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.


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.


Officers wear riot gear walking through a park in downtown St. Louis.
(Tom Gannam/AP)
December 01, 2014

Obama To Hold Meetings Today On Ferguson

After another day of mostly peaceful protests in Ferguson, Missouri, President Obama is scheduled to meet with civil rights leaders to discuss mistrust of police in communities of color.


St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch.
(AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cristina Fletes-Boutte, Pool)
November 25, 2014

Grand Jury Focused On Key Fatal Ferguson ‘Tussle”

Some witnesses called it a tussle. Others described it as a tug-of-war. Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson testified that they were fighting over his handgun.  


Protesters march during a rally near Chicago Police headquarters Monday night.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
November 24, 2014

Ferguson Protests In Illinois

Dozens of protesters outside Chicago Police Department's headquarters started marching as soon as they heard that a grand jury had decided not to indict a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed, black 18-year-old in August.  


Lesley McSpadden, the mother of Michael Brown reacts to the grand jury decision.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
November 24, 2014

Grand Jury Won’t Indict Ferguson Cop In Shooting

 President Barack Obama says he joins with Michael Brown's family in urging peaceful protests after a grand jury decided not to indict the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed the unarmed, black 18-year-old. 


October 31, 2014

What Is Marsy’s Law?

Illinois map with letters spelling Mary's Law for IllinoisAmong the items Illinois voters will be asked to weigh in on at the polls Tuesday is approving the Crime Victims Bill of Rights.

This amendment to the state's Constitution will add two components to an existing list of rights of a victim of violent crime: That victim safety be considered as part of release decisions and that victims' privacy be reinforced when it comes to personal records--like diaries.

Illinois Public Media's Hannah Meisel spoke with Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of Marsy's Law for Illinois. In 1990, Bishop-Jenkins' sister and brother-in-law were murdered, along with her sister's unborn child. She says Marsy's Law will add protections for victims that exist in many other states.

The amendment passed the Illinois House and Senate with very little opposition in the Spring. Bishop-Jenkins says those who oppose the law mistakenly think that adding rights for victims of a crime would take away rights of the accused.

"They have expressed concern that there is a zero-sum game, if you will, between victims' rights and the rights of the accused," she said. "That's just wrong."


Marchers protest in Ferguson, Missouri.
AP Photo
October 03, 2014

Beyond Ferguson, Part 2: A WILL-AM 580 Special

Last month, host Janice Marie Collins, a University of Illinois journalism professor, began a conversation about some of the questions raised by the shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.  That conversation continued Friday, Oct. 3, with a live special focusing on what comes next and the search for solutions.


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