The Bloomingtonian

Anger and paranoia in Seminary Park after police dismantle camp

December 10, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana: Police in an unmarked vehicle shines a light into Seminary Park Wednesday night around 10:35 p.m. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)
December 10, 2020; Bloomington, Indiana: Police in an unmarked vehicle shines a light into Seminary Park Wednesday night around 10:35 p.m. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/The Bloomingtonian)

I stopped by Seminary Friday morning to find community members experiencing homelessness are not only angry, but paranoid, and distrustful after the Mayor’s Office ordered the police to remove a tent Camp in the park Wednesday. Activists are planning a protest at the Monroe County Courthouse at 5 p.m.

The activists put out a list of demands yesterday, including:

“1. Immediate end of the war on unhoused camps in Bloomington.

2. Immediate diverting of the money that would have paid for November of the Wheeler (20k) to H4H (Houses for Homeless).

3. An approved location of where to set up camps for the unhoused in Bloomington that allows for getting back and forth to resources.”

When I arrived at the Park Friday a woman in a red Ford SUV with her window rolled down said over and over so people could hear it, “The Popo is coming, the Popo is coming.” She was driving through the Post Office parking lot.

A man standing in the park smirked after a woman asked, “What was she saying?!”

“She always does that,” he said.

You mean she comes here all the time, and says that to troll people, I asked the man, and he said, yes she does. He seemed more amused by it, but nobody was laughing.

As I began to approach a group of tents to see if anybody was going to attend tonight’s protest at the courthouse, I was stopped by a different man whose face is covered with tattoos.

“Why are you here again,” he demanded.

And he stepped in front of me.

“You’re starting to make me nervous,” he said.

 I explained I was in the park to do a follow up story, but he wasn’t interested. He was unaware of a protest being planned in the afternoon. Others were silent as he began to accost me verbally. If you’re not here to help us, then you need to leave, he said. You told me yesterday you’re a journalist, I know who you are.

He told me to go ask the government why they were doing this to the people in the park. For everything I said to try to explain the job of journalists, and that I was there to tell the stories of the people in the park, he had an answer.

“Go ask your TV station why you’re here,” he said. I tried to explain this isn’t a TV station but an online news site, but he talked over me. You’ve got that big camera, and your privilege, unless you’re homeless right now, you don’t know anything about the people here, you need to leave.

“We already know we’re being stereotyped,” he said, while indicating he had no use for a journalist in the park.

He then complained about the Bloomington Homeless Coalition and asked me why didn’t they give him a hotel room last night, when others got rooms. Then he said, Yeah, that’s what I thought, you don’t know why, get out of here!  

Last night after pulling a near all-nighter reporting the story, and uploading video to other news agencies, such as Getty Images, to which I contribute (I still haven’t had time to finish writing all the metadata to finish posting the work). I had gone back to the park, and there were several activists standing in the park, some of them in black hoodies.

I was well aware of the outrage in the community, and I haven’t had time to read all the comments, but heard I was accused of being both a right winger, and a left winger in the comments on the reporting.

Yesterday, I did see a photo of the belongings collected up by police piled up, but by the time I went to the storage location, the items were gone. The items the police had taken to Parks and Recreation were in the back of a truck at Seminary by then. Activists tried to find the owners of the tents, and other items to give them back. Meanwhile, the Herald-Times reported the Mayor’s Office gave the command to have the park emptied after Tuesday’s Parks and Recreation Board vote to not make a rule against daytime camping in public parks.

As I photographed the police clearing out the park, one officer said to me, he hopes he’s never homeless.

In the park Thursday night, a man who said he’s experiencing homelessness said some people had got their items back.

I asked if I could photograph him, and he agreed. He began to tell me his story. However, after a few minutes, a tall woman who was organizing hotel rooms for people in the park approached, and she made a comment about respecting his privacy. Then she started talking to the man as if I wasn’t there. He then said on second thought, he didn’t want to be photographed or have his story told right then. I was empty handed, so I left.

I went back to the park just after 10 p.m., and I observed two tents were set up behind the Pawn Shop, one person was reclining on the grass near College Avenue, and a man was sleeping on a park bench inside the park.

One man was trying to figure out what he’d go since the police took away the propane for his heater. He got into a vehicle with some activists who showed up briefly to check on people, and left.

Around 10:35 p.m. a single unmarked police car circled the park, and the officer inside the car shined a bright spotlight into the park, then left, and circled up around the park on second street. The light woke up the man who had been sleeping on the bench, who then stumbled off, after making a moaning sound, and found a spot on the grass, and fell back asleep covered in a heavy coat, but not a tent.

The 11 p.m. time came and went and those sleeping in and around the park were left undisturbed. However, all the tents that had been on park grounds the previous night were gone. Some people could be seen walking up and down nearby streets, a few would stop by to get a bottle of water from a case left in the park, but the area was quiet.

Friday afternoon, after being run out of the park, I sat in my car and noted the surroundings. There were four men playing some sort of dice game on the steps in the park. Two men sat nearby. There were three men sitting on one bench, and two men sitting on another. A man walked around the park covered with a blanket.

Up near where I’d encountered the angry man, two women sat on the steps, there were four tents pitched, and several including the man who became angry with me, journalists, the mayor, and the government were standing around.

The community continues with arguments and debate online in Facebook comments how to solve the issue of homelessness, meanwhile many of the community members experiencing homelessness who were in the park living in tents, are still there, but now they are hurt and angry, and want to know why the government is targeting them.

I don’t have the answer. And at this point I may not do another report in the park after today, I need to think about what good it would do. This isn’t about me, the man is right, I have a home, and I am thankful for that every day. But, I’ve done stories covering people in the United States of America experiencing homelessness since the 1990s, and the problem remains. This isn’t just a Bloomington issue, but a national issue, and it’s worse than ever. I’ll have coverage of the protest later today.

Mary Jane Hoene, who was displaced from the camp, said people in the park have nowhere to go, and they’d be right back there, and she told the truth.

As I left the park, I saw a man sitting on a park bench at 2nd and Walnut, and the only difference between then, and last night, was that he wasn’t sleeping.

The angry man has some valid points. But some things seem more like riddles these days.

***

Also, one other thing, I asked a man a few days ago how many people he thought were in the park because they’d lost housing during the pandemic, and he didn’t think anybody was there due to COVID. Soon the pandemic the evictions will begin, and millions of Americans are months behind on rent.

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