I write in sorrow from a community in shock. On Friday afternoon in Champaign IL, Kiwane Carrington, an unarmed 15-year-old African American was shot to death in an incident with police. The police had been called to a suspected break-in. Media reports state that the policeman's gun "went off" during a scuffle after Kiwane and his friend disobeyed police orders. Kiwane was known to the house owner and was welcome there. The incidents leading up to the gun being fired are unclear, and family, friends and community members are demanding answers.
The local newspaper, the News Gazette, has more background on Kiwane Carrington and Debra Thomas, the owner of the house where Kiwane was shot, and is also reporting now that the police officer who fired the shot has been named. On Monday (10/12) a press conference was held involving relatives of Kiwane, the owner of the house where the shooting took place, and a community activist.
For those who are unaware, Champaign-Urbana is the location of the flagship campus of the University of Illinois. While the campus community is highly diverse, with all ethnicities well represented and a huge international student body, it would be incorrect to presume that the campus community is well integrated. Racial tensions on campus have become particularly apparent in the last couple of years, with Greek houses gaining notoriety for hosting parties such as "Mexican night" where girls dressed up not in sombreros but as pregnant cleaners. The school mascot, Chief Illiniwek, was recently banned from appearing at NCAA events, and a post-Chief art installation has repeatedly been vandalized.
It is a little unfair to equate the university exactly with Champaign-Urbana. Campus functions somewhat as a separate town, and has its own police force. Students are obviously temporary residents here, and bring with them the culture and suppositions from their own home towns and countries. However, the life of the whole community is wrapped up with the fate of the University, as a large number of local residents are employed by the U of I. For example, on game day it seems like both towns as well as the university shut down to focus on the game. In addition, a large proportion of students are Illinois residents, with many coming from the Chicago metropolitan area.
So it comes a little surprise that the tensions felt on campus are mirrored in the community at large. If anything, Champaign and Urbana are even more susceptible to racial divisions than campus itself. Residential areas are all but segregated, being stopped for "driving while black" is not uncommon, and relations between the black community and police in the Champaign-Urbana area are not good. However this latest incident has shocked many, particularly as Kiwane was unarmed and it occurred in the middle of the day. The community as a whole is asking itself how to move forward, and how to repair relations between a black community and a police force that seem all but destroyed.
Prayers and good thoughts for a grieving family...and hope for a more just future.