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Police State Targeted by New Year’s Eve Demos

by STEVEN HIGGS

If mainstream media reports on a New Year’s Eve demonstration in downtown Bloomington, Indiana are given any credibility, the only crimes committed that evening were perpetrated by a couple protesters, and the city’s lightweight mayor may take away Occupy Bloomington’s tents for their indiscretions.

But mainstream media reports on social justice issues, especially on the police, have little to no credibility. By institutional design, they are propaganda for the economic elite, managed by law enforcement to shock the masses (and produce profits for media companies). The real news from Bloomington is that the “noise demo” that took place along its streets as the year turned was part of a coordinated, ongoing, global struggle against the corporate police state.

“Noise demos outside of prisons in some countries are a continuing tradition, a way of expressing solidarity for people imprisoned during the New Year, remembering those held captive by the state,” said a nationwide call for the New Year’s Eve actions posted on websites like 325.

Before the new year was 24 hours old, first-person accounts of noise demos from Sydney, Seattle, Chicago, Portland, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, New York and Baltimore, as well as Bloomington, had been posted on the Anarchist news dot org website.

The Bloomington account began, “Saturday night, around 50 people gathered at the Occupy Bloomington camp in People’s Park for a roving dance party and noise demonstration outside the Monroe County jail. The party left the park just before 11 p.m., heading west on Kirkwood Avenue toward the square.”

The mood, it said, was festive, as street dancers traded greetings of ‘Happy New Year!’ with other revelers on the sidewalks, in cars and in windows overlooking the square. Followed all the while by the police, the march arrived at the jail at around 11:30 p.m., where the dancing continued, and squad cars sealed off the streets.

“One comrade read a statement through a megaphone expressing solidarity with those people locked inside the jail and against this prison society,” the account continued. “It was inspiring to hear pounding on the windows from the inside as we cheered from the outside. Just before midnight a banner that read ‘Break Your Chains’ was dropped from the Hilton hotel across the street from the jail.”

***

The New Year’s Eve noise demo in Bloomington was at least the third such action in the city since summer 2011. One was held in October, as a court-ordered limit on the jail’s prisoner population was set to expire. Another was held August to show solidarity with striking prisoners in the Indiana Department of Correction. Occupy Bloomington marches all stop at the jail.

The Monroe County Jail, renamed Monroe County Correctional Center, was opened in 1986 with a maximum prisoner capacity of 126. By September 2008, the inmate population had reached 312, Monroe County Sheriff Jim Kennedy told The Bloomington Alternative at that time for an investigative reporting series called Going to Jail.

That series ran 10 months after an inmate sued the county over the inhumane and unconstitutional conditions caused by jail overcrowding. The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of inmate Trevor Richardson, was settled in December 2009. The federal court order set a “cap” of 278 prisoners in the facility.

As the agreement’s Oct. 1, 2011, expiration date arrived, the group Decarcerate Monroe County issued a news release inviting the public to a parade called “Get Loud: De-Crowd!” to recognize the settlement’s expiration, jail conditions and the impact that incarceration has on everyone in the community.

“The majority of people held at the Monroe County jail pose no threat to the community,” the release said. “On the contrary, the security of those incarcerated and their families is threatened because being in jail means losing your ability to work and care for your family.”

The Decarcerate release said county judges in September had begun allowing non-violent offenders to be released from jail without bond as a step to reduce the crowding.

The Herald-Times reported on Oct. 1, 2011, that the jail population was 243, still almost twice the design capacity. The article said Kennedy had written a letter asking federal-court approval of a one-year extension to the cap. It also announced the Get Loud: DeCrowd! March.

Searches on The Herald-Times Online produced no follow-up stories on either story angle.

***

The Bloomington New Year’s Eve demo proceeded from the jail “toward the newest hipster bar in town,” as tourists and revelers watched, the Bloomington Anarchist dot org account continued.

“Upon arriving at the hipster bar, our numbers swelled to well over 100 and maybe 150 as well-groomed partiers came out to dance and be seen in the street,” the post said. “While the whole scene was being closely monitored by over a dozen cops, it looked as if they were going to let the party ride out and fizzle on its own accord. But that’s not what happened.”

The crowd dropped back to about 50 as “last call” summoned the drinkers back inside, the account said. “Somewhere in the mix a bottle was broken on the sidewalk,” after which an officer jumped out of his car and tackled a protester, “punching him in the head as he lay helplessly below the much larger cop.”

Protester efforts to retrieve the man from custody were unsuccessful, which led to verbal confrontations between police and protesters, the account said. “More cops, including university cops, BPD and Monroe County, showed up. The march turned east on Kirkwood, as 15 cops or so followed on foot, ordering people out of the street.”

Two more protesters were arrested during the demo, which ended about 1:30 a.m. Prosecutors have charged one man with two felonies for the altercation with police. Charges against another were dropped. The third was charged with public intoxication.

Occupy Bloomington issued a statement on Jan. 3 saying the arrested men had no connection to the local group.

***

In August, Bloomington activists acted in solidarity with prisoners at Indiana state prisons, where similar conditions contribute to increased tensions, violence and rebellion, according to a post titled “Bloomington solidarity actions with prisoners in struggle” on the Rififi Bloomington website.

According to the post, Indiana state prisons were put on system-wide lockdown in July, using as a pretext “the stabbing of an Aryan Brother (a member of a prison gang that often acts in collusion with guards and administrators) in Pendleton.”

The real reason, the post says, was to prevent a “rebellion.”

At the end of July, prisoners in the Secure Housing Unit (SHU) at Indiana’s Wabash Valley Correctional Facility organized a protest against the shutdown and the inhumane conditions, which included no water for sanitation or cleansing. SHU’s are solitary-confinement prisons within prisons.

The strike caught the attention of national prison reform activists, who on Aug. 3 organized a national call-in day to support Wabash Valley prisoners, the Reififi post said. Fifteen Bloomington activists passed out fliers and covered the town in chalked messages to raise awareness of the prisoners’ protest.

In early August the SHU protest ended inconclusively. “Prisoners remain on lockdown, but the rebels win an improvement of conditions, including the restoration of water for sanitation and washing up,” the post said.

An Aug. 10 noise demo was held outside the Bloomington jail, “making a ruckus for Prisoner Justice Day,” the post said. “It’s dedicated to prisoners killed and tortured inside every prison, but especially the local jail and the Wabash Valley SHU.”

The lockdown ended in mid-August. A search for “Secure Housing Unit” on the H-T website produced no results.

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.

Steven Higgs is an environmental journalist and photographer living in Bloomington, Ind. He owns and operates Natural Bloomington: Ecotours and More. His new book A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana is scheduled for release by Indiana University Press on April 20, 2016.

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