Illinois Public Media News
A new committee assigned with creating a climate of equal opportunities for all Champaign school students held its inaugural meeting Wednesday.
The Education Equity Excellence committee was put together as part of the Unit 4 settlement of its Consent Decree for racial equity. The panel is made up of district administrators and community members --- including a bilingual teacher, the President of the local NAACP chapter and a former Unit 4 school board member, Nathaniel Banks.
Banks, who stepped down last spring, is the most recent African-American to serve on the school board. Speaking prior the meeting, Banks said the Triple-E Committee's first session would be largely about laying the groundwork for future work. He says the Champaign school district has already made strides towards greater equity in some areas, but that it's a work in progress.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't lend itself to the cycle of elections", said Banks. "So there are long-term issues that the Consent Decree was trying to address, and those issues are still there. Certainly, there's been progress, not only in closing the achievement gap, but also in looking at (programs for) Gifted and Talented (students) increasing the number of African-American students there."
Banks says the Champaign school district also needs to take a hard look at the number of minority students in special education, and discipline issues.
Triple-A Committee member and PTA Council President Nancy Hoetker says she'll be responsible for helping facilitate communications between the the committee and Unit Four's 16 campuses.
The Triple-E Committee is expected to meet at least twice per semester.
The state's attorney's decision not to file charges in the Kiwane Carrington shooting did not satisfy people who spoke on the subject at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting. And the city's handling of the case also came in for criticism.
Pledges by Champaign officials to look at ways to improve relations between police and African-American youth were not enough for Champaign County Board member Carol Ammons, whose district includes much of northern Champaign. She called Tuesday's news conference by city officials a well-crafted piece of public relations, in which no one took questions from the public.
"I suggest that if you want to move forward", said Ammons, "beyond providing social service programs, recreation and basketball, that you would decide that you start with allowing yourselves to be interrogated by the community that has hundreds of questions surrounding this death."
Ammons also cited emails obtained by C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, which she says gives the impression that the investigation was tainted by interference from city officials, including council members Will Kyles, Marci Dodds and Deb Feinen. In the last case, Ammons said Feinen corresponded with State's Attorney Julia Rietz on the case while the investigation was ongoing.
When asked about Ammons' charge, Feinen denied that her correspondence tainted the investigation. She said she only forwarded mass emails to Rietz that publicized rallies or contained criticisms of the Carrington shooting, and did not add any substantial comments.
"I don't have any information", said Feinen. "I wasn't at the scene. I didn't interview any witnesses. I haven't talked to any witnesses. So I don't know how that's interference with the investigation."
Urbana resident Elizabeth Simpson says the death of Kiwane Carrington has had a negative impact on how young people in both Champaign and Urbana regard the police and other authority figures. Simpson coordinates the peer mediation program at Urbana Middle School. And she told council members her students are asking her about the city's handling of the Carrington shooting.
"They say, 'Miss Beth, we don't understand, why aren't they saying they're sorry? Why won't they even say they're sorry? Whether it was an accident, whatever degree of responsibility it was, why won't anybody take responsibility?'" said Simpson. "And they mean you, too. They mean the police, but they mean you, too."
Simpson says she had not known until the hearing about it at the council meeting that there was any sort of apology from a city official. Earlier in the day, Police Chief R-T Finney said he wanted to "express my sincere condolences and sorrow to the Carrington family". And he said that while the Officer Daniel Norbits did not intend for his gun to go off, killing Carrington, "make no mistake the weapon was ours, it was discharged and I am ultimately responsible for the actions of our police officers."
Members of Kiwane Carrington's family also attended the city council meeting, but did not speak. Afterwards, Rhonda Williams, Kiwane's aunt, said she had already commented enough.
Champaign council members made no public comment following the remarks from the public, and left the chamber to go into closed session over a matter of potential litigation.
There will be no criminal charges against Champaign police officer Daniel Norbits - his service weapon was the one that fired, hitting and killing 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle on Vine Street two months ago. Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz spent nearly a month looking over more than a thousand pages of testimony and hours of taped interviews. On the day she declared the shooting an accident, she sat down with AM 580's Tom Rogers.
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.
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.
A committee working for better relations between the Champaign police and the African-American community is scheduled to meet Thursday (November 19th) at 3 PM, at the Douglass Community Center. After a decade of regular meetings, the Champaign Community and Police Partnership is getting more attention, following last month's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington during a police confrontation. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports on the group, known as "C-Cap" for short:
A new committee to advise the Champaign school district on equity issues is now in place. The Unit Four School Board approved members for the Education Equity Excellence --- or Triple E Committee --- during a special meeting Monday night. And they named ten community members to serve on the panel, including notable local African-Americans such as local N-double-A-C-P President Jerome Chambers and former school board member Nathaniel White.
But the new committee is supposed to study equity issues for all Unit Four residents ... so its members also include white, Asian-American and Latino residents. In the last category, bilingual education teacher Lily Jimenez says she hopes the committee can be a voice for families --- especially Latino Families.
"I would love there to be, kind of like an open forum for Latino families", said Jimenez, "to just come and share their experiences with the district. You know, things that they like, things they would like to see different. And then just start a dialog, to see what things the district is doing well, and what things they could do better."
School Board member Susan Grey says that after years under the Consent Decree, she welcomes the feedback from community members.
"I like having a measure of accountability from our own community", says Grey. "Not court oversight, but community oversight".
Other members of the Triple-E Committee will represent the Unit Four administration, teachers union and school board.
School Board member Susan Grey says the board must meet at least twice a semester, but can meet more frequently. She says it can also recruit more members for subcommittees focusing on specific topics. Grey expects the Triple-E Committee to hold its first one oro two meetings before the year is out.
The Ten Community Members Named to the Unit Four EEE Committee:
Virginia "Ginny" B. Holder --- attorney
Lily Jimenez --- bilingual teacher
Annette McDonald Jones --- Dir. of Trust Services, U of I Foundation
Dr. Christina N. Medrano ---surgeon
Karl Radnitzer - education professor, Milliken University
Melodye Benson Rosales -- commercial and educational publishing
Jamar Brown --- member, Champaign Human Relations Committee
Rev. Jerome C. Chambers - President, Champaign County Chapter of the NAACP
Nancy Hoetker --- President, Champaign PTA Council
Nathaniel C. Banks -- former Unit Four School Board member
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.
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.
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