A White Paper by Democratic Women of McDonough County, Illinois
November 11, 2019
How We Got To Here
Since we organized at the beginning of this year, Democratic Women of McDonough County has organized around one overarching moral standard, and that is “allyship first.”
We are here to share our experiences of living in this community at a time of unprecedented cultural, socio-economic, educational, religious, and political challenges. Our group is diverse, with not just our white members but also Black, Hispanic, Latin, International, Native American, and LGBTQIA community members, university employees, and college students. When our members have shared experiences they’ve been subjected to while living here in our community over the past year, we have tried to respond as allies first, providing witness, referrals to appropriate agencies, support, services, events, and opportunities to connect with others for help in reducing feelings of isolation, marginalization, and erasure.
We understand that the experiences we discuss are not everyone’s experience of our community. Indeed, we do not invalidate anyone else’s account of events; herein, we are just speaking of our own and that of those who have entrusted us as allies to speak their truth in the hope of making things better for all. We cannot address problems which remain hidden to our community members. We cannot overcome challenges with leaders who choose to ignore best practices while choosing far less efficacious, passive actions primarily of benefit for straight, white people who are not impacted by the negative cultural environment in the same way.
This white paper addresses our attempts as an organization to be strong, visible allies for the affirmation, support, and protection of members of our LGBTQIA community, and our Black, Latin, Hispanic, Immigrant, International, Native American, and migrant community members and their loved ones. We also will explain how our city leadership has repeatedly failed to address the increasingly hostile culture some of our members are being subjected to, and what hopes we have for helping all our community members feel welcome, safe, and celebrated here.
This past spring, we held Macomb’s first ever “PrideFest” and brought almost 500 people to Chandler Park for a wonderful day of celebration of love, friendship, belonging, and community. We received little to no press coverage, but the conversations that we experienced that day revealed a deep, unmet need for allyship to members of the LGBTQIA community here. experience isolation, marginalization, and repetitive traumas, the hatred that they are too often subjected to in this community.
At PrideFest, we had members of the clergy from the region attend with their closeted members who wanted to spend one day – one – living openly as they are, in a space where they were valued, cared for, wanted, and protected. And we heard from many of our youth and millennial community members recounting maltreatment, bullying, and disrespect, which caused us to turn our PrideFest organizing team into a year-round advocacy/watchdog group. Since this spring, we’ve watched the incidence and prevalence of acts of hate and intolerance escalate and in some cases, become normalized, even by community leaders.
- Dr. Merrill Cole’s statement
- Candace Whitman’s Affidavit
- Allyship statement: Parent of a Gay Child
- Statement from local black college student
- Affidavit from Joanne Curtis
- Affidavit from Chanel Sasse
Harming our LGBTQIA Community Members & Ignoring It When Hate Marched on the Community
It wasn’t reported in the media, but WIU’s homecoming parade had a burgeoning/suspected hate group march in it, wearing shirts from Republicans running for office. The group had marched with Representative Norine Hammond (R-IL93) this summer, and we know this because the photo with an upbeat caption was featured on Representative Norine Hammond’s Facebook wall for several months. Carrying signs equating gay marriage with “moral pollution,” this raw hatred on display should have made the news. It’s especially concerning that it didn’t because the parade was also sparsely attended due to the estimated 200-300 Black WIU Alumni families boycotting homecoming to send our community a message. But that didn’t get reported, either.
We cannot protect a community which lacks sunlight on these issues. We cannot force the powerful to take corrective actions without the pressure of public sentiment. Public sentiment cannot be shaped if it’s not informed, and it cannot be informed if our local news reporters don’t have the right information from our elected officials, or if they receive pressure to suppress such stories.
From the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“Report every incident. If you are a member of a targeted group, harassment could continue. What began as egg-throwing at five black families in rural Selbrook, Alabama, escalated for 18 months until hate mail made it a federal offense. The story made the news, police patrolled and harassment declined.”
“Speak to the press. Your story, with a frank discussion of the impact on your family life, can be a powerful motivator to others. Copycat crimes are possible, but rare. More likely, you’ll be encouraged by love and support. In Watertown, New York, a black minister talked about the vulgar hate mail he received. His community held a special unity rally. “Denying that racism exists, or not talking about it, will not cause it to go away,” he said.”
Right after that parade, there should have been a public outcry. But we couldn’t get the press to take up the call, and so we did our best to call out the hate. Our city’s leaders should have issued a statement condemning the hate group’s message. They didn’t.
The weekend before, the Mayor had the city participate in a Town/Gown “community unity” service project led by a church with homophobic language right on its website. Given that, we were unsurprised they ignored an alleged hate group marching in a parade. But they should have acted with loud condemnation, and not responded with more silence.
Allyship with Black, Latin, Hispanic, International, Native American, and Migrant Community Members, Visitors, & Students
Our white members have been working on learning how to be better allies and addressing our own internalized white supremacy. We hope to help create a stronger sense of belonging and community for our non-white community members, through learning how to address and take responsibility for our own implict bias and privilege blindness. We don’t claim to be perfect allies, just ones committed to trying to learn to do better and take action to dismantle structural racism and use our white privilege in this community to push our leaders to address actions that are harmful.
Racial justice allyship oftens requires us to decenter whiteness in our communications and discussions, which is very uncomfortable for many of us white people living in a majority-white community. Some white community members have criticized us for our racial justice work, but we prioritize showing up for our marginalized community members. We use our privilege to protect our members from retaliation while we speak their truths as they have shared them with us. We are grateful for our members willing to undertake this journey to begin helping bring restorative justice to our community.
We are living in a time of rapidly rising racial tensions around the globe and across many cultures. Nationally, the leadership of the Republican Party is using White Nationalist messaging and spreading hate across all forms of media. Around the state, we are seeing increasing incidents and reports of hate crimes, racist displays, recruiting by hate groups in neighboring counties, harassment, abuse, violence, and murder.
Locally, many of our citizens, our WIU students, and some of our members are also experiencing increasing microaggressions, implicit bias trauma, marginalization, and targeting of them or their Black, Hispanic, Latin, International, Native American, and undocumented immigrant loved ones. The events chronicled in the news media about our community’s cultural environment detailed a few acts of harmful, traumatizing experiences which were no surprise to us. Such issues have been experienced by and reported to us by our own members, college and university students, and our community members.
The acts of dehumanization, marginalization, silencing, invalidation, over-policing, and covert and overt acts of racism by far too many people in our community are not being addressed – nor properly, publicly acknowledged – in a comprehensive, trauma-informed, culturally-competent, multiculturally aware racial justice strategy. This allows the problems to persist, where they continue to contribute to a degradation of the quality of life and safety for those in our community without white privilege, driving down WIU’s reputation, enrollment, and ability to attract and retain qualified higher education professionals.
In the community, this also impacts our ability to attract and retain qualified medical professionals, leaving our community without many specialist positions which could be filled if our community was far more welcoming, affirming, and supportive of immigrants and their families.
We wish to draw our community’s attention to the degrading cultural environment, and we’ve been trying to bring city hall’s attention to the issues and to spur them to action. This has been without meaningful success other than some “Community Conversations” instead of the racial justice actions we’ve been advocating for since late spring.
The loss of our black faculty, staff, and students – and many other community members – who fled this community this summer following the posting of the signs was heartbreaking and devastating. Our black students and community members lost their teachers, counselors, mentors, advisors, friends, neighbors, and family. This has turned WIU nearly overnight into an almost all-white faculty in a regional institution of higher education. We hope our city council members will hold Town Hall meetings in every ward on this issue, as it threatens WIU’s enrollment and recovery upon which our regional economy depends. Silence is unacceptable at this inflection point in our town’s history.
We have modeled our responses from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Ten Ways To Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide.” From the document: “Hate is an open attack on tolerance and acceptance. It must be countered with acts of goodness. Sitting home with your virtue does no good. In the face of hate, silence is deadly. Apathy will be interpreted as acceptance — by the perpetrators, the public, and — worse — the victims. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows.” Source: https://www.splcenter.org/20170814/ten-ways-fight-hate-community-response-guide?fbclid=IwAR3oCl-MNuz4pKBtGT6bKdJ-a2XqUCPR-PoueF9eo7ZNS_4Ln9QGebNeZv4
The Monday after The Chronicle of Higher Education article came out, we spoke at the City Council meeting and presented a letter (Appendix I) . We watched in shock as we realized that most of our city council members were completely unaware of the article at all, and this was days after this article was published in a NATIONAL JOURNAL.
A national article printed about the racism and cultural incompetence on display in our community should have been a planned topic of discussion. All of our city leaders should be in touch enough with our university to have been alarmed at the effect this would have on Macomb’s economy. A town’s mayor should have called the leadership as soon as it came to awareness and put it on the agenda – or at least mentioned it. Instead, our community leaders were silent. This demonstrates an appalling lack of concern for our community members re-traumatized by the article, and is disappointing at a time we need all our elected and appointed officials working on these problems.
That meeting was a mirror to the city council meeting the Monday after the layoffs at WIU last spring, in which the council met for approximately 20 minutes, and nothing was mentioned at all on the public record about the devastation to our university, its programs, its students. Not a single public expression of compassion or concern.
They appeared upbeat and unaffected, and adjourned for lack of business. And there have been far too many city council meetings cancelled over the past year for lack of business. We hope no meetings are canceled for “lack of business” in the future and we encourage our city council members to consider having the cultural climate and quality of life for our most under-representated citizens be a standing agenda item for such times.
Their inattention to the challenges and risks facing this community if we do not rapidly change the culture of Macomb is of grave concern to us and our members, who are living the painful reality of a community seemingly content to be silent about unacceptable behavior. Cultural competency is urgently needed to bring healing to this community. We call on all our citizens to speak up about acts of bigotry, hate, and intolerance when they occur. Our silence harms vulnerable people and contributes to the decreases in WIU’s enrollment and ability to attract students, faculty, and staff. This threatens the economic survival of our entire community, and this must be addressed.
The city leadership’s choice to hold “Conversations” on “Non-Violent Communication” is well-intentioned and a beginning, but not nearly enough to get our community united and safe. Such formats are designed primarily to appease the fears of white people unaccustomed to participating in open discussions about race, ethnicity, and privilege, and how those things are experienced differently by all who live, work, study, and visit our community.
They aren’t enough. And the latest one was appalling and harmed many of the most vulnerable people in the room.
Mayor Inman’s “Non-Violent Communication Workshop” Events
Instead of adopting the best practices actions the Southern Poverty Law Center suggests communities do to push back against hate, the Mayor has chosen protected communication workshops where no media are permitted. While it’s good to teach people communication skills, non-violent communication isn’t the same as taking collective, decisive action against hate that will protect the many people harmed by the issues in our community.
We had members in each workshop offered over the past several months. We appreciate the workshops as well-intentioned, and helpful for some, but our position since the racist emails, letters, and signs appeared has been that Mayor Inman and the City Leaders must respond appropriately to the rising expressions of bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in our city.
Because our members attended previous events, we were encouraged to come to the latest event, which was billed as the action strategizing session we have been asking our Mayor to hold since late spring.
Our members attended believing we would be treated well, with good opportunities for beginning to address the structural racism, inequality, lack of cultural competency, and social inequities in our community. Instead, we witnessed a community event that was rendered unsafe emotionally for our Black, Latin/Hispanic, International, Native American, LGBTQIA members, students, and trauma survivors. We were hopeful that we would finally begin to see true action to help our marginalized community members feel heard, valued, and welcome.
That did not happen. The repeated failures to address nor even acknowledge these many issues has created an environment which our marginalized community members are being harmed by, and which we seek to remedy.
Was Macomb’s City Leadership Deliberately Undermining Their Own Event To Impede Progress & Action?
The session was not at all what it was billed to be. It was not conducted in a trauma-informed manner, with the same safety and accountability for all persons in the room. We believe the disruptions were directly attributable to the actions of Macomb’s Police Chief and to Mayor Inman, for his silence as they were being employed and his failure to set proper expectations for acceptable conduct for the Police Chief.
Our members that attended each had unique experiences at the sessions they attended, but most questioned the choice of having law enforcement officials at the sessions. Some saw this as intimidating, especially when they came in uniform. It’s hard to feel safe and equal in a room with, perhaps, the agency disenfranchising you.
The police chief is in a unique position of power and privilege in a university community. Serving in the position requires a person to act as a community leader, ambassador, and example of integrity. The representative of real power and authority, the chief holds the ability to support, inform, and enrich the quality of life for all living in a community. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Requiring not just excellent policing skills and administrative knowledge, the Police Chief, in a university community, must also possess a high degree of cultural competency knowledge and skills, and possess the soft skills and temperament necessary to appreciate, engage, and model competency and healthy interactions when navigating the complex multicultural intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, religious, and class issues in a rural college town community.
We witnessed a truly appalling scene, as students’ and community members’ experiences were invalidated, marginalized, and devalued multiple times….and the Mayor said and did nothing. We watched, dismayed, as it seemed as if the chief and some other local men effectively disrupted the meeting to prevent WIU’s leadership from ever being able to get to a discussion about taking action.
Disruption Tactics We Witnessed At The Event
We know disruption tactics well because those who disagree with our positions have been using them against us. Our leadership team and many members have training in such tactics for Direct Action Organizing.
Disruption tactics are often employed by activists, advocates, and social justice minded individuals to disrupt power to permit progress on an issue in which the power differential is too great or stacked against those wanting change to get done quickly, such as times of great danger or social unrest. More info: https://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/advocacy/respond-to-counterattacks/overview-of-opposition-tactics/main
Disruption Tactics Are Inappropriate When Dealing With Marginalized/Traumatized Communities
These should NEVER be employed in an educational space for traumatized, vulnerable human beings. Using these tactics, whether through ignorance or deliberate strategy to undermine the stated goals of the meeting is unacceptable, unethical, and traumatizing. Attendees we’ve spoken with didn’t seem to know why the meeting went so poorly, but this is part of what disruption does. And our students, members, and community members were harmed by it. We witnessed the Macomb Chief of Police express the following sentiments throughout the workshop.
- Invalidation of Black, Hispanic, Latin, Internationaland Native American People’s pain: (paraphrasing) “Been here 20 years. It’s GREAT!!!”
- Dismissal of Concerns/Toxic Positively: (paraphrasing) “…almost everybody at my table said the last time they felt disrespected was 25-30 years ago…and isn’t that a great thing? That’s a positive for the community”
- The Re-Centering of White Male Power/The Forced Compliance via Manipulation of Social Gratitude Cues: (After the moderator had dismissed everyone, the Chief interjected) (paraphrasing) “I want to say something! Let’s all clap for the two men who brought us all here today, Mayor Mike Inman and President Abraham!”
- Inhibition of Progress by Damaging Morale of the group. Source: https://web.mit.edu/gtmarx/www/movement.html
Whether intentional or not, the effect was undermining of the purported progress and action goals of the meeting, invalidation of the safety of the space, and retraumatization of several of the students, faculty, staff, and community members in attendance.
Creating a workshop, specifically marketing it to/for traumatized/marginalized persons, then allowing the police to use disruption tactics repeatedly thoroughout the workshop is unethical and culturally incompetent at best. Elected and appointed city officials should never subvert such an event and behave in such an unprofessional, callous, inappropriate manner. The tactics employed by our police chief delayed the progress to the action goals. This represents an appalling failure of leadership by our city leaders. Our willingness to sit back and allow our city leaders to continue to resist taking effective actions guided by best practices has come to an end. We demand action now. We ask the city to undertake the actions as outlined in our letter presented to them.
We strongly encourage city leadership to follow the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guidelines for responding to incidents of hatred and bigotry in our community to set an expectation for behavior.
Macomb Should Require Annual Cultural Competency Training
One action we believe is also needed besides what was previously requested is an annual cultural competency training requirement for all city employees and elected/appointed city officials. Far too many of them have displayed behavior which indicates a need for education and training.
What Do We Hope To Accomplish?
The Police Chief expressed ignorance about the way many of our community members have experienced racial/ethnic/anti-LGBTQIA actions while living here. We hope to someday have a chief who is in far better touch with and ally to all members of our community, especially those most at risk.
Culturally competent, friendly, affirming leadership will help our city become more affirming, safer, healthier, and friendlier for ALL community members, students, visitors. We hope our leaders will work harder to model such behavior.
We hope members of the media will be alert for any possible attempts by our city leaders to potentially disrupt meaningful actions to address our many complex racial/ethnic challenges in our community.
We hope our Black, Latin, Hispanic, International, Native American and LGBTQIA community members feel supported by our actions to address what we feel is an unacceptable situation that cannot be resolved without all members of the community being aware of the issues and committing to be a part of helping our community become open, affirming, and welcoming for all who wish to live, work, study, or visit here.
We will not allow our voices to be silent in the face of harm. The police chief behaved in a manner that was disrespectful and unprofessional to our members. There is NO moral justification for his actions.
As the Mayor was present and did nothing, we do not have confidence that any further attempts to get city leadership to respond appropriately to our community’s challenges would be met with forthrightness, and transparency.
We have been the target of silencing tactics and disruption/marginalization of our racial justice work by Macomb’s leadership, and that is wrong. Mayor Inman has deliberately kept us out of the discussion when it was OUR organization that shined a light on how the actions of many in our community have harmed our Black community members and loved ones. It was our organization that didn’t allow the city to ignore the impact of the emails, letters, and signs on our community members. It’s time to tell the truth. These discussions are happening because of our work, and it’s time for action, not more discussion.
Doing nothing benefits the unacceptable status quo.The chief’s actions at the meeting alone are sufficiently inappropriate, harmful, and unprofessional to warrant the urgency of our request to the city to commit to conducting trauma-informed cultural competency trainings immediately.
Why a Press Conference?
We have a right to voice our opinions and our experiences. Though our city leaders may not agree, they have no right to marginalize or silence our voices.
We believe that the level of cultural competency in our community members contributes to a cultural environment that is becoming increasingly polarized, toxic, and potentially even dangerous for our non-white, non-CIS/Het community members, and we feel compelled to bring this situation to public awareness.
A city official acted inappropriately and unprofessionally in a space absent accountability because the media had been banned. Instead of being a healer in that space, he was anything but. As a community leader, he should face public accountability for harmful behavior while representing our city.
We hope members of our local news media will be asked by regional and state media if ANY elected or appointed officials or supporters have ever pressured them to suppress any stories about our racial justice work (or any other topic).
Appendix A: Narrative from a Female Black Millennial College Student
This account below was provided to us by one of our local millennial community members who attends college in town following the posting of the Mayor’s partnership with the Pastor of a church with anti-LGBTQIA language on its website.
“When I heard that WIU was publicly praising a Pastor from a church with homophobic language right on its webiste, I was disappointed and hurt.
It is completely hypocritical for a man leading such a church to be the leader of #ForMacomb, when one of Macomb’s biggest issues as a community is how our minority citizens are treated.
Please also realize how this would pain LGBTQ individuals who have specifically been traumatized and rejected by homophobic churches, because that is a far too common occurrence for many of us.
This is clearly a movement that lacks any intersectionality. How I see it is “let’s change Macomb to keep our whyte cishet citizens happy and attract more of them!” And clearly the tactic has been working now that we’ve recently been able to statistically view the retention rate of students of color here.
But what does that have to do with students of color? I’ll tell you. I am a black, queer woman. I am also the daughter of a Muslim man. What difference would this have made if the reverend were openly anti black, sexist, or anti Muslim? None. And putting this man on a pedestal shows not only queer folks that they don’t matter here, but other marginalized groups as well. It’s disrespectful and a bad look, considering WIU is trying to recruit more of our mostly liberal generation, queers and allies included.
So long as city leaders continue to partner with such churches, there is no unity. There is hurt, especially to the ones who don’t hold the privilege that Macombs whyte cishet folks do.
Such Pastors need to change the way their churches operate before seeking partnerships with our local government and higher education institutions. Until then, we will be adamantly condemning bigotry and the spreading of it.”
Appendix B: Narrative from the Parent of a Gay Child
“When I saw the city (and WIU, but under an interim president) choosing to partner with a church with that horrible anti-LGBT language on its website, my heart sank. Our children already face such a hostile environment in this community in far too many places, including school, where some of these teachers insert their religious bigotry into our children’s public school education. A comment here, an eye-roll there, microagressions are nearly impossible to track, they are so frequent, but no less harmful. I never thought I’d see the day our city government went all-in with ignoring a group’s homophobia for a basic service project. Our city has clearly shown a preference for who is considered “worthy” of community belonging and protection. We decided to make our plan to flee this city for our child’s safety and emotional health. Do better, Macomb and WIU. Not everyone can leave this city, and we fear what it’s turning into with the repeated mistakes and silence from city hall.”
Appendix C: Unfiltered Narratives From Community Conversation Following Release of “Fire J—-” Signs
Date of collection: June 1, 2019
Location: Mt. Calvary Church, Macomb, IL
Attendees were given index cards and pens. The were asked to give their written response to the question:
“When I became aware of the signs, I felt ______ because _______.”
Person 1: “I felt undermined, victimized, bullied, and shocked that blatant malice has taken a prominent place in a community and a familiar space I no longer know accepts and loves me as much as I have loved it for over 20 plus years.”
Person 2: “…Shocked! Angry! Hurt! Embarrassed! Sad because it was racist!!! And I always thought Macomb was a wonderful place to raise my BLACK CHILD!!!”
Person 3: “I felt appalled. As a college student in Macomb, I know I would NEVER see “Fire [white public official’s name]” signs around town. Clearly, it showed a display of racial divide. Sad and SHOCKING!”
Person 4: “Dissed. Mad. Sad that we still have this type of stupid people that still don’t think we’re the same.”
Person 5: “Embarrassed for Macomb.”
Person 6: “Furious. That it was Racist.”
Person 7: “Shamed and confused about the city of Macomb’s approach to trying & difficult times.”
Person 8: “My first thought was that now our University President might be feeling that first sense of unease, of insecurity, that so many other people in our community have felt when they first realized they did not have job security. Only now, at this meeting, do I realize the depth of the feelings of racial tensions and inequity the signs have caused.” (- Submitted from a White Ally)
Person 9: “I was not surprised. As a student, a young man, and a latino I wholeheartedly oppose any and all discrimination. I hold hope that more of my generation will wake up and realize that all is not well in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Person 10: “Dismay – The wrong approach with destructive consequences. Why didn’t those business owners publicly ask Hammond and Tracy to increase funding for WIU – not take two years of avoiding a supported state budget.”
Person 11: “I was angry that the sign was put on such a visible sign, but what was even worse was the wording. Why was the P——– called by his first name the way people refer to popular celebrities? The P——– should have been addressed as P—— ——–, not by his first name only. In fact, a sign saying “Fire the ————” is possibly too mean. “BOT – Support WIU” is ok. But Dr. R——-’s distinction between intent and outcome is what we need to remember. These signs were wrong no matter what those people meant. The signs were racist and didn’t express concern for WIU’s future. This sign made me feel embarrassed and angry.“
Person 12: “Because some spoke without showing their faces, Angered! Enraged!”
Person 13: “Embarrassed, unseen, ignored, & unimportant.”
Person 14: “My heart sank because it was hurtful to the whole community whether that was intended or not. It was rude and unhelpful. We need to listen and learn our history.”
Person 15: “Shocked, sad, mad, scared, angry, and disbelief.”
Person 16: “Hurt. Mad. Because is Macomb coming to this – racist – bold?”
Person 17: “Hurt. Angry. Shocked. Because he is not the only cause of WIU’s downfall, and it’s racist.”
Person 18: “Very unnecessary and very racist.”
Person 19: “Angry and disappointed.”
Person 20: “I felt wronged. I felt not safe for me and my family.”
Person 21: “As a longtime community member of Macomb, I am saddened and sickened by the latest behavior of some of our business owners and community leaders. This behavior is unacceptable and must stop. If we are to be a strong community we must work together and treat each other with mutual respect.” [Submitted & signed from a White Ally]
Person 22: “I became aware of racial division when I moved to Macomb. My [child] was graduating from WIU, volunteering at — for 8 months, applying for different positions in the ——-, and never even had an interview. They never called her or told her that the position was ever filled. She had to inquire about the job then they told her it had been filled.”
Person 23: “My problem will be for law enforcement. [Some response omitted due to protect anonymity] I still get harassed by law enforcement just by walking outside and the fact that these new officers know about me and my family when we have learned from our mistakes and moved on but we have to hide in our houses because the police want to harass us. Enough is enough.”
Person 24: “I felt the closeness I once felt in this community leave. After hearing about the sign, I felt a sense of embarrassment to be a part of a community that will put up such a thoughtless comment.”
Person 25: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I felt this was done because of the color of his skin. He wasn’t shown any kind of respect. It never happened before. This was cowardly.”
Person 26: “Scare[d], sad, and afraid of what would come next, because I work at WIU and know of the racism.”
Person 27: “Hurt. Disrespected. Appauled [appalled] because I felt racism at its finest…”
Person 28: “When I first saw the sign, I felt NAUSEOUS because I knew the “unwritten code” in that message, how hurtful & evil it would be to so many. And how this makes recovery at WIU even harder than before.” [Submitted and signed by a White Ally]
Person 29: “Furious. First thing I saw driving into town. Racist.”
Appendix D: Native American Resident of Macomb Harassed by Red Truck
Affidavit: A Macomb resident of Native American ancestry went for a walk on the evening of August 6th. An older, dark red pickup truck pulled up and the occupants yelled “go back to where you came from and if we ever see you here again you are f’n dead.” The driver had a full beard. Victim was encouraged to report the incident to Macomb Police, but was not comfortable doing so.
Appendix E: Affidavit from Professor Merrill Cole
“As a white gay male professor at WIU and as a resident of Macomb, I enjoy a lot of privilege. I have always felt safe here, and I have only been catcalled “Faggot!” a few times. I love teaching at WIU. However, all my closest friends, queers and people of color, have fled in the last several years. Sure, I have hundreds of acquaintances at WIU, but I have no real friends. Aside from one local family who has adopted us, my husband and I feel very much alone. There’s no community for us.”
Appendix F: Affidavit of Candace Whitman
On the evening of November 6th, I attended a training workshop on the utilization of the nonviolent communication approach to addressing the racism happening in Macomb. The overarching theme for this event, which I believe was the 4th in a series but my first time attending, was about active and reflective listening. After a series of activities and sharing, the Macomb chief of police decided to share that he was happy to report that everyone in his small group had to think back 25 years to remember a time when they were disrespected, and that it reflected on how great of a place it is to live in Macomb.
Of course, this event was happening because it is not a great place to live for many people, particularly for people of color, religious minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or anyone outside of the majority demographic.
After the event was completed, I decided that I would share with the chief of police how I felt in reaction to his comments. I walked up to him and politely asked if I could speak with him. I indicated that I would like to share with him how I felt in reaction to his comments. He agreed to listen, so I shared that what he had shared in the group felt like he was dismissing the very real and very frightening experiences of many of the people in this room. I indicated, that, to me, he was suggesting that he feels safe and welcome here, but that he was ignoring the fact that so many other people this evening shared exactly why they didn’t feel safe here.
The chief immediately attempted to dismiss my feelings by suggesting that he was only speaking on behalf of his small group, and that he believes that people just need to learn how to move on with their lives. I expressed that for him, it may have been 25 years since he felt disrespected and so he has the ability to “move on”, but that for many of the people in the room, including myself, we don’t get to just move on because we face disrespect, discrimination, and hatred thrown at us every single day.
The chief of police then decided to take another angle, sharing about how he understands what it is like to be treated differently and experience discrimination. I, of course, was curious about how this could be considering he is a white, straight, male in a position of power, so I asked him to share with me his experiences. He shared that he had to ask a family member to stop introducing him as a police officer because people treat him differently once they know that he is the police. I nodded my head and did my best to reflect back how he feels uncomfortable when people treat him differently once they find out he is a cop. I asked him to reflect on how it must feel for a person of color who is not able to just not reveal their race because they cannot take off their skin color in the same way he gets to take off his badge, gun, and title.
Once again, the chief of police pivoted the conversation, and suggested that people who are treated poorly should just stop hanging out with those who are treating them poorly. I suggested that his reaction was coming from a place of privilege because he doesn’t understand how one cannot just not hang out with certain people to avoid being discriminated against, disrespected, or attacked. I explained that for people who are minorities in this community, there is no avoiding those who don’t like us. Most of the people in this community are white and many hold racist beliefs about people of color. For the queer community, there are people everywhere who believe that being gay or transgender is sinful and tell them they are going to hell. I expressed that we are already not hanging out with people who are hateful towards us, but that we cannot avoid those who are hateful at all times because they are at work and school and in the community.
The chief of police shifted his approach again, suggesting that people have the right to believe what they want. I agreed that they do have the right to believe what they want, but that they do not have the right to cause harm to other people based on those beliefs. He asked how people are being harmed with other people’s beliefs that it is sinful to be gay. I indicated that a child being told that who they are is sinful and telling them that they are going to hell causes harm. I expressed that children don’t just get over that and asked if he knew about the rate at which the LGBTQ community commits suicide. His response: “Is it higher than the suicide rate for police?”
At one point during the conversation, he claimed that he could do nothing about the discrimination, and I asked him if he called it out when he saw it. He responded that he couldn’t call it out because it never happens in front of him. He suggested that he just doesn’t see it around him and therefore can do nothing about it. I challenged him to start really looking for it because if he actually looked for it, he would find it.
It was clear to me that he was not going to really allow himself to feel any empathy or understanding for anyone who expressed concerns over feeling unsafe in this community because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or gender expression. He was unwilling to set aside his own bias in order to hear me or anyone else in that room that night who was expressing concerns of safety.
As a queer person, I do not feel that I could safely report an incident of verbal, physical, or sexual assault to him. I do not feel I could safely report any discrimination I may have experienced to him. After my conversation with him, it was clear that he is unwilling to be a safe person for the most vulnerable members of our community. I would not feel comfortable telling him vulnerable information about me, and I would fully anticipate that he would deny, minimize, rationalize, or justify any experience I may need to report. I believe this would be the case for any person of color, any immigrant, any person within the LGBTQ+ community, or any other minority in this community. I am concerned about the chief’s ability to treat all people with kindness, compassion, and respect.
Macomb needs a person in leadership in the police department who is willing to own their bias. Macomb police department needs someone who is willing to listen and truly hear what people are telling him. We need a leader who is willing to be an advocate for the most vulnerable. Someone who is truly committed to serving and protecting everyone in our community–not just the people who look like and think like him. In order to do that, it requires a leader who can truly empathize with people of diverse backgrounds.
Appendix G: Our Post Following Appearance of “Fire J—-” Signs
***Public Statement from The Democratic Women of McDonough County***
POSTED TO FACEBOOK: June 10th, 2019
RE: Calls for removal of our local University President
As members of the Democratic Women of McDonough County, our allyship on this issue is with our members, colleagues, friends, and family members in the black community here.
We used appropriate tactics directed at those with the power in Springfield to hold accountable ALL those in local university leadership responsible for our university’s problems, not just one person.
Our petition, public events, trips to lobby in Springfield, letters, emails, and phone calls properly called for ALL new leadership on the BOT. We have also repeatedly, openly called for replacing ALL those who violated the Open Meetings Act while in leadership roles at our local university.
We also called for ALL of those responsible for harming the institution, its people, programs, reputation, and community to be placed under new leadership, with a new BOT. And it worked. We have a new BOT.
That was the right way to do things.
The tactics being employed now in this community by “suddenly angry” (but previously silent) white people against a black man are racist.
Because our previous work using the appropriate, responsible processes and tactics are already yielding the desired result, new oversight, this issue isn’t at all whether or not the target of their sudden anger deserves to stay or go.
Indeed, many of us concerned about the current situation were harmed as well by the failures of many of the responsible University administrators, community leaders, and our State Senator and State Representative. They remained silent and complicit as all the cuts were made, year after year.
Our State Rep and Senator never put forth legislation to get our local institution supplemental funds, for YEARS. Yet there are no signs saying “Fire Norine” or “Fire Jil”, even though the need for funding will still be there and remain unmet because they STILL refuse to do their jobs as our legislators.
Similarly, we do not stand with ANY member of the previous BOT nor the previous higher administration, most of whom were allowed to move on with no consequences for their destructive decisions.
Of those who remain from the previous administration, this recent wave of attacks has only targeted the black person instead of all those responsible. THAT is what makes this blatantly racist. There’s still another white V.P., for example, who was caught violating the Open Meetings Act and subsequently directed the destruction of evidence.
Our issue is with the timing, the targeting, and the tactics being employed suddenly in the past month by white people that single out ONLY the black person involved, but not all the white people who are ALSO responsible. That makes these tactics racist, whether or not they meant it that way.
What else could possibly be motivating those who never bothered to speak up against anyone else as hundreds of members of our community were losing their jobs, their homes, their financial stability, their benefits, their healthcare?
This is why this situation is traumatizing for members of our black community who have also been harmed by the actions, complicity, or inaction of many of these people. If the tactics are racist, it doesn’t matter the intent. Racist tactics, no matter how we feel about the target, are always wrong.
We are all rightly frustrated by the situation at our local university. But those who jump on this bandwagon led by people who have never before spoken up only validate their racist tactics.
End the racist tactics harming our community and our reputation.
Let the BOT do their job.
Appendix H: August 2019 News Release
Democratic Women of McDonough County
Heather Marie McMeekan, President
Racial & Restorative Justice Requires Discomfort
MACOMB, ILLINOIS – Nearly two months after a group of white business owners publicly displayed and/or distributed signs which were condemned by the black community and allies as racist, we appreciate that Mayor Mike Inman has officially spoken on the issue in a recent op-ed to the Voice.
It would be hard for anyone who has not been closely following the events in Macomb surrounding the signs to understand the context of the Mayor’s letter or what may have caused this sudden concern for “race relations and inclusivity”, as he writes. The mayor calls for “healing,” “dialogue,” and “making amends.” An uninformed reader might ask, “about what?”
Nowhere in the article does he mention the direct cause the current tensions: namely, these business owners publicly shaming one of the most prominent black figures in Macomb.
The vagueness of the letter tries to soften some hard truths. There hasn’t been an organic “coming together of individuals” – there have been selective conversations. It’s important to build an inclusive community, but “all individuals” were not targeted by the signs – a black man was. Making amends behind closed doors “without shame or blame” is a weak substitute for addressing a racial injustice that took place very publicly.
Many black people in Macomb have already made their voices heard as individuals and through allied organizations. They shouldn’t be expected to sit through a session and explain to these wealthy white people why the signs were racist. Neither should we pretend racist “feelings and beliefs” have equal legitimacy to the real trauma and fears expressed by the black community.
While it’s a start to provide a safe, non-challenging space to help white people learn the basics of how not to be racist, diversity training isn’t enough. Restorative justice for harm done to our Black community, even when the harm was inflicted unintentionally, is needed. That means strengthening public institutions in our community, like the Equal Opportunity and Fair Housing Commission, that are tasked with addressing issues of racism and discrimination and providing concrete solutions.
We live in a time of explicit and violent racism from the Presidency on down. There can be no “tolerable” level of racism in a healthy, vibrant community. There is explicit racism, there is anti-racism, and what is in between is the “tolerable” racism which white people can choose to ignore. That space is white privilege.
To act publicly in a racist manner and then have one’s white elected officials offer private, gentle, protected, optional penance as ‘coming together’—with no accountability or acknowledgement of harm done—epitomizes white privilege.
Restorative justice would be the Mayor explicitly condemning the signs as racist, and those business owners issuing a public apology for harm done, then taking explicit, transparent actions to hire, employ, and welcome black people as employees, customers, and clientele.
The Democratic Women of McDonough County
The Democratic Women of McDonough County is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization focusing on increasing the participation of women in all levels of politics.
Appendix I: Our Letter To The Macomb City Council Following the Chronicle Article
Heather McMeekan, President
Democratic Women of McDonough County
November 4, 2019
Tonight I am speaking on behalf of the over 115 members of the Democratic Women of McDonough County in response to the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Fear of a Black Campus,” by Jack Stripling, dated November 1, 2019. Source: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/20191101-Western-Race?cid=wsinglestory_hp_1
The entire article about our community was profoundly distressing, embarrassing, and consistent with the experiences of members of our organization, campus, and community. It shows a community that has chosen to ignore these issues for far too long. However, we wish to address specifically the abhorrent behavior described in the article by unknown person or person(s) in a “red truck” targeting some members of our community for behavior ranging from verbal harassment to explicit threats.
I personally witnessed a truck with that description displaying flags consistent with the White Supremacist movement in the Aldi’s parking lot in February of 2018. I have sent that photo to the Office of Public Safety Director Derek Watts and WIU’s President, Dr. Martin Abraham.
Our organization has members who have students, friends, or family members who have reported to us having had similar experiences with a truck matching that description. We have also had community members reach out to our organization over the past year with similar accounts, which we always encourage all to report to the police. However, in every single case, those reporting such incidents to us also have reported lack of trust in the police to properly investigate such incidents without retaliation against those making the complaint. Therefore, this behavior targets those already perceived as being marginalized and who also express the belief or perception they aren’t safe from our own police.
This perception has permitted this behavior to go unchecked, continuing to harm untold other victims, and appears to be escalating. Therefore, we, the Democratic Women of McDonough County, call on our City Leaders to respond to these concerns in a written response to the following requests as we urgently call on our city to:
- Open an investigation into the Red Truck sitings
- Issue a Proclamation declaring Macomb an open and welcoming city for all, AND
condemning all acts of bigotry and intolerance, AND
calling on ALL city and county boards, commissions, and committees to issue the same or sign on
- Encourage all City Council members to canvass their wards at least annually so they are regularly directly informed about the conditions in the city as experienced by those they represent
- Provide at least two method(s) of outreach to communicate, educate, and inform. Some examples City Council members in other communities provide include holding Town Halls, Coffee Conversations, online reporting forms, newsletters, FB pages, letters to the editor of the paper, etc.
- Put an online reporting form for such concerns on the city website
- Solicit information from the public about other possible sightings/experiences, ensuring a transparent reporting process to help community members feel safe when making such reports
- Fix the broken link for the “complaint reporting form” on the Macomb Police Department website, which has remained broken for many months
- Annually solicit data about the public perception regarding the culture and functioning of the leadership and members of the Macomb Police Department
- Publish an annual report detailing how such information informs police department leadership, hiring, training, advancement, and functioning
- Place that information on the city website, linked to a web form for solicitation of feedback from the community
- Update the city website listing for the “Police and Fire Commission” to include:
- Dates, times of meetings
- Contact info for all members
- A description of the purpose, scope, and function of the commission
- Links to all relevant governing documents and policies
- Creation of a web form for all to submit a complaint/concern to the commission’s members
- List the process for how to get on the agenda of the meeting
Finally, we wish to speak directly to the alleged perpetrators of such cowardly, disgusting acts of hatred and bigotry. Such behavior is unacceptable in society and will NOT be tolerated in this community. You are to cease such behavior immediately or be prepared for public consequences, up to and including the highest possible legal consequences for such morally indefensible behavior.
We request a formal, written response to each of our points of concern, and to address these requests with due urgency and transparency.
Heather McMeekan, President
Democratic Women of McDonough County