After the Sunday November 20 issue of the News-Gazette published a front page article on excessive violence against a black youth by the Champaign police near campus on June 5, Champaign City Manager Steve Carter issued a two-page news-release and invited the press to schedule an interview with him that afternoon. I accepted the invitation, as did reporters from WILL and WCIA.
After giving a very brief statement that did not go beyond his press release, he asked for questions. When some of the reporters asked him for more detail, he said that he did not want to go into details. He would not even state the race of the officer (he is white) or the officer’s victim (he is black).
I attempted to put this case in the context of a long history of excessive force against blacks in Champaign, by reminding him of a list of specific cases that I had presented to the city council on January 13, 2010. These included: the cases of 81 year-old Renee Holt who was grabbed by the throat and forced to the ground in her own apartment; Mildred Davis whose house was sprayed with bullets when people (including children) were inside; Brian Chesley, a young man who was slammed down on cement; the late Kiwane Carrington who was shot and killed; and Calvin Miller who was beaten just a few weeks ago. Mr. Carter said that all of those before the Miller case had been investigated and that Calvin’s was still being considered. But he did not want to talk about the pattern of behavior, only this case which happened be to caught on video—but no details please.
I informed Mr. Carter that when police officers from the 3 local forces (Champaign, Urbana, and the University) spoke to a group of university students who were concerned about the police treatment of youth after the Chesley case, a graduate student had informed me that the Champaign officer had told the students not to worry because the police would know they were students and not treat them the way they treated nonstudent youth in the neighborhoods. Mr. Carter said that he did not believe the graduate student’s story. But I know her to be someone of the highest integrity.
I asked Mr. Carter if a drug or alcohol test was done on the officer in the June 5 incident. He said that it was a long time ago. I said, ok, and rephrased the question, HAD drug and alcohol tests been done? No answer.
Drug and alcohol testing on officers who had been involve in violence against citizens was one of the demands on the city made by the C/U Citizens for Peace and Justice back in March 2010. Not one of those demands has been met by the city.
Given the seriousness of the charge against the officer and the corroborating video, I asked if the City of Champaign would now obey two Illinois court decisions and release to the News-Gazette and other news organizations the names of officers who have had allegations of abuse filed against them.
He said that is was still not settled law and that the city would continue to wait.
I asked if this case, coming after a long string of allegations of police abuse in Champaign did not strengthen the case for a civilian review board with subpoena power. He said that there were currently discussions on the city council about that and there will be a study session.
I asked why there were so many complaints against the police in Champaign, complaints involving the serious human rights violations
of excessive violence and racial discrimination, when we do not have them coming against the Urbana or University police forces. Why can’t the Champaign force police less violently. He said that he couldn’t speak about the Urbana or University forces, but that the whole use of force issue was going to be reconsidered.
Finally, I asked whether given his steadfast defense of the department when it was faced with a string of charges of abuse in the past, he might consider resigning given what has come to light now. He said that he has not been considering that. So, while Champaign will have a new police chief next year, the chief executive officer of the city intends staying put. Only the council has the power to oblige him to leave.