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Black Lives Matter: Champaign-Urbana

Engaging in collective action against anti-Black racism in Champaign-Urbana

The Ongoing Saga of Driving While Black

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Many young people anxiously anticipate their 16th birthday; the age of the coveted rite of passage– the driver’s license.  We learn the “rules of the road,” take the required exams, and embrace a new freedom.   However, if you are Black, you may have been taught a special set of instructions for the road: If you are pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel, look straight ahead, don’t make sudden moves.  Black people have come to understand that deviation from these formal and informal rules could have severe consequences.  Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and Samuel Dubose are just three of numerous examples of Black people who were pulled over for minor traffic violations, that would later result in their deaths.   Numerous studies have documented the economic and social impact of “driving while black”, with a great majority of these studies drawing from data collected in large cities with sizable numbers of Black residents.

But what does it mean to drive while black in a less populated city, with fewer Black citizens? In Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, a dual municipality that is home to 231,891 residents (Urbana-41,752, Champaign-83,424), Black people account for 13% of the population.  In July of 2003 an Illinois Senate Bill was signed into law establishing a four-year statewide study of traffic stops for the purposes of identifying racial biases. Following troubling results, the law was extended through July 2019.  The Urbana Traffic Stop Task Force completed its final report for 2015 last October.  According to the report, “traffic stop data reveal a pattern of stopping minorities at a higher rate than their proportion in the population… a disproportionately large number of traffic stops in our community are made of African-American drivers as compared to any other racial group of drivers.”  A subcommittee of the task force that analyzes the collected data noted that African-Americans consistently make up the majority of drivers searched during traffic stops, and that 42% of African Americans are charged with more than one violation compared to 26% of Whites.  This results in higher fines for Black Americans compared to other ethnic groups.

Often, these normally routine traffic stops end in physical or psychological trauma.  In 2011, Champaign resident Calvin Harris , who was 18 years old at the time, was beaten by former Champaign police officer Matt Rush after being followed by the officer in his patrol car.  Harris stated that Officer Rush rammed his patrol car into the back of his vehicle, which compelled Harris to exit his car on foot.  Harris says that he stopped when ordered to and even fell to the ground, but was beaten by the officer causing extensive injuries to his jaw, eye, and forehead.  The Champaign City Council ruled in Harris’s favor by awarding him a $25,000 settlement.  Officer Rush went on to brutalize 3 other Black residents of Champaign county, accounting for $320,000 in settlements before being fired for a second time in April 2016.

In addition to driving while black, there are also penalties for “walking while black.”  In Champaign-Urbana, 89% of those arrested for jaywalking are Black.  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign which enrolls 44,000 students, is located in Urbana where 91%, of the people cited for jaywalking are Black.  Curiously, Black students make up only 6% of the University’s student population.

While Urbana touts itself as a small, but “liberal” and “progressive” community, data over the course of several years reveals that Urbana is no better, and perhaps even worse, than many of its counterparts when it comes to racial bias in policing.

National studies show that Black Americans are generally distrusting of police to protect and serve them.  Racial bias in policing has contributed to an economically exploited, a politically encumbered, and socially disenfranchised Black population.  There are also significant psychological ramifications to constant worry over what may happen on the road.  Interviews of Black residents in Urbana reveal a general fear for safety when stopped by police.  Fear influences not only a driver’s demeanor when pulled over, but may also be seen as a justifiable reason for a police officer to ask a driver to exit the car, or to carry out a car search.

According to Samuel Floyd Jr., author of The Power of Black Music, music by Black artists can serve as a barometer of the psychological state of many Black folks during a particular period of time.  Black rappers have made references to police distrust and brutality since the early days of hip hop.  In the new millennium, Black rappers continue to do so.  In Kanye West’s 2004 hit All Fall Downs he proclaims “even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe.”  One can infer that West is eluding to the fact that being Black eclipses the social status conferred by driving an expensive car.  Relatedly, in April of last year comedian Chris Rock posted selfies to social media of him being pulled over for the 3rd time in 7 weeks.  He captioned the photos with the words “stopped by the cops again, wish me luck.”

In an effort to improve police-community relations citizens of Champaign have requested a police review board.  The proposal has been voted down for some nine years.  However, the News Gazette reported that on Tuesday January 24, 2017 the Champaign City Council approved the creation of “a standing subcommittee of the Human Relations Commission that would work with the Community Relations Office in evaluating the police complaint review process”.  An important critique of the subcommittee is that there are currently 13 people affiliated with the police department on the working committee that is developing the process.  Therefore, this is another example of police “policing” themselves.  Citizen Review Boards can be used as templates for Community Policing models that could replace police departments all together.  However, they should be structured in ways that do not center the existing power structure.   It’s time to dismantle the “blue shield” of policing and create community collectives that work to maintain social order.

Evelyn Reynolds

Protect Trans Women and Femmes

Black Lives Matter Champaign-Urbana affirms the right to life for our Black trans family.

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Collage of Transwomen and femmes killed 2016-2017
Made by Shameem Razack

Introducing the BLMCU Youth Council!

We are SO happy to announce the creation of our Youth Council!  BLMCU organizer Shameem Razack will be leading the council of 13-18 year olds.  Members of the Youth Council will: identify youth-specific problems in schools, communities, and interpersonal relationships, and develop strategies for their eradication, provide political education to youth who can later teach their peers, develop models for peer conflict resolution and mediation, and much more.

Chapter members will be visiting local middle schools and high schools throughout the year to discuss the Youth Council and connect with potential members.  If you or someone you know is interested in joining please contact BLMCU at: blacklivesmattercu@gmail.com

ALL Black youth are valuable and important:  LGBTQ+ youth, youth with criminal records, poor youth, homeless youth, differently-abled youth, immigrant-status youth, ALL, we want you!

Youth Council Social at Jupiter’s Pizzeria and Billiards

New Black Lives Matter Yard Signs!

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Need a BLM yard sign?  We got you!  Nice and bright for the Spring and Summer, we are merchandising yards signs for $5 each (alternative options for folks who can’t pay).  You can pick up a sign at the YWCA office located in the upstairs of the University YMCA building-1001 S Wright St, Champaign, IL, (217) 344-0721.  The office will be open from 10am-6pm Monday-Friday. 

We will also merchandise signs at some of our events so check out the Events tab to see where we will be next.

Many thanks to the YWCA for their generous donation that allowed the purchase of these signs.

Always resisting,

BLMCU

Here’s the Full Transcript of Evelyn Reynolds’s CU Women’s March Speech

I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak here today.  None of today’s speakers can fully represent the array of magnificent women in our community.  Many of which don’t hold public positions of influence or prestigious titles.  Many of whom are disregarded because they are poor and without degrees. Women who refuse to speak imperial English, and use inflammatory language because they live inflammatory lives.  Women transcend titles, labels, and organizations.  Those just happen to be things that our capitalistic patriarchal society has selected as our most notable qualities, to further its own interests and agenda.  But who are we as thinking, feeling, human beings?

As we stand here en masse, lifting up messages of “feminism” and “woman empowerment,” it seems disingenuous to me.  Women, allowed this very march to be planned by men!  Women, neglected to stand up for themselves OR OTHER WOMEN, as important questions were asked by participants who wanted to ensure that this march was as inclusive and intersectional as possible.  Women, gave the A-OK to speaking at a bar that has created a drink called Nasty Woman in “our honor,” when WE KNOW that alcohol is key factor in most cases of rape and violence against women!

Where is the GRIT and GALL of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Riviera, Fannie Lou Hammer, Ida. B. Wells, Harriet Tubman, Jane Addams?!  Individuals who recognized the intricate ways in which their sex assignment intersected with their race, class, and sexuality, and the various ways that they were oppressed because of them.

We talk a lot about feminine oppression from men.  Which is real and active, always.  But what are the ways that we oppress one another?  I’m looking out into a sea of White women, who are today claiming to be in solidarity with Black women.  White women are often the very purveyors of racist aggressions against Black women!

Where is your support and solidarity when Muslim women are getting their hijab’s pulled off and being spat upon?!  Did you rise up when 270 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped and disappeared?!  Did you cry out when over 16 transwomen were murdered last year!  No!

It is White women who fail to acknowledge me in the grocery store line, while greeting the person before and after me.  It is White women who follow me around at retail stores with questioning glances at my purse and my pockets.  It is White women who chose white privilege over gender in the last presidential election.  And it is little white girls who are often the first people who call little black girls niggers.   So you are also my oppressor!

Therefore, I ask,

WHO WILL STAND UP FOR BLACK WOMEN AND GIRLS?!?!?!

When the dust settles, and the crowds and cameras disperse, THAT is when we need you.  That is when your true self is revealed.

I’ll end with a quote by bell hooks:

“The process begins with the individual woman’s acceptance that American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.” 

CU Kwanzaa Celebration!

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Please join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kwanzaa!   Kwanzaa is an African American holiday that observes and honors African ancestry, while promoting Black love, unity, and power through seven affirming principles.

You can support this event by donating here:

We look forward to celebrating with you!

 

The Campus Shooting and The Danger of Oversimplifying A Narrative

-Your Sib, Liv

Robbie Patton and George Korchev’s media representation as a simple dichotomy only fuels the problem, not the discussion.

Continue reading “The Campus Shooting and The Danger of Oversimplifying A Narrative”

No, Joe Gerber. For the Kid’s Sake, Leave Them Alone.

-Your Sib, Liv

[image of out trans rights and black activist Blake Brockington wearing a green “Legalize Trans*” shirt,  who took his life on a interstate in Charlotte, NC  March 2015 ,due to depression and transphobic violence. Also brought the discussion of similar deaths: Leelah Alcorn and Ash Haffner]

Continue reading “No, Joe Gerber. For the Kid’s Sake, Leave Them Alone.”

You’ll be loved and remembered Darren Seals

On Tuesday morning, September 6, 2016, 29 year-old  Ferguson, Missouri activist and leader of the Michael Brown protests, Darren Seals’ body was found shot inside of a burning vehicle. Authorities are ruling Seal’s death as a homicide and his murder is being investigated. Activist companions, friends, and family of Seals are deeply heartbroken and are wary of what may come next.

BLM-CU chapter honors, you, Darren Seals, for your courageousness,  efforts, and the love you’ve spread to your community.

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