Screenshot from a video showing a car driving in the middle of a student rally at Centennial High School on Thursday.
December 05, 2014

Motorist Drives Through Centennial Student Protest; No Charges In Altercation

student protest outside of Champaign Centennial High SchoolIt’s still not clear what led to yesterday’s altercation between a driver and students outside of Champaign’s Centennial High School. A student protest against the killings of black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner by white police officers ended when a woman drove her car into the center of the rally. 

The rally began taking shape early Thursday morning, when a group of students and teachers started organizing a "die-in." That’s when protesters drop to the ground at the exact same moment, in this case holding signs with phrases that read, “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “black lives matter.”

150 or so students thudded to the ground in the school's main lobby in the passing period before the last class of the day.

Students remained immobile for 15 and a half minutes — 11 to represent the 11 times New York man Eric Garner told a white police officer that he couldn't breathe as he was held in a choke hold before dying, and another 4.5 for the number of hours Michael Brown's body lay in the street after being shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Centennial principal Greg Johnson says after the students found that news media was outside the school, they asked to march outside, and administrators approved. 

"They went outside to protest and ... it was about 20 minutes of peaceful protest continued outside, with students doing some chants, and  being together, crying, holding each other," he said. "It was really a nice moment for Centennial at that point. But unfortunately, a large number of students began to march south and there was a car coming up north and there was an altercation between the students and that car that was brief but incredibly unfortunate."

Here's a video of that altercation. 

In a video obtained by WILL students' chants turn to screams as a car rolls through a group of students at low speed. In the video, one student is seen hitting the car's driver's side window. No injuries were reported, but a student — or group of students — allegedly hit the windshield, causing it to partially shatter.

Champaign Police Lieutenant Bob Rea recounted the incident to WILL, from a report from an officer at the scene.

“The car that sustained the broken windshield, was, in the officer's words, idling through the crowd and the crowd starting smacking on the windshield and one individual busted through the windshield out with it looks like their fist," he said.

Rea says the department is investigating the incident to determine which individuals are responsible, but no charges had been filed as of last night. Rea says the driver was just trying to get through the street and was not ticketed.

But some students tell a different story. They say the driver motored through the crowd while giving them the middle finger.  

One student who participated in the rally reached out to Patricia Avery, president of the Champaign County Branch of the NAACP. Avery says she was disturbed by the student’s description of the driver's behavior — though she says she can’t know that driver’s intent. And she says the incident comes at a moment when racial tensions are high. 

"When you have this kind of behavior coming from a citizen against a group of students, you're sticking your finger up at a group of kids? I don't know what that is," she said.

Police and the school principal say they have no proof that the driver flipped off the students.  And neither the school nor the police are assigning intent to the driver.

Principal Johnson says he's proud of how students conducted themselves, and says Thursday's incident was a lesson Centennial students could never have learned out of a book.


Screenshot from a video showing a car driving in the middle of a student rally at Centennial High School on Thursday.
December 04, 2014

Car Drives Through Student Protest At Centennial High School

Screenshot from a video showing a car driving in the middle of a student rally at Centennial High School on ThursdayChampaign police are investigating an incident at Centennial High School in Champaign on Thursday afternoon. Greg Johnson, Centennial's principal, says a motorist drove into a crowd of students who were holding a rally in the street outside the high school to protest the grand jury decisions in the police shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. 

Students held a "die-in" this afternoon at the school before the rally. Johnson says students were peaceful and organized with his permission. He says students went outside to chant for the news media when a car drove into the rally.

In a video obtained by WILL, chants of "Black lives matter" turn into screams as the car rolls into the crowd marching south on Crescent Drive in front of Centennial. Champaign Police Lt. Bob Rea says no one was ticketed or charged and no one appears to be injured. Rea says the driver's windshield appears to have been damaged or broken. Police are still investigating and no offical report was available.

Johnson says there was an "altercation" between students and the motorist. One Centennial student at the march said the driver waved the middle finger at students. Johnson says he heard similar reports, but could not verify it. The motorist asked to speak with police, and Johnson says the district obliged, and Champaign Police were dispatched, in addition to the school's in-house officer, who was already at the school.

Click here for the video of the altercation. (Warning: Video may contain material disturbing for viewers)


Illinois Senate President John Cullerton on Senate floor Thursday.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
December 04, 2014

Senate Adjourns Veto Session

Illinois' Senate president says it's unlikely the chamber will return to work before a new General Assembly is sworn in next year.


Cleveland police deputy chief Ed Tomba on November 26.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
December 04, 2014

US: Cleveland Police Poorly Trained, Reckless

The U.S. Justice Department says Cleveland police officers use excessive and unnecessary force far too often, are poorly trained and endanger the public with their recklessness.


Senator Kimberly Lightford prepares to speak with reporters about raising the minimum wage on November 19th.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
December 04, 2014

Illinois Senate Passes Minimum Wage Bill

The Illinois Senate has passed legislation that would raise the state's minimum wage, but it happened after the House adjourned Wednesday.


Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree speaks with a lecture attendee Wednesday at the U of I.
Hannah Meisel/WILL
December 03, 2014

Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree Talks Racial Injustice In America

Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree speaks with a lecture attendee Wednesday at the U of IThe deaths this summer of two African American men at the hands of white police officers again brought racial tension to the national spotlight; The death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson resulted in a decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson last month, and on Wednesday, a grand jury in New York decided to not charge NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

Protests and rallies nationwide aim to drive home the same point: Racial inequality is alive and well, and exacerbated by the American justice system.

Illinois Public Media's Hannah Meisel spoke with race relations expert and Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree about where the country goes from here.

Ogletree was on campus Wednesday, where he led a talk sponsored by the University of Illinois' African American Studies Department.

The professor told his own anecdotes of being racially profiled, saying that despite his success in life, he's still subjected to being pulled over under suspicious circumstances, or looked at with a presumption of guilt.


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