July 4th marks the 10 year anniversary of the racially motivated shooting of IU graduate student Won-Joon Yoon. His death was the culmination a days-long shooting spree carried out by 21-year-old former IU student and white supremacist Benjamin Smith. A year prior, Smith started dispensing racist pamphlets across Bloomington, prompting the formation of the group Bloomington United to counteract the leafleting. On July 4th, 1999 Smith went on a 3 day rampage across Illinois and Indiana that resulted in the shooting deaths Won-Joon Yoon, former Northwestern University men’s basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, and injuries to several others. Despite fears of more violence, Monroe County Sheriff, and then Bloomington police chief, Jim Kennedy said the city decided to hold the usual Independence Day festivities but with added protection.
“And we had significant law enforcement presence in the parade and along the parade route,” Kennedy said. “Subsequent to that time we had Picnic at the Pops and we had a law enforcement presence there as well, hopefully to detour him because with crowds of thousands that’s the best you can do.”
GLBT Student Support Services Coordinator and Bloomington United founding member Doug Bauder said he remembers hearing about Yoon’s shooting from then mayor John Fernandez minutes before the parade.
“Bloomington United marched in the parade and the mayor came to us as we were gathering and informed us of the shooting. He didn’t encourage us not to march but wanted us to be aware of what was happening,” Bauder said. “I remember being surrounded by police with their bullet proof vests and there were police on the roofs of the buildings along Walnut. It was just a surreal experience.”
Later that same day, Smith took his own life. Speaking on WFIU’s Noon Edition, both Kennedy and Bauder said Smith’s actions have not inspired any other hate crimes in the decade since and may have brought the community closer together.