Racial Profiling Incident Leads to Police Shooting of “Toto” Kaiyewu

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Media Center with the family of
Oluwatofunmi Kaiyewu, a 23 year-old
medical student who was killed by
police on April 6, 2009. This bizarre
series of events began in the former “sundown
town” of Villa Grove, 15 minutes
southeast of Urbana, led to a car chase, and ended on
Interstate 74 with five bullets fired by officers from three
departments University of Illinois Police, Champaign
County Sheriff‘s Department, and Vermilion County Sheriff‘
s Department.
The Kaiyewu family his mother Abby, father Victor,
and brothers Frank and Tobi drove from Texas on April
22 to hold a press conference and visit the site where
their son was gunned down. They were joined by Jan
Susler of the People‘s Law Office, a graduate of the University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and known for
her defence of Puerto Rican political prisoners. They had
heard little from police about what happened and wanted
The incident occurred in Villa Grove, a small town
where blacks are rarely ever seen. As James Loewen documents
in his book Sundown Towns, Villa Grove was one of
hundreds of towns throughout Illinois where blacks were
not to be caught on the streets after sundown. In fact, the
‘get out of town’ siren that was sounded at the end of every
day is still on top of the tower in the center of town.
According to an initial press release, on Monday night,
April 6, a local police officer in Villa Grove saw a “suspicious”
vehicle a Toyota Camry given to Kaiyewu by his
parents with Texas plates at a convenience store along
Route 130. The officer witnessed a traffic violation and he
proceeded to stop the car.
Police say the driver got out of his car, refused to follow
orders, pushed the officer, got back in his car, and took off.
A chase ensued that involved at least a dozen squad cars
from several local agencies. When police finally blew out
his tires, they say Kaiyewu came at them brandishing a
machete and a handknife.
Police fired Tasers which Champaign County Sheriffs
are allowed to carry but say they failed to subdue Kaiyewu.
When he began swinging the two weapons, police say they
fired their “duty weapons” fatally shooting the suspect.
At the press conference, members of the family said
that Toto was a good Christian who was going to medical
school and planned in the future to do missionary work in
Africa. Although he was born in the United States, his parents
came here in 1980 from Nigeria.
Several others came to the press conference to show
local support for the Kaiyewu family, including individuals
from the Center for African Studies, Ministerial Alliance,
and Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice.
Letters of support have poured in from Toto‘s friends in
Texas and Carbondale, where he was studying at SIU. One
wrote on the website of the Independent Media Center,
“My condolence with Toto‘s family, he was a good friend of
mine in med. school, great guy I‘m gon’ miss him.“
Due to what was called “wild and totally inaccurate
speculation in the media,” police released their own prepared
statement just hours after the family‘s press conference.
Delivering the statement in front of his office, Champaign
County Sheriff Dan Walsh responded to some of the
questions raised by the family, information no one was
previously willing to give them. It took a trip to Urbana
and more than two weeks for them to get that much.
Walsh addressed the question of profiling, but failed to
mention racism. “It is non-sensicle,” he said, “to suggest
that police ‘profiled’ a seven year old Toyota vehicle and its
occupant.” Of course, at issue is not the make of his car. As
the family asked Would this have happened to a white student
driving a Toyota through Villa Grove?
A toxicology report is still pending and the Sheriff says
that when the investigation by the Illinois State Police is
finished, video may be released to the public.

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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