Illinois Public Media News
A Champaign police officer who fired the gun that killed a 15 year old boy last October will not face criminal charges.
State's Attorney Julia Rietz has decided that Officer Duane Norbits fired his weapon accidentally when Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed outside a Vine Street home.
Witnesses had called police saying Carrington and another teen were trying to get into the house, which Carrington had visited in the past at the invitation of a family friend who lived there.
In her 13-page summary of the state police report, Rietz says there was no evidence that Officer Norbits intended to fire his Glock 45 - she says the report concluded that it went off while Norbits was struggling with Carrington with his weapon drawn. Rietz says because the shooting was accidental, there would be no reason to analyze whether the shooting was justifiable under use-of-force policies.
Illinois's two Democratic senators are reacting warily to President Obama's plans for future military involvement in Afghanistan.
Senior senator Dick Durbin issued a terse two-sentence statement saying while the president asked for more time to formulate his plan, he'll take time to respond later.
The state's other senator, Roland Burris, said while he supports the ultimate goal of transferring the responsibility of stability to Afghan forces, he worries how elevated troop levels will affect any future exit strategy.
15th district Republican congressman Tim Johnson was more direct in his response - he says the US should do the reverse and pull troops out of Afghanistan, questioning the wisdom of the war.
As word spread of President Obama's plans to send an additional 30-thousand troops, demonstrations lined the streets in several cities, calling for an end to the 8-year occupation there.
About 30 University of Illinois students and other Champaign-Urbana residents took to the corners of Green and Wright streets, staging brief 'die-ins' every time the stoplight turned red and the intersection was clear.
Groups like the Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort and International Socialist Organization say the President has appeared to change his tone about Afghanistan since running an anti-war campaign last year. Protester Karen Medina says Obama's strategy won't begin to help build a government for the Afghan people:
"A lot of people say we're there to promote democracy, and democracy has never been promoted by another country being militarily present," Medina said. "If you really are doing what you're saying you're doing, then either you're lying about wanting democracy there or you're doing it the wrong way."
The groups cite a CNN poll saying that 57% of Americans oppose the war in Afghanistan, while Western-run polls show about 75% of Afghans favor negotiations among themselves.
About 70 similar protests were scheduled across the country yesterday.
The Champaign police officer involved in the October shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington has continued to do some work for the department --- despite being on paid administrative leave.
Officer Daniel Norbits was placed on leave after Carrington was killed by a shot from his gun during a confrontation that also involved another youth and Champaign Police Chief R-T Finney. But at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, City Manager Steve Carter says Norbits has continued to do some office work for Champaign Police.
"He's been in and out of the department, over time", says Carter, "and he has helped out in what would be considered some light-duty work ---some inventory work, civilian clothes, non-public contact --- a little bit. But his work on those projects has been completed, and he'll continue to be on administrative leave, until at least after the state's attorney makes her decision. And then it'll be evaluated as we go along, in terms of what his status it."
Carter's disclosure came after Martell Miller and Brian Dolinar asked city officials to comment on rumors they had heard of Norbits being back at work.
An investigation of the Carrington shooting --- led by Illinois State Police --- was completed nearly three weeks ago and handed over to Champaign County State's Attorney Julie Rietz. Rietz has said she will not release the report until after reviewing it completely.
Once again, the Champaign City Council chamber was filled to capacity Tuesday night, with people concerned about police practices in the wake of the shooting death of Kiwane Carrington. This time, the topic was the department's new Use of Force policy, which took effect just before the 15 year old Carrington was shot in a police confrontation.
In his first public comments since his involvement in the confrontation in which Carrington was shot, Police Chief R-T Finney defended the policy, which he says was revised as part of his efforts to earn professional accreditation for the police department. He argued against remarks from police critics, who said that African-Americans were subject to more use of force by Champaign Police than white residents.
"The use of force is based on reasonableness," said Finney. "It's based on the actions that are presented to the officer. We review each one of them for that. It has nothing to do with race."
In contrast to two previous council meetings, police officers and supporters turned out in large numbers at Tuesday night's study session. Many wore buttons that said "Support Our Police". Albert Lo defended the Use of Force policy against critics who said it needed to be more specific.
"The Use of Force policy probably should be ambiguous," said Lo, "giving officers the opportunity to use their best judgment. That's why we hired them."
In contrast, 1st District Councilman Will Kyles said he thought the revised Use of Force policy might be too vague. For instance, he called for more specific guidelines on when officers can draw their gun.
Champaign Police officials say the revised policy allows deadly force only in cases where great bodily harm has or may occur. And they say the guidelines for Tasers are for when the department may call in another law enforce agency that uses Tasers --- Champaign does not. Chief Finney has talked about reviving the idea, but would not comment on the idea last night.
C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice was among those arguing Tuesday night for more specific language in the Use of Force policy, and against any language on Tasers. They also want any changes in police policy that directly affects affecting the community to come before the Champaign City Council. The group plans a noon-hour youth rally on Wednesday, Veterans Day, at the downtown Urbana Veterans Memorial, in memory of Kiwane Carrington.
The Champaign school Consent Decree is now history. A federal judge in Peoria Wednesday accepted a settlement agreement between the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs in the racial equity case, and formally terminated the decree --- ending seven years of court supervision.
In his Opinion and Order, Judge Joe Billy McDade wrote that the Unit Four school district and the plaintiffs had worked to produce "seven years of transformative progress toward a race-neutral educational environment that is most likely to continue after the Consent Decree ends". Unit Four spokeswoman Beth Shepperd says they look forward to more progress toward racial equity.
Yes, the Consent Decree is over", says Shepperd. "But we have learned so much and gained so many tools to make student successful, that we feel that we are at the beginning of just incredibly great things for our schools."
The attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Carol Ashley, says while they wish more progress had been made already, the Champaign school district has come a long way in its understanding of the needs of African-American students.
"The settlement and the lawsuit came because the (school) board had turned a deaf ear for many years about minority complaints", says Ashley. "So, when you look at the state of affairs, you can say, at least there's progress in the administration's understanding of issues."
Ashley says there have been concrete accomplishments as well. She says Unit Four now has more African-American administrators and teachers than it did when the Consent Decree began. She says its methods of assigning students to schools is more fair and equitable. And she cites plans to expand and rebuild two schools in predominantly black neighborhoods as part of the gains made under the Consent Decree.
With the Consent Decree now lifted, the Unit Four district stands to save somewhere around 2 million dollars as year in legal and consulting fees it had paid to support the court supervision.
And as part of its settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Unit Four school district is creating an Education Equity Excellence Committee --- to advise the district on racial equity issues now that the Consent Decree has been lifted. Unit Four's Beth Shepperd says they received 27 applications from community members to serve on the panel, and Superintendent Arthur Culver will make his recommendations from that list later this month.
Protecting gay, lesbian and transgender students at school was the topic of a forum that drew over 300 people to Parkland College in Champaign last night.
A panel of teachers, school administrators, counselors and students discussed the impact of anti-gay bullying, and efforts --- both successful and unsuccessful --- to deal with it.
Panelist and teacher Stacy Gross helped found the Gay-Straight Alliance student group at Champaign's Centennial High School. She says the group struggled to win official school recognition --- and that its first promotional flyers were quickly torn down by opponents.
"Ultimately though, GSA just wove itself into the fabric of our school", said Gross. "And it became a normally accepted club. Now our flyers stay up way too long and we have to really make an effort to take them down."
Gross says she was inspired to act after mentoring a student who faced anti-gay harassment at Centennial. She says she still often hears anti-gay remarks from students, and notices teachers allowing them to go unanswered.
"Kendall J", one of the students on the panel, says he's openly gay at his high school, and also the senior class president. Still, he says he and his boyfriend were physically attacked by other students when they attended prom together. Other students came to their defense. To this day, Kendall says "I still endure ridiculous judgments and hateful glances by those who don't approve of my 'chosen lifestyle'. And I still hear how 'that's gay' and that comment is 'no homo' or how that guy in the tight shirt is a faggot. All these are reasons to make school safer for everyone". (None of the students on the panel gave their full names or identified their schools).
Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch opened the discussion by calling on the audience of educators, students and parents to check up on what their schools do to keep students safe, whatever their sexual identity.
"Make a point to check whether your anti-bullying policies include protection for youth on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity", said Koch. Make a point to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the policies, and are trained on how to enforce them".
Last night's forum was sponsored by the East Central Illinois Safe Schools Alliance, part of a statewide Safe Schools Alliance which has held similar forums in Peoria and Bloomington-Normal.
This week's Champaign city council meeting brought out angry calls among adults for a police chief's resignation and for reviews of police policy. With emotions still strong, a subdued crowd of local youth last night looked for greater lines of communication following the police shooting death of Kiwane Carrington.
Aaron Ammons of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice led about 100 people in a chant of "no more stolen lives" as they marched towards the rally at the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club. But more than 200 would eventually file into the gym, mostly African-American youth, where they would bring their remembrances of 15-year old Kiwane Carrington, who died two weeks ago today.
Youth Media Workshop co-director Will Paterson served as facilitator of the 90-minute forum. He says while young people are concerned, angry, and afraid about what happened... they aren't disrespectful.
"You need to respect the police officers and not back-talking to them -- and these were young people saying that, not adults," Paterson said. "They were saying that to each other. They called for better representation in terms of people hearing their concerns, but they were also talking about respecting authority."
16-year old Lavon Miller was a friend of Carrington's. He says lot of hurt remains, but wants to let the investigation of the October 9th shooting death play itself out. "Young black men going out here, starting trouble and revenge and starting even more problem -- that's a concern for me. Let the law take in in their hands," Miller said.
Aaron Ammons says the event was about young people being part of the solution and not the problem.
Comments to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night about the shooting of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington included the charge that police policy may have authorized the shooting.
Kiwane Carrington was unarmed and attempting to flee when he was shot to death in a confrontation with police two weeks ago. Now, the group C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice says a document revising Champaign Police procedures authorizes the deadly use of force when a suspect is trying to avoid arrest -- even if no one is threatened with harm. Spokesperson Danielle Chynoweth told the city council such a policy opened the door for more police shootings of unarmed people.
"If you were a young kid who never read this use of force policy which even our group had the hardest time getting our hands on -- had to go through back channels to get a copy -- resistance can equal death. You must rewrite this policy," Chynoweth said.
Chynoweth was one of 52 speaking to the council last night about the Carrington shooting. In response, Champaign resident Randy Varnellas expressed concern that police policy would be changed in any way that reduced their options to act.
"I think police tonight took a real pounding to say the least, and I for one will continue to give the Champaign Police Department my full support as well as this council in any decision that you make," Varnellas told the council.
Police spokeswoman Rene Dunn declined to comment on deadly force policy at the meeting. But Councilman Mike LaDue garnered enough support from other council members to put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming study session.
It wasn't on the agenda, but the October 9th shooting death of Kiwane Carrington in a confrontation with police was the major topic at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. Council members heard some three hours of comments from a skeptical and sometimes angry public. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Grief, anger, hope and resolve ... those were some of the feelings expressed Wednesday night at a candlelight vigil in memory of Kiawane Carrington, the 15-year-old Champaign youth shot to death last week in an altercation with police.
A crowd of several hundred --- overwhelmingly African-American, with a large percentage of young people --- gathered peacefully outside the house on West Vine Street where Kiwane Carrington was fatally wounded in what authorities have called an officer-involved shooting. With the investigation still ongoing and few details released, friend of the family Keesha Johnson called for unity.
"We as a community need to come together and seek justice for what happened to Kiwane Carrington," said Johnson to a round of applause.
Others who spoke at the vigil included Kiwane Carrington's father. In a quiet voice, Albert Carrington spoke to his son, "Kiwane, you know I told you I loved you, and I will still love you."
Regine Rivers, one of Kiwane Carrington's aunts, said she was at peace because Kiwane had accepted Jesus Christ as his savior before his death. "Kiwane accepted God at an early age", said Rivers. "Even though we didn't understand what he was doing, we understand now."
The gathering then walked through a light rain to New Hope Church of God in Christ a few blocks away. There, Baptist minister and State Senator James Meeks of Chicago cited the verse in Genesis, where God confronts Cain for the murder of his brother Abel with the words, "the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground".
"We're here tonight because we hear some crying", said Meeks. "And the crying is coming from the ground. And the crying is the blood of Kiwane crying from the ground to the community, saying, 'don't y'all just accept what y'all hear on face value.'"
Meeks called on young people in the audience to NOT act out their frustrations, but to stay calm in any encounter with police. He also said Champaign needs more black police officers and an independent police review board.
Meeks also serves on the board of the Reverend Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. During his address at the church, Meeks held out the possibility of Jackson coming to Champaign, saying the civil rights leader was concerned about the Carrington shooting. But whatever the involvement of Jackson and himself, Meeks called on his audience to look to local ministers and pastors for leadership.
Funeral services for Kiwane Carrington will be held Friday at 11 A.M. at Salem Baptist Church, 500 East Park Street in Champaign.
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