Champaign City Council Hears from Police Supporters, Critics
It has been a little more than a week since the arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller.
Members of the community allege Miller was beaten up by Champaign police. The incident has sparked a debate over police-community relations.
On Tuesday night, supporters and critics of the police department spoke before the Champaign City Council. Nearly 50 people addressed the council within a three and a half hour period. In fact, the council's chambers were so packed that some people had to wait outside until there was enough room.
Jonathon Westfield is a school resource officer with the Champaign Police Department. Westfield, who is African American, said he was taken aback by accusations about animosity between the police department and the black community.
"Crime is universal," he said. "It does not know any age, any sex, any color, any creed. I take great pride in working for the city of Champaign, being a police officer, and I trust in your judgment as elected officials of this community, we cannot address this issue so long as we separate the police from the community."
But other people who spoke, like University of Illinois history professor Sundiata Cha-Jua, had critical things to say about the police department.
"We need a type of policing where the police are on bikes or on foot where they interact with residents, where they build relationships," Cha-Jua said. "Not where they do this 'problem solving' or 'problem centered' type of policing where they roll down on black youth and mass. We need a humane form of policing."
Byron Clark, another critic of the police department, said he would like to see more transparency in the Champaign Police Department.
"The problem is that there is no accountability within the police department," Clark said. "They don't have the ability to police themselves."
A video released this week from multiple police car dash board cameras shows Calvin Miller trying to avoid police, who were after him for driving through a red light and swerving into traffic. Miller then jumps out of his van, and tries to run away.
Calvin Miller's father, Martel, stated at the meeting that his son ran from police because he was scared.
"I don't tell no kids to run from the police," Miller said. "My son was so scared he drove by his house."
After Miller ran, officers chased after him. The police department has maintained that Miller was struck with an police officer's hand and pepper sprayed after trying to reach for an officer's duty belt. However, other people claim the teen was struck repeatedly and hit with a baton. That part wasn't documented on video.
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said people need to have a better understanding of how to respond when they are confronted by a police officer. He said that is a large part of improving police-community relations.
"You know, there are a lot of people with a lot of strong feelings on this," Finney said. "You know, community relations are an ongoing issue, and we continue and the city continues to build upon that."
The Champaign City Council is exploring the prospect of creating a citizen police review board, which would oversee complaints directed at the police department. Council member Karen Foster said she is open to that idea, but she said she'd rather first explore other solutions to resolve communication issues that exist between the police department and the rest of the community.