“It’s not about who’s right anymore but what’s right,” Sophia Davila said to kick off a peaceful rally in Naperville today for racial equality. She and Indya Smith-Johnson, both 2020 graduates of Naperville Central High School, organized the event with the message to the community that “silence is violence,” that people need to speak up against police brutality, injustices, and racism.
Several hundred attended the rally at the Free Speech Pavilion at the corner of Webster Street and Jackson Avenue. The Naperville Park District Police and Naperville Police Department helped coordinate the event in order to keep it peaceful, which many have been, with the exception of a protest turned riot Monday night.
Organizers want to see particular changes as steps towards equality, including:
- More citizens taking advantage of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- Reporting incidents that happen in Naperville
- Officers listening and be respectful
- Better communication between the Naperville Park District police and the Naperville police department
Guest speakers of this peaceful rally included Councilman Benny White, Regina Brent, president and founder of Unity Partnership, and Eddie Bedford, Supervisor for Naperville Township.
“The events that happened to George Floyd in this country should make everyone in this country absolutely sick,” said White, who recalled unjustly being pulled over himself several times when he’s older. He says the key to moving forward is having an empathetic ear.
“I’m looking at all the different faces and the diversity and you’ve stepped up to the challenge,” said White. “As bad as this has been, this has been an awesome opportunity to bring our community together.”
Smith-Johnson talked about her own experience with her father being harassed in their driveway after he was followed for two miles by an officer, claiming to have a warrant.
“We expect our officers to expect us as citizens of the community,” she said. “I’ve learned that the cops can kill and they might not treat me as equal because of the color of my skin.”
“We have more in common than we have differences,” Bedford said regarding people of different races. “Our north star will always be civil rights, civil rights for all people.” In 1973, he became the first black teacher in Naperville School District 203.
“I’m not here to denigrate the police department,” he said. “Because I know many fine police officers, but they are there to serve and protect and that’s what we demand that they do.”
Many in attendance were younger adults, in their teens and 20’s. “You are the leaders that are going to carry us to the milk and honey lane,” Brent said of the crowd.
After the rally at the pavilion, everyone lined Jackson Street along the sidewalk. Organizers had asked that everyone return home at 5:30 so that should anything (violent) happen afterword, they wouldn’t be responsible. “We will not be the ones acting violently,” said Davila.
Event organizers insisted that after returning home, all attendees ask the police department for information regarding prior incidents of injustices through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as write the mayor and legislators, and register to vote “because that’s how change happens.”
“Take a Knee!”
The protesters stood still and silent for 8:45 seconds, representing the time spent that George Floyd had his neck knelt on until he died.
Shortly before 5:30, the crowd separated, with some protesters approaching a line of police officers with the Naperville Police Department. They plead with and yelled at them to “take a knee!” in solidarity.
Officers stood firm in not doing so, angering many of the protesters, some shaking their heads. Others shouted “Show you care!” and some asked for one of the officers to explain why. Meanwhile, helicopters could be heard circling the area above.
Brent got on one knee and asked protesters to pray, saying “Father, forgive them for what they do. They are God’s children too,” of the police. She then asked if the officers would give George Floyd a moment of silence, to which a few raised their hand in agreement. Other protesters could be seen shaking hands with and saying “thank you” to some of the police.
Brent then directed the protesters to leave in peace, saying “we’re not going to do this today. Don’t make it about them.” The protesters left, chanting “George Floyd, Rest in Peace.”
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