MACOMB — The LGBTQ community of this city in far Western Illinois is asking for an apology and explanation from police chief Curt Barker about comments he made at a recent meeting.
According to local residents, there has been an uptick in racist incidents in the area. In an open letter, Democratic Women of McDonough County (DWMC) President Heather McMeekan said she had seen a truck “displaying flags consistent with the White Supremacist movement in the Aldi’s parking lot in February of 2018.” McMeekan said a “red truck” targeting some members of the community for behavior ranging from verbal harassment to explicit threats had been reported by Western Illinois University students, families and friends.
In response, the city has been holding training session on how to deal nonviolently with the incidents. According to local resident Candace Whitman, whose affidavit was shared on the Macomb Pridefest page, police chief Barker had said that he was happy to report that everyone in his small department had to think back 25 years to remember when they were disrespected and “how great of a place it is to live in Macomb.” Both Whitman and McMeekan have said that many people don’t feel safe in reporting the recent incidents to the police.
In her affidavit, Whitman said that she approached Barker after the meeting to say she felt his statement dismissed the concerns and experiences of people. She said he approached him politely and he agreed to listen. However, he reportedly said he was talking only about his small group and “that people just need to learn how to move on with their lives.”
When Whitman said that people were dealing with these issues on a daily basis now, Barker reportedly started to compare being a cop to other types of discrimination. When challenged about the differences in race and job, he kept trying to pivot and deny there was an overarching problem. At one point, when Whitman tried to talk about the impact on children and rates of LGBTQ suicide, Barker’s response was “Is it higher than the suicide rate for police?”
According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are five times as likely to have attempted suicide as hetero youth. At least 40% of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide. Police, on the other hand, have a rate of 17 per 100,000. The general population has a rate of 13 per 100,000.
This is also happening as community members worry about a growing evangelical church with what they fear are anti-LGBTQ opinions.
The DWMC and Macomb Pridefest have asked for an apology from the chief and an explanation from the city. The DWMC has also published a white paper on their website, outlining actions community members can do, what they’d like the city to do and statements from marginalized people in the community.