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Noon Edition

Freedom Of Speech And Safety At The Bloomington Community Farmers' Market

Bloomington farmers market

The city cited concern for public safety as the reason for the suspension. (WFIU/WTIU News)

Noon Edition airs on Fridays at noon on WFIU.

City officials announced Monday the Bloomington Community Farmers’ market would be suspended for two weeks. The announcement comes after protests and an arrest Saturday at the market over vendors with alleged ties to white supremacist groups.

The city cited concern for public safety as the reason for the suspension.

In the past couple months, people called for the removal of Sarah Dye and Doug Mackey from the market. The two reportedly have ties to white supremacist, Nolan Brewer. Brewer was sentenced to prison for vandalizing a synagogue. He told FBI agents he that before he committed the crime, he’d been in contact with a likeminded couple, Mackey and Dye.

The couple run Schooner Creek Farms in Brown County and have sold at the Bloomington Market since 2012.

Mayor John Hamilton says the city condemns white supremacist beliefs, but can’t ban the vendors without infringing on their First Amendment rights.

Concerned citizens appealed to the Farmer's Market Advisory Board and Parks Board to take action in June.

The city has hosted public forums considering legal implications, freedom of speech, and safety at the farmer’s market.

The protester arrested at the farmers’ market Saturday, Cara Caddoo, was taken to the Monroe County Jail and released without having to post bond.

Mayor Hamilton held a press conference about the farmers' market situation on Wednesday.

He didn't specify what the city's plans are, but encouraged citizens to forms groups and offer suggestions. He says the city will spendthe next two weeks looking for solutions and evaluating the best ways to keep people safe.

This week on Noon Edition, we’re talking about the recent issues at the city’s famers market and the questions it raises about free speech and safety in the public sphere.

You can follow us on Twitter @NoonEdition or join us on the air by calling in at 812-855-0811 or toll-free at 1-877-285-9348. You can also send us questions for the show at news@indianapublicmedia.org.

Our guests

Jim Sims, City Council At-Large

Elizabeth Mitchell, Bloomington Historian

Steve Sanders, Associate Professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law

Marcia Veldman, Farmers' Market Coordinator

Conversation

Veldman says the market’s goal is to serve small farmers and customers as a gathering place and community venue. The situation and concerns for public safety were escalating, and the city is working to address these issues while the market is suspended.

“For a market of this size, it’s pretty unusual in that is has been open to new farmers each and every year for its entire existence… What we can do is manage the market under the structures that are available and someone looking intimidating isn’t something you can arrest someone for. What we can do is if they’re blocking a stand is ask them to move. That was the case with the group that showed up in black masks is that when we asked them to move, they did move. That’s how we can manage the market.”

Farmers have been impacted by the recent closing, searching for a new place to sell their goods while the market is closed.

Mitchell says the market has brought to light that while Bloomington prides itself on being a progressive and welcoming community, there is a history of racism in Indiana that can’t be ignored.

“We have to be proud that we’ve made strides, that we’ve done better. Can we do better? Absolutely.”

She also says that she went and talked to Schooner Creek Farm at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market.

“My goal was to get my own assessment of what (the vendor) was like,” Mitchell says. “We were respectful to one another. What was interesting to me was when I left her booth, the people running up to me. I was unaware of so many people watching and even a city councilman and other booth vendors and go, ‘you talked to her?’”

Mitchell says that though she was not intimidated by the situation, she can see how some of the groups protesting could appear threatening to people at the market.

Sims says recent issues at the market have caused greater concerns of safety in the larger community.

“We talk about the market, and the vendor, and the protesters, and ANTIFA, and The Three Percenters and all of this, this is a much broader issue, much larger issue.”

He says his place of worship has been concerned with safety since the controversy at the market has grown.

“White supremacist groups, when the violence comes, doubtfully will it be any of the white patrons that will be affected, there could be,” Sims says. “But the real damage that is going to come is at one of the historical black churches, one of the Muslim mosques, one on the synagogues. Those are the targets of white supremacists, white nationalists and Neo Nazis, I want to be clear on that. It’s not the fact that it’s Schooner Creek Farm there, that is important, but what is the over arcing effect particularly to those of us that have been persecuted, harmed, murdered and disenfranchised most of the history of America.”

Sims says that as a member of many social equity groups, he is opposed to white supremacists being present at the market, but as a city council person he doesn’t advocate for putting the city in liability’s way.

“That would be very costly and I don’t think it’s an argument we could win,” Sims says.

Sanders says the city is not allowed to ban Schooner Creek Farm or any vendor for beliefs or affiliations.

“The machinery of government cannot be used to punish someone because of the thoughts that are in their head or the opinions that they have expressed in writing or the people they choose to associate with,” he says. “…I think it’s useful to remember this doctrine was forged in cases in the 1950s when states like Alabama tried to harass the NAACP out of existence and get its membership records and criminalize its activities. It was forged in cases where the postmaster tried to refuse to send pro-gay literature through the mail in the 1950s. It may be cathartic to say we need to kick this person out, but the law as it is right now makes that a completely reckless choice for the following reasons; to a moral certainty the city would lose that case, it would be subject to an injunction to restore the vendor. It might be subject to damages, and federal civil right law means if you win a civil rights case like a First Amendment case, the government has to pay your attorney’s fees. So do we really want to be in the situation where we pay this vendor damages and maybe five or six figures of attorney’s fees out of the city coffers. So I think those are the issues we need to talk about.”

Sanders says other countries have outlawed certain beliefs, but that is not the system in the United States.

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