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'Freedom is important:' Few hundred rally to demand reopening of region, state

KANKAKEE — People — at least 300 or so in Kankakee County — appear ready to put an end to the government-imposed “stay-at-home” order put in place in late March by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

On an overcast late Thursday afternoon, about 300 mostly unmasked people rallied in front of the Kankakee County Courthouse to voice the need to end the order and allow businesses to reopen their doors throughout not only Kankakee County, but the entire state.

Organized by Bourbonnais resident and small business owner Soleil Van Til, the “Let Freedom Ring” rally was put together only about a week ago and was designed to let state public officials know some have reached their breaking point.

The rally’s main theme was freedom — both personal and public. This rally marked the first organized display within Kankakee County of the frustrations regarding the government-order shutdown connected to COVID-19.

“Freedom is important. It’s everything. It’s essential,” Van Til said in an obvious reference to the advantage businesses and workers have who carry such a designation.

With flags waving and signs being held high stating “Work is a Basic Right” and “Reopen America Now!” the mostly well-behaved crowd broke out in applause when Van Til, the owner of the Van Til Chiropractic office in Bradley, said the time had come for citizens to regain their rights.

“The virus is real. ... I’m not minimizing any of this. [But] we can move forward with reopening and protect those that need it,” Van Til said. “We can do both.”

The nearly 90-minute event featured prayers, speeches, songs and at least one arrest. The one known arrest came when a demonstrator — who favored at least the wearing of protective face masks — began shouting to the crowd. That incident appeared to be the only moment of confrontation during the gathering.


One spectator, Kirk Kibbons of Bradley, said there is no question the government has become too controlling.

“We are adults,” he said as the event concluded. “I haven’t seen my grandchildren for a couple months now. I believe we are giving up our freedoms too easily.”

Another onlooker, Sarah Koerner of Kankakee, described herself as “outraged” by how Pritzker and the government are controlling people. She said the people’s rights are being trampled.

“I find this all very transparent. This is a man-made problem. The numbers [of sick due to COVID-19] are being inflated,” she said. “I don’t trust what I’m being shown.”


Van Til, 31, implored citizens to take a thoughtful look as to what is happening in these times since the coronavirus’ presence here.

She said fear has gripped the United States.

“Fear has crippled our nation. ... Fear may be more dangerous than the virus,” she said. “I choose not to live in fear. Our businesses and churches need to be opened.”

What she labeled as real are the mental health stresses the national shutdown has caused. She said suicides are real, loneliness is real.

“I’m sick of government telling me what to wear going to a grocery store,” she said. “We need to restore self-accountability. You are accountable for yourself.”

For far too long, she said, people have stayed quiet. That obedience, she said, must end.

She said since people have begun to question what is taking place, the governor appears to be rethinking the restrictions in place. On Tuesday afternoon, Pritzker announced that outdoor dining would be added to the list of allowed activities in Phase 3 of his Restore Illinois plan. That phase, which Pritzker has said the state as a whole looks to be on pace to achieve May 29, allows for a number of businesses to reopen with limitations in place, including retail, beauty salons, barber shops, health clubs and more. Restrictions will also still include limits on gather sizes. Restaurants, for example, can only have outdoor seating, in additional to pickup or delivery service.

Van Til said people don’t need the governor’s guidance when it comes to how they should interact with one another.

“We can protect our friends and neighbors and the vulnerable. We can go to church safely and we should do that. ... Let’s open our city and county. Let’s encourage our local officials. We can open and protect people at the very same time. No more restrictions. Let’s be free.”

A mother and wife, Van Til said being on stage and rallying people to oppose government is about the last place she ever thought someone would find her.

However, the mother of four said someone has to rise up and say “enough.”

“It’s not the state’s right to say who can open and not. This has gone too far,” she said prior to taking the stage. “The state is infringing on the rights of the people. The government has done a great job of scaring people. My goal is to provoke, to encourage, to inspire people to reopen business, for churches to decide what is right and what is safe. It’s not the state’s job.”


Also speaking to the gathering were Theresa Raborn, a Republican seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Chicago. The district includes all of Kankakee County.

Mark Curran, an attorney who served as Lake County sheriff from 2006-18 and is running as the Republican Party U.S. Senate candidate against incumbent Dick Durbin, also spoke.

“Who wants to live in a country without liberty?” Curran asked. “We are under attack. What’s going on right now, people are not hearing. We need to be a little bit louder.

“... We are here today for many reasons. But we either stand up right now or this goes on. Let’s wake up, folks. Who do they think they are messing with?”

Another spectator, Neelie Panozzo, who operates the Village Grill in Bradley, said after the event’s conclusion that if businesses such as her restaurant which she has operated for 17 years do not open soon, no rally or protest with save them.

“I’ve had to lay people off,” she said. “I never thought the closure would last this long. I thought maybe a month. ... This is beyond belief.”

County liquor commissioner gives green light for opening

May 29 is the expiration date of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s current executive order which keeps non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers home. Though the governor has said the state as a whole appears to be on pace to move into Phase 3 of his reopening plan — dubbed Restore Illinois — many are waiting with bated breath to see if we make the transition.

But it appears Kankakee County Board Chairman and Liquor Commissioner Andrew Wheeler is done waiting.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Wheeler announced that all establishments currently holding a Kankakee County liquor license in good standing can open provided they are complaint with state reopening guidelines for outdoor dining.

“I am happy to announce that with safety protocols in place, our rural bars and restaurants have the local green-light to resume operations in an augmented fashion during this phase of the governor’s reopening plan,” said Wheeler.

Making “no assertion of the state licensing regulations,” Wheeler said that as long as a business operates according to the county’s liquor control code in a COVID-responsible fashion, they will have no issues with the County Liquor Commissioner’s Office.

As liquor commissioner, Wheeler said he is empowered by county code established by the county board to make such a determination.

“As I prioritize the work of this office, I can tell you that nowhere at the top of the list of work does it say ‘enforcing laws that do not exist,’” he said.

Pritzker’s allowance for outdoor dining is rather new, with its addition to Phase 3 coming just days prior to Wheeler’s creed. In earlier versions of the Restore Illinois plan, the reopening of restaurants and bars in any capacity wasn’t allowed until a later phase that likely wouldn’t come to pass until late June.

Wheeler said he encourages all bars and restaurants holding a county liquor license to take the state’s opening plan into consideration when considering their course of action. To those who wish to open, Wheeler has some advice.

“I strongly urge all business owners to make sure they check their insurance policies, the state liquor license and all county liquor ordinances,” Wheeler said. “It is the owner-operator’s obligation to make sure they are compliant in their outdoor operations. For instance, The Smoke Free Illinois Act, sanitary requirements and obstruction regulations all apply.”

To all, he says, “Please act responsibly, and remember that as consumers, we all have choices to make as well.”

Authorities ID body found in car that crashed into Kankakee River

KANKAKEE — A car that went into the Kankakee River Thursday morning was recovered with the body of a man inside shortly after 4:30 p.m.

Kankakee County Chief Deputy Coroner Eric Cavender identified the man as Nasir A. Douglas, 20, of Bradley. An autopsy is scheduled for Friday.

Thursday at 9 a.m. emergency personnel from multiple agencies started searching the river at the Schuyler Avenue bridge after the car crashed into the river.

According to scanner traffic, the car was apparently involved in a hit and run on South Greenwood Avenue.

The driver fled and was traveling south on South Indiana Avenue traveling at approximately 80 mph when a tire blew.

The car continued southbound going through the intersection at Indiana and River Street before crashing through the barrier where Indiana ends.

There was a report that a man was able to get out of the car and was seen floating down the river.

It appears the same man was in Bourbonnais at David Bruce Toyota Cadillac at 8:15 a.m. this morning.

Bourbonnais Deputy Police Chief Dave Anderson said officers responded after employees called about a man knocking on windows.

The man told the officers he was there to test drive a car. He was told he had to come back Friday.

Anderson said the man was apologetic and he appeared anxious.

City of Kankakee pushes vehicle stickers to July

KANKAKEE — Vehicle sticker fees will now be conducted in July after city of Kankakee officials pushed the due date back a month.

Previously due by the end of June, residents in the City of Kankakee will now be able to obtain their vehicle sticker between Monday, July 6, and Friday, July 31.

“This announcement comes as the health and safety of all residents, as well as city employees, remain a top priority during these uncharted times as we aim to make this process safe for everyone,” read a press release from the city.

Sticker fees are $35 per vehicle. Revenue generated from the fees support the general fund budget, including providing full-time police and fire services, according to the press release.

Additional details regarding the vehicle sticker process will follow in the coming weeks, while applications for vehicle stickers will be mailed to notify residents.