From the Herald-Times:
By Jonathan Streetman
A community discussion about how to best serve people experiencing homelessness and to make downtown Bloomington safe for all was interrupted Saturday morning by those who felt they had been left out of the discussion altogether.
The working meeting at City Hall, which was announced by the city in a news release 48 hours prior, is part of an ongoing process organized by the Community Justice and Mediation Center as part of the Downtown Safety, Civility and Justice Initiative launched by Mayor John Hamilton in August.
Stage one identified perceptions of the challenges, and stage two
explored potential action ideas in response to these perceived problems, according to a city news release. The third stage, which was Saturday’s public input conversation, did not go off as planned.
As CJAM members were providing the crowd, which filled the Council Chambers to capacity, with updates on the first two stages and then began to discuss the meeting’s agenda, Nicci B of The Equity Collective and about a dozen other group members stood up to read a prepared statement.
The Equity Collective, Nicci said, believes that the task force
assembled is not representative of the Bloomington community, nor is it objective. This process, she continued, should have involved more of the people who are actually affected by the issues being discussed.
“This initiative has failed to position the needs of our community’s
most disenfranchised members as central to the conversation itself, as evidenced by a mediation process that has thus far produced a collection of ‘action ideas’ that largely ignore the root causes of poverty, addiction and other vulnerabilities,” the statement read. “Instead, the proposed strategies overwhelmingly advance business interests through the unjust criminalization and stigmatization of those whose safety is most at risk. We, The Equity Collective, cannot help but wonder whether the Safety, Civility, and Justice Initiative is only meant to serve
those who can afford it.”
The group also took umbrage with the fact that community members were only given 48 hours’ notice, a fact CJAM volunteer Lisa-Marie Napoli agreed was unfortunate. Napoli said she would address timeliness of announcements in the future.
“When we are dealing with people’s futures, we deserve more than 48 hours and zero information,” Nicci said in response.
The disruption continued for about 10 minutes as group members took turns reading the statement. During that time many individuals who had come to participate in the working meeting left the chambers and entered the hallway, where stations had been set up by the center to discuss a variety of issues, including housing, education, mental health, police relations and addictions and abuse.
By the time Nicci and the others finished reading the statement, the room had largely emptied.
About 50 individuals continued with the meeting in discussion groups, while Nicci and others continued to discuss their points with organizing members in the lobby. Members of the Equity Collective then left City Hall with about an hour and a half left in the meeting.
Napoli said she was disappointed that members of the disrupting group didn’t want to participate in Saturday’s discussion.
“This process was designed to be an inclusive process to all community members, to take a look at some starting ideas of solutions to discussing downtown safety and civility issues and to build on those,” said Napoli, who helped create the three-stage process before handing over their report to the task force. The discussions, she added, would also allow community members to grab onto ideas about what they can do at their level to make a difference.
“I respect democracy; I respect the voice and people’s right to protest. It’s ironic because this meeting is wholly designed to be inclusive,” she said.
Napoli said there was an entire open space in the lobby designed to
discuss new ideas that weren’t on CJAM’s list, and that the Equity
Collective’s list of demands would have been discussed there, if Napoli had been allowed to run the meeting as she had planned.
The center will now forward all information gathered to the Safety,
Civility and Justice Task Force for further study. Hamilton has asked that recommendations be made to him by early April 2017.