Illinois Public Media News
A member of the Champaign school district committee aimed at reviewing equity areas is frustrated by the group's lack of progress after one semester.
The Education Equity Excellence Committee was mandated by a court through Unit 4's consent decree settlement. Melodye Rosales says some members fail to understand that they're supposed to help guide district administrators, and have things the other way around based on vague language on how the committee operates. The triple-E committee is assigned with looking at academic progress among minority students in areas like special education, Advanced Placement courses, and discipline areas. The panel is also reviewing the results of a racial climate study done at Unit 4 by a University of Illinois psychology professor. It's one Rosales contends was a waste of district resources.
"We could do it for free," said Rosales, implying there were other departments at the U of I, like its Informatics Institute, where such a study wouldn't require thousands of dollars. "I gave them a road map on how to do it for free every year. We could get a general idea of what happens, we could work with the university, they could process the information. We don't need to spend $58,000 or $74,000 on something that's not even worth the paper it's written on at this point and time." Rosales also contends Unit 4 has done a poor job of promoting the Triple-E committee, and needs to be meeting more often.
But Champaign School Board President and committee member Dave Tomlinson says the committee is taking the right approach to focusing on broad issues, and is glad the panel plans to expand its meeting schedule in the fall. "I think the committe has got a large task and we need to make sure we keep the district moving in the right direction, and also to make sure the community feels involved," said Tomlinson. "I think we're on that path, and we've got a varied group of people here that has the information that they need to make the decisions." A task force will lay out that meeting schedule before the triple-E committee meets this fall.
The renovation of an old warehouse on Champaign's north end will mean the end of a mural celebrating local African-American history.
The Champaign City Council approved a special use permit Tuesday night that will allow Sullivan Plumbing to convert and expand a one-story warehouse at 5th and Park into a two-story building with both office and apartment space.
But the conversion will cover up the African-American history mural painted on the building's north wall in 1978. Dave Monk was among those involved in the mural project, which he says helped bring white and black together.
"It has connotations of not only local interest, but a demonstration at the national level of how we could interact on the fringe of black-white communities", Monk told council members.
Monk said a way might be found to preserve the mural, if Champaign council members would delay their vote. But the council approved the special use permit unanimously.
Councilman Tom Bruno noted that the mural's creator, Angela Rivers, had told the News-Gazette that it would be too expensive to restore the badly faded work.
"It would be nice if this mural could be preserved", said Bruno. "But it would be even nicer if this building could improve that neighborhood. And perhaps we can't have both."
However, other council members said they hoped the mural would be well-documented for history's sake.
A set of proposed changes to police policy in Champaign received a guarded welcome from City Council members Tuesday night.
The Champaign Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice presented the proposal, with the backing of a few local civic and religious groups.
Peace and Justice member Aaron Ammons says one of the proposals stems directly from last October's fatal shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington during a confrontation with police. The proposals calls for mandatory drug and alcohol testing whenever an officer's weapons is fired, resulting in death or serious injury.
Ammons says such a policy would help the police in their relations with the African-American community.
"Because I know in talking to so many different people", says Ammons, "if they feel like if the same things they are being arrested for and scrutinized for, if our department is asked to go through those same things --- it sort of build a rapport that says, at least they have to go through some of the similar things that we have to go through. And it actually gives the department a leg to stand on."
Another proposal would bring back residency requirements for police officers. Champaign police have not been required to live in Champaign since the 1970s. And a third proposal would make files on police complaints more accessible to the public.
Several council members said the proposals looked promising. But they cautioned that they would be subject to closed-door contract negotiations with the police officer's union. Champaign has begun negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police on a new contract to succeed the one that runs out this summer.
Champaign Mayor Jerry Schweighart's YouTube comment about President Obama hurt race relations in the city. So say five African-Americans who commented at Tuesday night's city council meeting. But Schweighart says his comments weren't about race, but the U-S Constitution. I
Jerome Chambers of the local N-double-C-P and former Champaign County Board Chair Patricia Avery were among local African-Americans who told Schweighart that his statement doubting that Barack Obama was born in the U-S, showed disrespect towards the nation's first black president. Jamar Brown, who serves on Champaign's Human Relations Commission told the mayor his comments hurt attempts to mend relations between the city and African-Americans in the wake of last October's fatal police shooting of teen-ager Kiwane Carrington.
"When I hear negative comments towards you", said Brown, "one of the biggest things that I've always said to people is that, whether you like him or not, he is still our mayor and deserves that respect. And I will end it by asking, doesn't the president of the United States of American deserve that same respect?"
But Schweighart stood by the comments he made to an interviewer during a Tea Party rally last week.
"My concern was not with the color of the president setting in the United States", said Schweighart. "It was concern with the constitutional questions that I have great concern about. Somehow, it's got turned around to be a racial thing."
And Schweighart says that's a misconception, citing years of working with the local African-American community as a council member and former police officer.
Schweighart had at least one apparent supporter at the Tuesday night meeting. Champaign resident Keith Whited came to the meeting, carrying a sign calling for President Obama's impeachment.
Feedback gathered in a community forum on police-community relations in Champaign is now online at the city's website.
More than 300 people attended the March 15th forum, which city officials organized in the wake of criticism following the shooting death of Africa-American teenager Kiwane Carrington during a scuffle with police.
Comments from each of the forum's discussion table are now in a 43-page report. They include responses to the forum's main questions about police-community relations and how they can be improved.
City Community Relations Specialist Garth Minor says the Community Forum Working Group --- made up of city officials and community members --- will meet Thursday morning to start going over the report, looking for common themes.
"Once we find those themes, then the next step will be to prioritize and develop those themes into action items", says Minor. "This information then will be shared with forum participants for their review and comment. All of that information then will be compiled into a final report that will be presented to the city manager for implementation."
Some of the recurring ideas from the Community Forum included the need for mutual respect between police and young people, and increased contact between police and young people in non-crisis situations.
An internal City of Champaign investigation into a fatal police shooting last fall is winding down.
City attorney Fred Stavins says the two outside experts the city asked to conduct the study have completed much of their work looking into last October's shooting death of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. Police say they confronted Carrington and another teenager as the two were trying to get into an acquaintance's home on Vine Street - an officer's firearm went off and hit Carrington during a scuffle.
Stavins says retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County Judge John Freese continue to meet, but their fact-finding portion of the review is generally complete - and he says that's only one segment of the overall investigation.
"There's been an internal investigation that involves police personnel", says Stavins. "And subsequent to that, there'll be another review by another group in the police department --- the Firearm Discharge Board."
Stavins says any ultimate changes to police policy or other outcomes of the report will be up to City Manager Steve Carter. He says the goal is to determine whether the Carrington incident should lead to changes in policy. But Stavins says it will not second-guess a state police investigation that cleared Chief RT Finney and Officer Daniel Norbits of criminal wrongdoing. Carrington's aunt has filed a wrongful -death lawsuit against the officers and the city.
Some 300 people gathered at a public forum in Champaign Monday night to discuss ways to improve relations between police and the African-American community. The meeting was organized in the wake of October's police shooting of 15 year old Kiwane Carrington. The need for better communications and mutual respect were common themes in the discussions.
City Manager Steve Carter says a report summarizing the comments and findings from last night's forum should be ready in a week to ten days. It will be sent to forum participants and posted on the Champaign city website.
With just an hour to discuss longstanding obstacles, there wasn't much time at the forum to get into details. Still, 16-year-old Lavon Miller says he learned a lot from the Champaign police officer who was part of his group.
In Miller's view, the police handle their patrols of white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods differently. The 16-year-old notice how officers "patrol different, they wave their hands in the Devonshire, Cherry Hills area, Centennial area. They wave their hands to the people standing. And they wouldn't really say nothing to the people in the north end, they'd be just really rude to the people that come into."
Miller says the officer at his table said the residents of predominantly black neighborhoods who call for police help want to see a change, so they come in more forcefully.
At another table, police Sergeant Robert Rea aaid he hadn't realized some of the perceptions that people have of his work. He says he doesn't treat African-Americans differently from whites, but he understands opinions can differ.
"Two people can see the exact same thing from totally two different perspectives", says Rey, "and they can both be right. So I think that's one of the things we need to talk about and figure out why people are perceiving things that way."
Champaign Police Chief RT Finney says that with so many people from different backgrounds talking together, he expects to obtain ideas from the forum that will help improve policing and police-community relations in the city
City Manager Steve Carter says a report summarizing the comments and findings from the forum should be ready in a week to ten days. It will be sent to forum participants and posted on the Champaign city website.
More than 250 people have signed up for Monday night's Community-Police forum at the Hawthorn Suites Hotel in Champaign. The city of Champaign organized the event in the wake of last October's police shooting death of 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington. His death put a spotlight on long-standing frictions between police and African-American youth in Champaign.
Deputy City Manager Joan Walls says a diverse group of people have signed up for the forum --- including young people and other community members, neighborhood leaders and police. She hopes their discussions will shed light on ways to break down the barriers that have hindered police-community relations.
"When you get over 250 people in a room", says Walls, "who are committed, who recognize and realize that a tragedy has occurred in our community --- and that it's something we can all agree that we never want to happen again. And whatever it takes for us to pull it together, to really recognize what some of the issues might be, but not only that, identify what the workable solutions are going to be."
While registration for the forum's small group discussions has filled up, Walls says anyone interested can check with the Champaign community relations department to see if there are any last-minute openings. The public can also attend as observers --- and submit their own answers to the forum's main questions through a survey at the city of Champaign website. The Monday night at the Hawthorn starts at 6:30.
Changes made in the wake of the Kiwane Carrington shooting are now part of the Champaign Police Department's Use of Force policy and procedure. The Champaign City Council endorsed the revisions last (Tuesday) night.
The updated policy now spells out the combination of circumstances that must be in place before an officer may use deadly force on a citizen --- involving cases where a person has harmed, or is threatening to harm the officer or another person, or is threatening to use a deadly weapon to escape.
The police department's Taser policy is also clarified. New language makes it clear that Champaign Police do not use Tasers, but may call in other agencies with Tasers when they feel they are needed. Police Chief R-T Finney says even then, Taser use is limited, according to the situation.
"We had a situation where we needed to use a Taser", says Finney. "(The) agency came; the situation changed in terms of the person who was barricaded was utilizing some volatile chemicals in the house. And we opted not to use the Taser at that point. So, you know, we still have that control."
The changes to police policy come after 15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot to death during a struggle with a Champaign officer last October. The shooting led to renewed charges that Champaign Police do not treat African-Americans fairly --- and pledges from the city council to improve police/community relations.
The changes were not enough for eight people who addressed the city council last night. They included Terry Townsend, who said the changes were only incremental, and failed to address deeper problems with relations between police and the African-American community.
"It is imperative that we do something to take the confrontational nature out of police community relations" Townsend told the city council. "And having these policies that you just can't make major changes because of constitutional or state law ... that you tweak ... that's not going to make the issue go away."
Some council members said they thought more needed to be done as well. District One Councilman Will Kyles says he saw frustration among both police and community members who did not believe that change was possible.
"That's the root of the problem", said Kyles. "That's what I want to work on --- not just having a discussion, but really helping, not only the community but the officers believe that things are going to change. Because right now, I don't think in my heart that people thing that."
Kyles called for more positive engagement between the Champaign Police Department and the community - including with some of the department's harshest critics.
City Manager Steve Carter said the revisions to the Use Of Force Policy may not address all problems, but were a step forward. Police Chief Finney says he doesn't think the policy needs any further tweaking. He says there are other police policies to address other concerns.
As Champaign City Council members consider changes to the police department's use-of-force policy, an internal review is getting underway into last fall's police shooting death.
15 year old Kiwane Carrington was shot and killed as he and Officer Daniel Norbits were scuffling during a report of a break in at a Vine Street house. Police chief RT Finney had also responded and was slightly injured controlling another juvenile.
Champaign city manager Steve Carter is in charge of the internal investigation - he'll be assisted by two people outside city government - retired Urbana police chief Eddie Adair and retired McLean County judge John Freese.
Adair says their investigation will review the state police report into the shooting incident but won't change the outcome of that report, which led to a state's attorney's decision not to file charges.
"This is of an internal focus, looking at the training practices of the department and its policies and procedures as it relates to those only," Adair said.
Tomorrow night the Champaign City Council looks at proposed changes to the police department's use of force policy. City officials want to clarify for officers the right times to use lethal force.
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