Champaign Hired Police Chief Timothy Tyler Despite Disciplinary Past and Allegations of Misconduct—Original (Long) Version

A version of this article originally appeared on IPM Newsroom on January 9, 2024. It has been edited for style. See the shorter, print version here.

This story is part of a partnership, focusing on police misconduct in Champaign County, between the Champaign-Urbana Civic Police Data Project of the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit public accountability journalism organization, and IPM Newsroom, which provides news about Illinois and in-depth reporting on Agriculture, Education, the Environment, Health, and Politics, powered by Illinois Public Media. This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project, which is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.

When Timothy Tyler applied for the Champaign Police Chief position in 2022, the city council was given his “resumes and cover letters and recommendations—things of that nature,” according to councilmember Davion Williams. New documents obtained through open records requests by Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom suggest the council was not privy to a more detailed accounting of Tyler’s policing history, which is marked by a trail of disciplinary actions and other incidents ranging from suspensions for “unfavorable” conduct to entanglements in several federal civil rights lawsuits.

After receiving information and questions about Tyler’s background from Invisible Institute and IPM Newsroom,, Williams forwarded the email to City Manager Dorothy Ann David, and asked, “Were we aware of these incidents as a city?” Continue reading

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March/April Issue Back Cover

Activists of new local group UC Jews for Cease-Fire. Photo by Al Kagan

Hundreds gathered in Westside Park on Saturday, March 2 as part of a Global Day of Action for Palestine. They heard speeches and then marched through downtown Champaign.

Continue reading

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Winter Issue Front Cover

“Gaza’s Grim Holiday: A Shameful Legacy for President Biden,” cartoon by Khalil Bendib, OtherWords.org, used under Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 3.0 DEED

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The Age of Disconnect: US Policy and the War Beyond Gaza

Demonstration in Champaign for an immediate cease-fire and end to US aid to Israel on January 27. Image by Paul Mueth

The hypocrisy gap between US diplomatic pronouncements and US actions is no surprise to world audiences, but the disconnect on display since October 7 has put the nail in the coffin of the American Century. American officials have been invoking caution against a “wider war” for months as they shuttle from capital to capital across the Middle East, portraying themselves as smokejumpers ahead of the fire. They are discounting the war raging in Gaza as if it were a sideshow. It’s true the situation could get much, much worse, but from the point of view of the region the “wider war” is already here. It’s been burning for decades, not just in Gaza but across the Middle East—and the US lost the future years ago.

The US Disconnect and the Pivot to Asia

For the last decade US policy hasn’t centered on combatting terrorism or protecting energy supplies, and certainly not on promoting democracy or cooperating on the climate; instead, it’s been obsessed with China. That has been the inspiration driving US diplomatic efforts to tie up loose ends in the Middle East. Facile treaties such as the Abraham Accords provided Washington with the illusion that they could quickly and easily box up boring old problems like the Palestinians for deep storage. The transition to drone warfare, or “over-the-horizon” strategies, offered a way to literally keep troublesome actors under the gun while freeing up US forces for future engagements elsewhere. This was not a Middle East policy, but the absence of one as Washington attempted to pivot away from regional disappointments to shiny new priorities in Asia. Continue reading

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Ukrainian Refugees and National(ist) Politics in Eastern Europe

Migrants at the Latvia-Belarus border in February 2022; used under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

In an article in our last issue (November-December Public i), I used the case of Hungary—its positive reception of Ukrainian refugees, alongside its negative role in hindering EU political and material support of Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression—to explore some of the contradictions of current European migrant politics. The EU welcomed with open arms the Ukrainian millions, while trading financial backing to authoritarian strongmen beyond its borders—most prominently in Turkey and Tunisia—to keep war and climate refugees from the Global South at bay, by any means necessary. Western European opinion, expressed through dominant positions in EU bodies, decries the crude anti-migrant politics and practices in many of the eastern member-states, while their own populist politicians ride anti-migrant rhetoric to political success—dragging centrist and even liberal parties in an anti-immigrant direction. In this article I will expand my scope to other East European contexts to argue that these contradictions should complicate our view of Europe’s immigration issues. Continue reading

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As Police Budget Swells, Safety Forum Articulates a Different Vision

Crime is going down in Urbana, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at Urbana’s police budget. After a $2.25 million increase in the police budget in the last two years—largely for salary increases and bonuses—Urbana leadership is pushing to hire 15 new police officers for another approximate $2 million. In sum, these recent and proposed sums represent a 34 percent increase that is likely to come with a tax increase. On December 4, a proposal to hire the first four was put on pause by the Urbana City Council after dozens of residents spoke up with concerns.

This focus on policing and criminal justice comes at a time when members of the community and city council have expressed strong interest in investigating alternative public safety models. Per council request, a study of alternative models is currently underway, with a report expected this spring. At a recent series of police listening sessions, community members questioned the centrality of criminal justice in the discussion of public safety. Attendees brought up material necessities like housing, health care, food, employment, and recreation as vital components of public safety. Continue reading

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Community Wins Free Phone Calls at the Champaign County Jail

This article originally appeared at Smile Politely on December 5, 2023; reprinted with permission. It has been lightly edited for style.

“He calls first thing in the morning just to say good morning,” said Blaine Sherase Lee, whose son was arrested in Urbana on a gun charge and has been in jail for two years. “Usually, he hangs up because he needs to eat and shower. Usually, he calls back maybe by noon. Then, after that phone call, he said they go on lockdown, I think around 3 p.m. for like an hour or two. He calls back maybe around six. And then again, right before he goes to bed.”

Over the two years, Lee estimated that she and other family members had spent around $3,000 on phone calls and commissary—additional food, hygiene products, and other supplies that can be purchased at inflated prices. “It’s extremely expensive,” Lee told me.

Champaign County is introducing free phone calls at the jail after activists exposed that Securus, a major prison profiteer, was charging a whopping six dollars for a 20-minute phone call. Sheriff Dustin Heuerman announced the new deal at a county board meeting on November 21, 2023. Under a new contract with Consolidated Telecom, Inc., those at the jail will receive two free phone calls a day. Continue reading

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Third Act Comes to C-U and is Creating “Good Trouble”

Illinois Third Acters joined by folks from the C-U area rally in front of Chase Bank’s Chicago Headquarters, March 21, 2023

It’s March 21,, 2023, a cool, just barely spring day, and the sidewalks surrounding JPMorgan Chase Bank’s downtown Chicago headquarters are filled with hundreds of chanting, white-haired elders. The cops flanking the bank’s entrance seem more bemused than wary as the protestors file past offering full-throated demands: “Divest now!”; “Our grandchildren are watching”; and “Dump fossil fuels.”

This is the first direct action of Third Act Illinois; among the participants are Champaign-Urbana area residents who will organize an affiliate branch of the state group and go on to work intensively on fossil fuel divestment legislation initiatives that are still ongoing. No quiet retirement for Third Acters: they plan to go out fighting. Continue reading

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Remembering Jim Holiman, Local Activist Mentor: Rest In Power

Jim Holiman

Before there were cell phones, or the internet or Zoom, campus activism in C-U was alive and well. Posters and word of mouth brought people of conscience together for strategy sessions and social justice cultural events at the Illinois Disciples Foundation (IDF)—now gone—at the corner of Springfield and Wright. The late Jim Holiman, who died in November at age 88, was the campus minister there from 1963–99. What a character he was, and what a time it was.

Jim was a strange and wonderful man. A biblical prophet. A provocative trickster. A cantankerous gadfly. A relaxed conversationalist. Quite the storyteller. He could be surprising, exhilarating, puzzling, infuriating, inspiring. Everyone back then had their own Jim Holiman experience. Continue reading

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Who is Un-American?

Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent in front of the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn highway marker they sponsored, before its removal

This article, commissioned for the Public i, appeared first in a longer version in Monthly Review on November 29, 2023, under the title “Gender, Labor, Democracy, and Americanism: U.S. History in the (Un)Making”; reprinted with permission.

In the early hours of Monday, May 15, 2023, a historical highway marker recognizing the birthplace of a renowned early 20th-century feminist, anti-racist labor organizer, and defender of reproductive rights was taken down.

The marker had been formally approved and erected by the state, following years of community effort.

It stood for two weeks before being removed by the governor. Continue reading

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She’s Everything and Everywhere: Riffs on Barbie and the Barbie Movie

Barbie deserved her own biopic. More than one billion Barbie dolls have been shipped and sold around the world since her premier in 1959, and factories in Asia are still spewing her out. From her hair down to the pink latex paint sweetening her accessories, Barbie is made from petroleum. Landfills may yield many archeological treasures in the distant future. Perhaps in galactic museums, alongside Minoan clay goddess figurines, a host of Barbie dolls will represent our epoch’s female deity worship.

Despite the hype, among many the bar was low for Greta Gerwig’s 2023 Barbie the movie. Who expected a funny and subversive film about a blonde Barbie doll? Dolls are dumb. For girls. Toxic psychologically. Toxic literally. A commercial product. Mainstream. “I’ll wait until I can see it for free,” some said. Continue reading

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Winter Issue Back Cover

Spring Semester Friday Forum Schedule

Friday Forum is in its 98th year at the University YMCA! In recent partnership with Conversation Café, the program is a weekly forum to learn about and discuss pressing public concerns while enjoying free lunch from the Y Thai Eatery. Our weekly events are held at noon in Latzer Hall at the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign. All events are free and open to the public.

An audio recording of each program can be heard the following Wednesday at 6-7 pm on WEFT 90.1 FM community radio.

  • 2/2 Rev. Terrance Thomas, Pastor of Bethel AME Church
    • Exploring the Radical Black Church
  • 2/9 Keith Knight, nationally acclaimed political cartoonist and musician
    • Cartooning Can Save the World! A comic strip slideshow by Keith Knight
    • This FF+CC coincides with the Art @ the Y exhibition that will be on display.
  • 2/16 Carol Ammons, Illinois State Rep.
    • Good Ole Abe and Emancipation and Reparations
  • 2/23 Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran Pastor, NYT Bestselling Author,
    • Illinois Interfaith Conference Keynote Speaker in conversation with Rev. Leah Robberts-Mosser from Community United Church of Christ
    • This FF+CC is the prelude to the Illinois Interfaith Conference that will take place on 2/23 and 2/24
  • 3/1 Ozge Yenigun, UIUC Dept. of Urban and Regional Planning
    • Overcoming Inequalities and Barriers in Refugees’ Labor Market Participation in Germany
  • 3/22 Charlene Teters, artist and activist
    • The Education of Charlene Teters (Spokane Nation)
    • This FF+CC coincides with the Art @ the Y exhibition that will be on display from March 19-24.
  • 4/5 Jay Rosenstein, UIUC Dept. of Media and Cinema Studies
    • ‘In Whose Honor?’ 30 Years Battling Native Sports Mascots and Chief Illiniwek
  • 4/12 Awad Awad, UIUC Salaam MENA Cultural Center
    • The Mission and Vision of the Salaam MENA Cultural Center
  • 4/19 Samantha Auerbach, Urbana-Champaign Reproductive Justice
    • Envisioning Reproductive Justice in the Post-Dobbs Landscape
  • 4/26 McKenzie Johnson, UIUC Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
    • Earth Day and Environmental Justice: Allies or Enemies?
    • This FF+CC takes place during Earth Week

This semester’s sponsors are:

Center for Advanced Study, Center for Global Studies, Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning, College of ACES, Counseling Center, Department of Religion, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Education Justice Project, EU Center, First Presbyterian Church (Champaign), Gender & Sexuality Resource Center, Humanities Research Institute, Latina/Latino Studies, League of Women Voters, Office of Minority Student Affairs, Office of the Provost, School of Social Work, Social Action Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, Women in Gender and Global Perspectives Program, Women’s Resources Center, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting, Urbana-Champaign Reproductive Justice.

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November/December Issue Front Cover

GAZA CEASE-FIRE NOW!

Palestinians inspect the damage following an Israeli airstrike on the El-Remal area in Gaza City on October 9, 2023. Photo by Wafa and APAImages, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

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Israel’s Violence Will Never Bring “Safety” to Anyone, Including Jews

Protesters in Washington, D.C. on November 4 demand a cease-fire in Gaza. Photo by Kirby Jayes, used with permission

This article was published in Truthout on October 18, 2023. It has been updated to reflect numbers as of November 2, and lightly edited for style.

The horror and heartbreak in Gaza reaches new proportions each minute: Israel’s siege has killed at least 9,000 people and injured at least 22,000 in the past 26 days. Israeli forces and settlers have also killed more than 100 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The death tolls climb even as Palestinians and those in solidarity with them are marching and rallying worldwide in powerful and urgent protests.

For us, as anti-Zionist Jewish journalists, the past week and a half has been a flood of many griefs.

We grieve and struggle against the ongoing, now catastrophically heightened violence of Israeli colonization, occupation, apartheid, and genocidal campaign against Palestinians, carried out by a government that is cynically invoking the names of Jews to intensify the oppressive policies it was already invested in.

And we watch with rising horror as the Israeli government instrumentalizes the grief of Jewish people who’ve lost loved ones in the Hamas attacks, which killed 1,400 people and injured 3,400. The Israeli government is fashioning this grief into a weapon, exploiting it to justify the annihilation of Gaza (even as some Israelis who lost loved ones in the attacks urge against taking vengeance against Palestinians). Continue reading

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The $1,686,170 Slap: The Shamar Betts Case Continues

There has been little transparency on how losses were calculated or what insurance payments have been received by businesses filing restitution claims

It is hard to understand the magnitude of the restitution fine imposed on Urbana resident Shamar Betts as anything other than the persecution of one young black man. Despite a recent stay on collection of the debt pending a response from the federal Appeals Court for the Seventh Circuit, Betts is still a hostage of the state. How is it that a 19-year-old with no previous record was saddled with a seven-figure fine for damage caused in the Market Place Mall riot that followed George Floyd’s murder, when the January 6 rioters have been handed restitution fines of between $500 and $5000?

Apparently, the judges imposing the fines averaging $2000 on January 6 actors thought that amount was a sufficient life lesson. The scale of the fine imposed on Betts, along with the lack of clarity regarding the claims, continues to make this one of the most important cases in Champaign County history. Continue reading

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Securus is Charging Families Six Dollars for Phone Calls from Jail

This article originally appeared at Smile Politely on September 28, 2023; reprinted with permission. It has been lightly edited for style.

Phone calls are a lifeline for those incarcerated to stay in touch with their families and loved ones. The phone calls you and I make from our smart phones without a thought cost a person incarcerated at the Champaign County Jail six dollars.

Many bemoan the existence of private prisons, but Illinois has banned such facilities. Much more common are the prison profiteers like Securus, which currently has the contract to provide phone services at the county jail. Securus is what well-known local writer and activist James Kilgore has called a “carceral conglomerate,” owned by the investment company Aventiv, which is invested in electronic monitoring, computer management systems for jails and prisons, video visits, email, and JPay, a money-transfer company. Continue reading

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At the Feds

Shamar Betts (left) joined Alex Horton of Ubuntu at the YMCA Friday Forum podium October 13, as Horton described the real-life stakes of Black community organizing in Champaign-Urbana

Shamar Betts had no previous criminal record but was sentenced to three years in federal prison for “inciting a riot” through a Facebook post he wrote after witnessing the video of George Floyd’s murder in 2020. He was also made responsible for all the property damage and theft ($1.68 million) committed across town during that time of national anger. This excerpt from his forthcoming memoir describes his early impression of federal prison.

 

The online photo for the United States Penitentiary Hazelton (USP Hazelton) shows a grim, gray-colored brick wall marked by an entrance typical of any secure facility. But beyond the entrance a three-story chain link fence topped with razor wire is visible, a reminder that this is a facility for keeping people in, not out. USP Hazelton describes itself as a high-security prison for 1600 male offenders. An adjacent minimum security “camp” houses an additional ninety prisoners. Shamar Betts was transferred to federal custody in USP Hazelton on November 30, 2021. He would spend the next ­­­­­­18 months behind that gray wall.

I had been in several prisons by this time, but this was different. Hazelton was very structured, but until I learned the rules and routines it was a pretty confusing situation to walk into. For example, if you want to ask the guard a question you can never go by yourself. Why? People might say you were working with the cops if you are talking alone, so even if you want to just ask about the shower schedule you have to find someone to go with you.

There are also certain things you can’t do without permission, and this permission isn’t from the guards, but from other inmates. Inmates run a lot of the routines in the jail and you have to learn the entire system pretty quickly. For example, phones. Each unit has about 120 people on it and there are only six phones on that unit. Each phone belongs to a region or a race. There would be the Midwest phone (for inmates from Ohio, Milwaukee, Illinois, etc); another phone would be the DC or DMV phone (for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia people); another phone for down South (Atlanta, Mississippi, Louisiana); and so on. Continue reading

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Champaign Police Investigate “Agency Culture” of Not Following Domestic Violence Reporting Laws — Print Version

Champaign resident Rita Conerly writes “Protect Women” using chalk outside of the Champaign Police Department on September 28, 2023. Photo by Farrah Anderson/Illinois Public Media and the Invisible Institute

A longer version of this article originally appeared on IPM Newsroom on October 9, 2023. It has been edited for space and style. See the full version here.

This story is part of a partnership between the Invisible Institute’s Champaign-Urbana Civic Police Data Project and IPM Newsroom, and was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project.

Champaign resident Rita Conerly called the police in October, 2020 because her former partner was outside her home.

Champaign Police Officer Jonathan Kristensen responded to the call. First, he spoke with Conerly, who shares children with her former partner. She told Officer Kristensen that her former partner did not have a driver’s license, but was driving anyway.

Officer Kristensen then asked Conerly if she wanted a present that her former partner, whom she had previously taken out an order of protection against, had brought her daughter.

He only spoke to Conerly for a minute and a half and left without taking a report, even after she told him the order of protection against her former partner had expired weeks earlier. That week, Conerly filed a complaint, writing that Kristensen failed to protect her. Continue reading

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Champaign Police Investigate “Agency Culture” of Not Following Domestic Violence Reporting Laws — Original (Long) Version

Champaign resident Rita Conerly holds chalk outside the Champaign Police Department building off University Avenue on September 28, 2023. Conerly wrote “Protect Women” outside the department’s building after an officer failed to file a report after she made a call regarding domestic violence. Photo by Farrah Anderson/Illinois Public Media and the Invisible Institute

This story was originally published by IPM Newsroom on October 9, 2023. It has been edited for style. See the shorter, print version here.

This story is part of a partnership focusing on police misconduct in Champaign County between the Champaign-Urbana Civic Police Data Project of the Invisible Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit public accountability journalism organization, and IPM Newsroom, which provides news about Illinois & in-depth reporting on Agriculture, Education, the Environment, Health, and Politics, powered by Illinois Public Media. This investigation was supported with funding from the Data-Driven Reporting Project, which is funded by the Google News Initiative in partnership with Northwestern University | Medill.

Champaign resident Rita Conerly called the police at 4:22 pm on October 10, 2020 because her former partner—who she lived with for over a decade—was outside her home.

Champaign Police Officer Jonathan Kristensen responded to the call. First, he spoke with the caller, who shares children with her former partner. She told Officer Kristensen that her former partner did not have a driver’s license, but was driving anyway.

Officer Kristensen then asked Conerly if she wanted a present that her former partner, whom she had previously taken out an order of protection against, had brought her daughter.

“That is an insult,” she later told a dispatcher when she called to complain. “That is not a way to serve and/or protect me.” Continue reading

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There Is Only Old People Here. All the Children Are Gone

Art work by the author

There’s no hope for a better tomorrow.

There’s no vision or dream for a better reason.

The paths are darkened by fear and evil forces that dwells in the darkness that roams the corners of the street.

There is only old people here.

All the children are gone.

Children cannot be a child, playing the games of innocence. Continue reading

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