More than 1,000 gather for peaceful protest at Illinois Statehouse
Hundreds of demonstrators protest peacefully outside the Illinois Statehouse on Monday to speak out against violence by law enforcement against African Americans. (Credit: Peter Hancock of Capitol News Illinois)
Black Lives Matter activists denounce law enforcement violence against African Americans
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – A peaceful protest organized largely by teenagers drew several hundred people to the Illinois Statehouse on Monday to demonstrate against the recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota and countless other African Americans who have died at the hands of law enforcement throughout the U.S. in recent years.
Monday’s protest came the day after an estimated 3,000 vehicles took part in a parade through the state capital’s downtown area while more violent protests gripped Chicago and other major cities throughout the U.S.
Protests were also reported in Champaign, Aurora and Rockford, according to the Illinois State Police.
Floyd died Monday, May 25, after a Minneapolis Police officer pinned him to the ground and held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while three other officers took no action to stop it. All four of the officers have since been fired and the officer who knelt on his neck was charged with third-degree murder.
Floyd reportedly had been suspected of trying to spend a fake $20 bill.
“They just take it like another black man killed by the police. We don’t take it like that,” Nykeyla Henderson, 17, one of the organizers of the protest, said during an interview.
With chants of “black lives matter,” “I can’t breathe,” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” the throng marched from the Statehouse toward the city’s downtown area until they were blocked by barricades to prevent them from getting near the city’s municipal building. From there, they turned south, marching just past the Abraham Lincoln home and then back to the Capitol.
Several people who attended the demonstration talked about what went through their minds when they first saw the images of Floyd’s death, as well as their own experiences with law enforcement.
Henderson said that she had personally had several negative encounters with Springfield police over the years.
“I’ve seen them manhandle my dad,” she said. “I’ve seen my dad get arrested, I’ve seen my mom get arrested before right in front of me. I’ve seen my dad being snatched out of my hands by the police before. I’ve seen them constantly come by my house. … I’ve had problems with the police before. I was standing on the side of the road talking to my mama one day and they stopped me.”
“George Floyd’s death, it brought anger to me and it brought anger to the two other people that helped me organize this,” said Ariona Fairlee, 15, one of the organizers. “And you can’t just sit around anymore. Like, we’re young but the young is what needs to change things because nobody else is going to do it.”
“Horrified but not surprised,” said Maya Harris, of Springfield. “Personally, in my opinion, I always feel uneasy around the police. I always have that sense of fear, that sense of guilt, that sense of uncertainty. And that just goes with growing up black in America, and growing up black period, anywhere. You have that sense of uncertainty with the law. You don’t know if you feel protected or not.”
The demonstrations Sunday night and Monday afternoon in Springfield were largely peaceful, although some buildings in the downtown area had been marred by graffiti, including a local performing arts center where someone had spray-painted the words “stop killing us” on an exterior wall.
Still, Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday that he had issued disaster proclamations for Sangamon County and eight other counties in the state at the request of local authorities so that Illinois State Police could be deployed to aid local law enforcement in maintaining control.
ISP Director Brendan Kelly said in a separate news conference that 300 troopers from various divisions had been temporarily reassigned to assist in patrol operations as needed through regional support centers in northern, central and southern Illinois.
Kelly said that there have been reports of looting, criminal damage to property, arson and other crimes in various cities throughout the state.
“This is not just a Chicago-focused concern by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “We’ve had requests for assistance from every part of the state.”
Meanwhile, Henderson said she hopes the demonstrations in Springfield remain peaceful, although she said she understands the anger that has led to more violent actions elsewhere.
“I applaud everyone who’s doing it for the right reason,” she said. “If you’re doing it for the right reason, I applaud you. But we’re going to keep this peaceful until something is done against us. If nothing is done against us, we’re going to keep it peaceful.”
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.