The graffiti “Fuck the Police” centered on the Monroe County Courthouse’s Spanish-American War statue found itself surrounded by rally-goers supporting the police on Saturday. The orange, faded "FTP" tag now served as a monument to the Black Lives Matter protests of this summer. Hours later, as the sun set and after the protest turned violent, Thomas Byrd, a Black counter-protester, stood in the memorial’s shadow with a singular demand.
“All I want is to be treated like a human being,” he yelled.
More than 200 protesters gathered for the Red, White and Blue Rally organized by Redneck News. The protesters donned Make America Great Again gear, American flag apparel and the $20 “Defend the Police” T-shirts being hawked by the purported news agency. There appeared to be more protesters carrying weapons than wearing face masks. The rally — a decadent display of pure American hubris — was an exercise in depravity, sheer ignorance and apparent but vehemently-denied racism.
The protest ardently opposed calls to defund the police, despite the institution’s violent, ineffective and racist history. Simultaneously, their actions Saturday reflect the very worst of white supremacist policing.
Facing Kirkwood Avenue, the crowd joined the rally’s speakers in prayer. On the peripheries, some were hard at work erasing pro-BLM chalk messages from the sidewalk. Others were harassing a single counter-protester, while one rally-goer felt emboldened enough to say “White lives matter.” The incendiary rhetoric would eventually turn into physical blows.
“We want this to be a positive rally,” one speaker said.
The protesters had a twisted view of positive. Robert Hall, a former Indiana congressional candidate, indulged the crowd with his COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Speaking from the hood of a Redneck News truck and flanked by men on horseback, he repeatedly referred to the coronavirus by its racist moniker, “China virus,” and falsely claimed masks do not reduce its spread.
Hall’s thesis asserted COVID-19 restrictions led to the proliferation of BLM protests, which he characterized simply as “looting.”
Never mind the high-profile murders of Black Americans such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the killings of McHale Rose and Dreasjon Reed in the same day at the hands of Indianapolis police or the violence employed by police departments across the country in response to BLM protests. Those at Saturday’s rally preferred to ignore or justify these instances of blatant, systemic racism.
As the speeches concluded, about 20 counter-protesters formed a chain and marched into the now-frenzied crowd. The rally-goers engulfed them, eager to enforce their version of law and order. Several counter-protesters were knocked to the ground, at least one hit over the head with a baton and a medic’s kit torn off her back and stomped on.
Byrd, a counter-protester, was punched in the mouth as protesters circled him and a woman named Melinda, he said.
“From there, I was trying to punch them back in defense, and then someone had just wound up grabbing me and everybody just started attacking me,” Byrd said.
The counter-protesters ensured their members were safe before backing off, standing steps away from the crowd and chanting “Black lives matter.” A truck emptied a cloud of black smoke onto them. Motorcycles followed, driving slowly through the counter-protesters. Those in the Redneck News truck cheered and honked as they drove by, seemingly content with the violence they brought to Bloomington.
Meanwhile, the crowd jeered, now assured in what it apparently saw as a forceful victory over the 20 mostly college-aged “looters” they appear to fear so much.
“I’d like to hang that boy from a tree,” one man said in apparent reference to a counter-protester.
“Black smoke matters,” said another to a round of laughter.
As they departed the courthouse square, sweating and laughing, several rally-goers shook hands with the police officers that only recently arrived. They left their own monument, a grand testament to the rally's ideas, sitting squarely in the middle of Kirkwood Avenue: a pile of horse shit, buzzing with flies.
Bloomington will never be the “liberal oasis” many so often claim it as unless we collectively take a stand against systemic racism, over-policing and hatred. Which side are you on? Equating the two groups is no longer an option.
Kyle Linder (he/him) is a senior studying journalism and international relations. He wants everyone to join a union.
Avraham Forrest contributed reporting to this column.