to put the event on when Selena Drake, one of the main organizers, put out the idea.
“Really everyone just stepped in,” Burney said. “It was very well organized, very well advertised, as well as the intentions behind being very well communicated.”
Protest leaders successfully carried out their intention to be peaceful, and there were no incidents of violence during the event. The police also did not have a heavy presence. The protest’s mantra, chanted over and over again by leaders and protesters, was one of defiance and unity:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Speakers, including Rev. Jimmy Moore from St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, Shatoyia Moss, the city’s safe and civil director and several IU students and alumni spoke to the crowd in Dunn Meadow before they marched to the courthouse.
“This day, shall we breathe out fear and breathe in courage, breathe out secrecy and bring things into the light of day, breathe out hate and bring in love,” Moore said.
Moss called on the crowd to take action in their individual lives.
“I have cried all the tears, I have prayed all the prayers,” she said. “I am tired, but I am not broken.”
John Legend and Common’s “Glory” played through speakers and a drumline kept the beat as protesters moved toward Seventh Street chanting “No justice, no peace.”
The size of the crowd that filled Dunn Meadow on Friday afternoon was surprising to many, with students gone for the summer and coronavirus still a concern.
IU chemistry professor Caroline Jarrold, who is white, walked on the edge of the crowd in heels and a bright orange dress. She said she was very concerned about the virus and being in large crowds but decided she needed to come after the recent killings of black people by police officers.
“I had to show up to show that black lives matter to me,” she said. “This is atrocious.”
Jennifer Belton marched with her 17-year-old son Justus Belton, both wearing shirts that said “My skin color is not a crime.” Justus won one of the city’s 2020 Outstanding Black Leaders of Tomorrow Awards, plays soccer for Bloomington High School North and is an Eagle Scout candidate in Troop 121.
“It gives me anxiety and unrest when I see all this on TV, that my son doesn’t matter,” Jennifer Belton said.
She and Justus made a plan for if things got violent at the protest. Luckily, they didn’t have to use it.
When protesters got to the square, they spread out in the courthouse lawn and along each of the bordering streets.
Timothy Jessen, a former pastor, sat with his wife watching the crowd. Jessen, who is white, saw former President Barack Obama speak three times in Bloomington in 2008 and thought society was progressing in the right direction when Obama was elected as the first black president. But now he believes the U.S. still has a long way to go.
“Twelve years and we’re back facing this, so how far have we come?” he said. “Young people are going to have to lead the way. The old generation is hanging onto these old prejudices and biases.”
Elaine Johnson and her two children, 7-year-old Zach and 10-year-old Chelsea, attended the protest after talking about the recent events of police brutality all week. Chelsea made signs with the words “Enough is enough” and “BLM” drawn on them in marker. Johnson, who is white, said she wanted to bring her kids to the protests despite concerns about safety.
“We’ve been talking about how this is not OK and that they have a voice,” Johnson said.
Sarah Lubienski and her 20-year-old daughter Anna held a sign with “Mennonites for Human Rights” written on it and a list of police brutality victims’ names.
“Mennonites have a history of protesting violence, so it fits in very well with our pacifistic tendencies,” Sarah Lubienski said.
Protesters listened to speeches from city council member Jim Sims, community activist Charlie Nelms, Monroe County Democratic Party chairwoman Jennifer Crossley and other local leaders and students at the courthouse.
Angelica Smith, an IU alumna, held a sign with colorful balloons floating from strings above it wishing Breonna Taylor, who was killed in March by a Kentucky police officer, a happy birthday. Friday would have been her 27th birthday. Smith is also turning 27 this year.
“I really just wanted to honor her life,” she said. “Breonna is not going to get to wake up for her birthday because of police brutality.”
She knew there would be plenty of signs saying “Defund the police” and “Black lives matter,” but she wanted to take a different angle.
Sami Atassi, an English literature graduate student at IU, stood on an elevated planter at the corner of College and Kirkwood avenues. His shirt said “Arabs for Black Power” and in Arabic underneath “revolution until victory.” He wore a red, white and blue bandana and waved a white, green and black flag with red stars on it, the Syrian opposition flag.
Atassi, a Syrian-American, said he sees many similarities between the Syrian revolution and the Black Lives Matter movement happening now, as well as similar tactics being used to diffuse protests by authorities.
He said America needs to listen to black people in order to move forward.
“Our future depends on it as a nation,” he said.