DeKALB — Over 100 members from the NIU and DeKalb communities marched Saturday to the DeKalb Police Department demanding a set date for more sensitivity training, more accountability for police officers and the establishment of a diverse human relations committee.
Nikitha Ballari, president of NIU’s chapter of the NAACP, said the NAACP held the protest because the DeKalb Police Department hasn’t been treating black people in the community properly.
She said the Aug. 24 arrest of Elonte McDowell sparked national attention, but the flame was already lit because of many other incidents.
A Facebook video went viral in September showing a DeKalb police officer choking McDowell during an arrest.
Before the march, protesters gathered for a rally at the Center for Black Studies to hear speeches and music, as well as a performance by Four Poets One Mic was given.
Joseph Flynn, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, told protesters during the rally that protesting has been a grand tradition for African Americans.
“What we’re protesting today is one of the most important things we can be protesting right now —police brutality and the treatment of African Americans in our community,” Flynn said. “That pain, frustration and anger, channel that into pride and respect.”
Protesters marched for three demands.
The first demand was to get a set date on when officers will receive sensitivity training. The second demand was to hold the officers in the McDowell case accountable. The last demand was to implement a task force comprised of officers, students of color and community members of color who review policies and procedures in the department.
While marching, protesters chanted “everybody is somebody,” “power to the people” and “we are color-coded, and we don’t want that anymore.” Protesters marched from the Center of Black Studies to the MLK Commons and then to the DeKalb Police Department.
Once protesters made their way to the department, they were met by Mayor Jerry Smith, Interim DeKalb Police Chief John Petragallo and City Manager Bill Nicklas.
Ballari and Elexus Hughes-Woods, Black Student Union president, spoke to Smith and Petragallo, giving them the list of demands.
Smith said he would look over the demands and be in contact with Ballari and Hughes-Woods.
In response to the rally and protest, Petragallo said the police department embraces everyone’s First Amendment rights.
Protesters held signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “#ColorCoded,” a hashtag used by the NIU NAACP to support those who have lost their lives because of police brutality.
Michael Green-Jones, a member of B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S., said the protest was emotional for him because he has lost someone as a result of police brutality.
“We definitely want change as a black community and NIU Community, and we want to feel safe,” Green-Jones said.
During the rally, a moment of silence was held for the black lives that have been lost due to police brutality.
Ballari said she thought the protest went well, and she was grateful there weren’t any counter-protests.
“I’m glad that we got our list of demands delivered and got contact information from the mayor and police chief to make sure that we hold them accountable and they actually follow through on those demands,” Ballari said.
Protesters marched back to the Center of Black Studies and joined together for last remarks by Joseph Mitchell, a pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church.
“We have to turn this moment into a movement; it doesn’t stop here,” Mitchell said. “There’s more work that has to be done, and what we have to do is work together as a community and a college, hand in hand, to bring about the change that we need in this community.”