Scott Tibbs
Published in Hoosier Review, 10-08-2002

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Monroe County politics neither "safe" nor "civil"

Can Monroe County politics be rescued from the incivility, physical intimidation, and terrorism that have characterized local public discourse for the last few years?

Things have seemed to go downhill since January of 2000, when the Earth Liberation front made its presence known locally with the arson of a home under construction near Lake Monroe. Later that year, the ELF would endanger the lives of loggers by spiking trees, cause at least $75,000 worth of damage by sabotaging construction equipment, and attempt to burn down Monroe County Republican Party headquarters in a protest against Interstate 69.

In 2001, several "Critical Mass" activists were arrested after they blocked traffic in downtown Bloomington and one of them assaulted a Bloomington police officer. In June, two individuals (including an IU Religious Studies professor and a current Democratic candidate for County Council) rushed the County Council bench after a bipartisan 5-2 majority voted to grant tax-free binds to a controversial west side apartment complex. In July of 2001, tree-sitters were removed from Browns' Woods, where they were occupying private property in an attempt to stop the complex from being built. Environmental "activists" also damaged the road leading into the woods by creating a man-made roadblock.

This past summer, the Animal Liberation Front set several bombs at a poultry distribution plant and eco-terrorists are suspected in an arson in which local businessman Steve Smith was personally targeted and his home, under construction at Pedigo Bay, was burned to the ground. On August 20th, local activists opposed to building a new-terrain I-69 highway shouted down people speaking in favor of the highway, and former Monroe County Commissioner Kirk White had to be escorted from the building for his own safety after highway opponents approached him and blocked his exit following his remarks in favor of the highway. At the same meeting, IU Law Professor Cathy Crosson launched a profanity-laced tirade against an INDOT official, daring him to have her arrested, when he refused to allow her to bring her sign into the meeting.

Not that these types of tactics are anything new. In October of 1997, environmentalists protesting logging brought a chainsaw into the Bloomington office of U.S. Representative John N. Hostettler and ran it in the doorway, forcing two staffers and an intern to leave the office while the smoke dissipated. In the same week, a protest by Concerned Women for America in Bloomington was met with counter protesters, who took and ripped up CWA signs. One of the protesters screamed "F--- your prayer!" into the ear of a CWA supporter when the prayer to open the event was to begin.

It's clear that the tone of political discourse in Monroe County has damaged the attempt to define Bloomington as a "safe and civil" city, and many residents of Monroe County are growing weary of the tactics of intimidation being used to make political points. When someone who rushes the bench at a public meeting is taken seriously as a candidate, one wonders if those who loudly condemn acts of terrorism can be taken seriously when they make those proclamations. When elected officials downplay the near-riot that took place when the Council voted to approve the Canturbury bonds and defend the participants in that near-riot, one wonders exactly where they draw the line on illegal activity as political activism.

We have yet to see opponents of the I-69 highway make a public denunciation of the tactics that resulted in Kirk White being escorted from a public meeting from his own safety. In fact, some highway opponents have defended the indefensible actions at that meeting, questioning whether White was actually in danger and instead attempting to change the focus to the tactics used by INDOT and law enforcement at the meeting to ensure the situation did not get out of control and become more violent that it was.

This community must make it clear that physical intimidation, borderline terrorism and outright terrorism will not be tolerated in Monroe County. Law enforcement must make every effort to show that such actions will not be tolerated, and must not hesitate to arrest and prosecute those who think intimidation is a legitimate political tool. Monroe County cannot afford to wait any longer to make it clear that we expect more from our public discourse than we have seen recently.