NORMAL — Anger about the removal of a portrait honoring late Illinois State University student Jelani Day has sparked new concerns about a perceived disconnect between town leaders and community members.
Tension came to a head Monday night during a Normal Town Council meeting in which dozens of ISU students and community activists marched into City Hall to protest and speak during public comment.
"All we ask is to be heard, all we ask is that y'all care enough to do your jobs when it comes to us," Anntionetta Rountree, co-chair of the Bloomington-Normal Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus, said Monday night during public comment.
Watch the entire council meeting
She added: "That woman wanted her son outside on that picture. Two hours before we organized tonight, you guys put it up in the window. That's a Band-Aid on a scar that can't be wrapped up in a Band-Aid. Y'all need to do a whole lot more than that."
For 40 minutes protesters harshly criticized town leaders over the removal of the poster, which was created by an anonymous artist and pasted to the side of the building at 104 E. Beaufort St. in uptown Normal last week.
Municipal workers took down the poster, saying it violated town code. It was encased in Plexiglas and placed in the window of the Beaufort Street building on Monday afternoon, with intentions to hand it over to ISU for a future memorial.
Day, 25, was studying speech pathology at ISU before his disappearance in August. He was reported missing on Aug. 25. A body recovered from the Illinois River on Sept. 4 was identified as Day on Sept. 23. A cause of death is pending further investigation and toxicology testing, police said.
Several people criticized the handling of the police investigation, which is being lead by the LaSalle County Sheriff's Office with assistance from the Illinois State Police and the Peru, LaSalle and Bloomington city police departments. The FBI's Behavior Analysis Unit is also assisting.
Some speakers questioned the length of time it took for the coroner to identify Day's body and the amount of manpower initially utilized in the investigation.
"All you had to do was leave his mural up, that's it," said Ashley Daniels, a recent transfer student to ISU. "Maybe you don't care about Black people or brown people; maybe you're frightened because we're different or we have the same things we want to go for just like you once did, but we matter too.
"Jelani was an ISU grad student trying to be great, and he never got that chance."
Members of the Afroscocialist group and the Bloomington-Normal Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter held a rally outside the Beaufort building Monday evening prior to the Town Council meeting.
The protest moved into City Hall, with several people carrying flags and signs. As people marched up the stairwell toward the council chambers housed on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, protesters chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "Jelani's Life Mattered."
'Leave his mural up'
Students and community activist groups expressed frustration over how the town handled removal of the poster and conversations about race during public comment, held at the beginning of the meeting.
Public comment pertaining to any town issue is typically held at the end of the meeting, but was moved forward due to the number of people interested in speaking.
In an interview with The Pantagraph following the meeting, Trustee Chemberly Cummings reiterated points made in her closing comments that the poster was removed and preserved in the proper context.
But Cummings, the first Black woman elected to the Town Council, said she understood the pain and struggles protesters spoke of Monday night. Growing up on the westside of Cleveland, Ohio, Cummings said there were many obstacles she had to overcome to get to where she is today, and that for many that is still not a reality.
"The fight my grandmother fought is the fight that I still fight, and that tells you a lot," she said. "I think what happened is there was an era of complacency where we thought things were better, and we got into this colorblind ideology, but what it did was it threw over blindfolds. It's always been there."
She added, "The reality is how do we adjust the system to let a few more of us be able to survive and succeed and be greater than those who came before us. It’s going to take forever because we can only let so many through the door at a time."
Trustee Stan Nord also responded to the public commentators on Monday as they were leaving the chamber, thanking them for attending the meeting and voicing their concerns.
"I feel more for her family. I lost a child too, so when I saw that the town prematurely took this down, my heart broke, because we can never undo what happened, but to end the memory so soon was very insensitive," he said.
'My heart goes out to his family'
Mayor Chris Koos in an interview with The Pantagraph on Tuesday said he worked with town staff when it was decided what to do with the portrait. After consulting with Cummings and trustees Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston and Kevin McCarthy, he approved the decision to remove the painting and preserve it.
"We knew it wasn't going to be popular, and we knew there was going to be a backlash, but we tried to do it in the most responsive way we could and the most sensitive way we could, and apparently we weren't and I'll apologize to those people," he said.
Koos added that the conversation surrounding racial inequality in America has reached a boiling point in recent years, and it's something that society needs to work together to find a solution to.
"It's always unfortunate when a young promising person loses their life, it's a terrible scenario," Koos said. "My heart goes out to his family for their loss. It's a horrible thing to have to go through.
"There's an issue for minority people in this community and this world that needs to be addressed and met head on, and we've not done that as a society and it's time we did."
Editor note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Mayor Chris Koos. This version has been updated.
Continuing Pantagraph coverage in the Jelani Day case
Jelani "J.J." Day, 25, was last seen on Aug. 24 entering the Beyond/Hello dispensary in Bloomington. Authorities on Sept. 23 said his body was found in the Illinois River.
Among the attendees is the Rev. Jesse Jackson. This burial comes 10 days after the family held a funeral service at Danville High School to honor the Illinois State University grad student.
Anyone with information on Jelani Day's death is asked to call 815-433-2161.
Hallie Bezner, attorney for Day’s family, also told The Pantagraph: “I think that people read between the lines to try to have some conspiracy that doesn't exist."
State law enforcement officials told The Pantagraph on Sunday that DNA backlogs did not slow down confirmation of the body found in the Illinois River last month as Jelani Day.
Teachers at Danville High School saw great potential in Jelani Day.
During Jelani Day's celebration of life, his four siblings sing a tribute backs by a community choir. READ MORE HERE.
Carmen Bolden Day says to work does not end with laying her son to rest. READ MORE HERE.
“You’re not going to forget his name because I’m not going to let you,” Carmen Bolden Day said on Saturday.
Pantagraph journalists spent last week in Danville speaking to those who knew Day, and they described him as big-hearted, hard-working and on a path to success.
“He will never be forgotten, Dr. Jelani J.J. Day,” mother Carmen Bolden Day said at the event. "They're going to remember Jelani's name forever.”
BLOOMINGTON — A change.org petition asking for state and federal authorities to investigate the death of Illinois State University graduate st…
The LaSalle County Sheriff's Office announced this afternoon a person of interest sought by Peru Police has been cleared by investigators and is not a suspect in the case.
Bloomington police Officer John Fermon during a press conference discusses the search for Jelani Day, the Illinois State University student wh…
Missing ISU student identified after body found near Peru. READ MORE HERE.
A body found floating in the Illinois River in LaSalle County has been identified as that of missing Illinois State University graduate studen…
Authorities on Thursday said a body discovered in a river nearly three weeks ago has been confirmed as a graduate student missing from Illinoi…
Jelani Day, a 25-year-old graduate student at ISU, was last seen the morning of Aug. 24 walking into the Beyond / Hello in Bloomington, accord…
"We always say here, see something, hear something, know something, say something. Someone out there has seen, heard or knows something."
The president of Illinois State University during her annual address to the campus community spoke about a graduate student who has been missing.
Graduate student Jelani Day was last seen the morning of Aug. 24.
A 25-year-old ISU graduate student remains missing. Here's what we know.
Authorities are investigating after body was recovered Saturday morning from the Illinois River near LaSalle-Peru.
"I want you to know, Jelani is not dead and we will find him," said his mother, speaking to a crowd of supporters on Friday night.
Carmen Bolden Day, mother of missing Illinois State University student Jelani Day, speaks at an event Friday night in support of the search for him.
"I just want to hear him call me and say, 'Mama, I just called you because I want to hear your voice,'" Jelani Day's mother said Wednesday.
Carmen Bolden Day, mother of Jelani Day, recounts the last phone call she had with her son prior to his disappearance. Several people gathered…
Police, family and friends continue to search for Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day after he went missing last week. He was last on video camera on Aug. 24 at the Bone Student Center on campus.
Bloomington police said Friday that officers are continuing their search for Illinois State University graduate student Jelani J.J. Day, 25, who was reported missing Wednesday by his family.
Jelani J.J. Day was reported missing Wednesday by his family and an Illinois State University faculty member.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson told The Pantagraph he expects as many as 1,000 people to attend a Friday march in Bloomington-Normal for Jelani Day, whose mysterious death has stirred national attention.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson speaks with The Pantagraph Thursday morning about the planned march in Bloomington and Normal for Jelani Day, the Illin…
"We want to gain one thing, and that is justice for Jelani Day," said Cameron Barnes, national youth director with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
ISU student Emily Escobedo talks asks for a more thorough investigation into the death of graduate student Jelani Day
The autopsy results released this week in the Jelani Day case have not changed his family’s message.
As part of the 32nd annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, Carmen Bolden Day received the Profile in Courage Award during the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s virtual presentation.