A #BlackLivesMatter forum on Monday, 27 April, 2015 brought nearly 100 people to the Dubois branch of the Gary Public Library. While riot guards were entrapping and inflicting harm on school children in Baltimore, event organizers here presented a list of specific demands while the community testified to personal abuses at the hands of police. Unlike a forum held in nearby East Chicago late last year (under the guise of #BlackLivesMatter but dominated by the local police and power elites), this evening’s event organizers were more careful to privilege the community’s voice, restricting the conditions by and when (local) power would speak. The typical reactionary victim blaming was largely avoided.
Local media failed to communicate the purpose and message of the forum. The Times filed no story, the Post Tribune reporter arrived late, missing the presentation of demands, and quoted none of the panelists or forum organizers, instead relying on the “hug-a-cop” frame. Among the demands of the forum were: an end to The Sweeps and predatory fines, anti-racist training for the police, and greater police accountability to the community through an independent citizen review board, more public reporting, and local residency requirements.
Panelist Kwabena Pratt reminded those in attendance of the words uttered by Lake County police Dan Murchek to an assembly of 16 police agencies during The Sweeps in Gary last year: “Let’s have fun and take a bunch of people to jail tonite.” Another officer said of the Sweeps: “This is like a treat.”
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was granted the privilege of final word. The essence of her comments were captured by local media.
As the forum ended and we filed out of the library a television near the entrance caught the attention of some attendants. We saw our first visuals from Baltimore and a palpable heaviness fell upon my friends and neighbors. And some back-and-forth began
“All those people who won’t have jobs tomorrow…”
“How can you compare property damage to murder?”