Community demands reform at Black Lives Matter town hall

Trinity+Alexander+speaks+out+during+Mayor+Jerry+Smith%27s+story

Colton Loeb | Northern Star

Senior communication major Trinity Alexander speaks out as Mayor Jerry Smith's tells a story in front of the bandshell at Thursday's Black Lives Matter town hall at Hopkins Park.

Kurt Bitting, Editor in chief

DeKALB — Local Black Lives Matter organizers told Mayor Jerry Smith he was making ‘empty promises’ after Thursday’s Black Lives Matter town hall at Hopkins Park during which the community made demands about police reform.

“Everything you’re saying just sounds like empty words,” senior communication major Trinity Alexander said, speaking up without a microphone as Smith began to share a story in front of the bandshell. “You need to actually say, ‘I hear you, this is what we’re going to do.’”

Smith was asked to speak at the town hall and began telling a story of how, when he was an NIU student in 1961, he took part in a protest because at that time black students were unable to get their hair cut in DeKalb.

“I want to be the mayor of all people — young, old, black, white, red, green, blue.” Smith said. “Unfortunately, I can say very little on the concerns tonight. The reason being is that if I did that, I would be violating the Illinois Open Meetings Act.”

Smith said some have called for his resignation after he used the word “thug” in his response to looting that occurred May 30.

Smith said he’d never been booed off a stage before Thursday’s town hall. He said his takeaway is that he’s still got a lot to learn.

Alexander said she wasn’t surprised by the council’s response during the forum. She said she doesn’t care what the council members have done in the past. She said it’s about what they’re doing now.

“It’s just frustrating,” Alexander said. “The City Council sat here and said, ‘You know, I hear you. Thank you for sharing your traumas. Bye.”

About 100 people attended the town hall and over 20 community members took turns using a microphone in front of the bandshell. Some demanded reform from the city and police department while others shared their experiences with the DeKalb Police Department.

Bryton Rimmer, of DeKalb, is a protest organizer and said the police should go through de-escalation training. Shrestha Singh, of DeKalb, called for the elimination of cash bail for DeKalb. Another woman called for the police to have a more attentive approach when reaching out to the community after she said she never heard back from the police when she filed a police report.

Junior theatre major Andrea Shapiro talked about a break-in that occurred in her apartment complex. She said the intruder broke a window in the space she shares with her neighbors. She said when DeKalb police arrived to talk with Shapiro, who is white, they were very respectful to her. However, when they spoke to her neighbors, who are black, the tone changed and she said her neighbors were terrified.

Interim DeKalb Police Chief Bob Redel said when he hears that his officers don’t treat community members with dignity, it’s unacceptable. He said the community needs to hold police accountable for treating everyone with respect.

“It was enlightening for me,” Redel said. “I learned things that you see or hear going on in other communities that I’m being told is happening right here in our community.”

Redel said he knows change has got to be made and that the city needs to find the right way to do it.

Event organizer Vivian Meade read a list of demands the community had for the city and the police department. The demands included policy reform for the police department, requiring all officers on patrol to wear and use body cameras regardless of criminal activity and cutting the police budget in half to fund social service programs.

The demands also included the firing of officers who use or have a history of excessive force, including police Sgt. Jeff Weese who used a chokehold against Elonte McDowell during an arrest in August 2019.

Meade said she was happy with the turnout and that Smith and City Manager Bill Nicklas came to listen to the community.

Meade said protests and town halls are not the end of everything. She said the biggest way the community can make change is through voting.

“Get registered to vote,” Meade said. “Get into the voting booths. Even going door to door talking to your neighbors — with masks — is a good start.”

The League of Women voters set up a booth at the top of the amphitheater Thursday in an attempt to encourage community change through voting.

Chemistry instructor Linh Nguyen is the president of the League of Women Voters and said she wants democracy to work for everyone. She said in order for change to happen, you have to change the system from the ground up.

“We believe black lives matter,” Nguyen said. “Black votes matter. We want to tell the community that this is one of the ways you can make change.”

Nguyen said she encourages young people and people of color to register to vote, to vote in local elections and to use their voice to let lawmakers know they want change.

Jessica Adeoti, of DeKalb, said there’s a lot of work to be done within the community. She said it will be important moving forward that the community hold police officers and city officials accountable.

“We just need to keep our feet to the fire and keep working,” Adeoti said. “I think we’re at a pivotal time right now where we have the attention of so many, and we need to build on that momentum.”