For approximately seven hours Sunday, a racially mixed crowd starting at 30 and growing to more than 200 people marched through the Kankakee-Bradley-Bourbonnais metro region demanding an end to racial injustice.
Sparked by the May 25 arrest and death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer while three other officers stood by, the incident captured on an 8-minute video has sparked protests, marches and demonstrations across the country and Kankakee County was no different.
On a calm, sunny Sunday, people — many whom appeared to be in their late teens to mid 30s — marched from the Bourbonnais Municipal Center, through Bradley, into Kankakee to the Kankakee County Courthouse, back through Bradley’s Kinzie Avenue, through North Street, and north along Main Street and then back to municipal center — to display their frustration with police injustice and general indifference to the plight of minorities.
Traffic was mostly halted on these streets as the marchers walked and demonstrated.
While some marches across the country turned violent and resulted in property damage and looting, the lengthy Sunday march in Kankakee remained peaceful.
Timothy Harris, 18, of Bourbonnais and a 2019 graduate of Bishop McNamara Catholic High School, was one of the chief organizers of the march.
An African American, Harris, said as he walked along Kinzie Avenue at about 4:30 p.m., the message is simple: Black Lives Matter.
“If you are not part of the change, you are part of the problem,” he said as he walked with a Daily Journal reporter. “... Our justice system is hurting black people. Now we have a platform to be heard, to institute change. ... We can’t be quiet anymore.”
At various points the march stopped as demonstrations were held. The demonstration was accompanied by municipal police departments throughout.
At the intersection of North Street and Kinzie Avenue — one of the busiest intersections in all of Kankakee County — protesters laid down on their chests with their hands behind their backs as if they were restrained with handcuffs. While laid in the prone position they shouted “Black Lives — Matter.”
“If we don’t get no justice, you get no peace,” was one of the most-often heard refrains at the location.
In an effort to keep the protest peaceful, police appeared to be closely monitoring who was gaining access to the demonstration. At about 6 p.m., traffic along Interstate 57 at the interchanges in Bourbonnais, Bradley and Kankakee was not allowed to exit the interstate.
The practice was also put in place at many other interstate interchanges from Chicago to Kankakee.
In addition to closing the exit ramps, numerous retail and service businesses also closed their doors on Sunday afternoon for fear of protests getting out of hand. Businesses up and down the Route 50 business corridor were closed, including many gas stations.
Travis Miller, of Kankakee, who also was a key figure in the organization of the weekend’s marches — a similar march was held Saturday — said the conduct within so many police departments must be stopped.
Until that happens, he said, demonstrations will continue.
“But we will absolutely not riot. This has been peaceful,” he said.
One of the day’s youngest marchers was 6-year-old Justice Burt who was walking with her father, Jonathan, of Kankakee.
“She needs to see this,” Jonathan explained as they walked along Main Street NW in Bourbonnais. “You have to stand up for other people. We are trying to change things so she doesn’t have to do this.”
Justice was asked why she was walking. “Because cops killed a man. That wasn’t right,” the soon-to-be first-grader said.
Another youthful marcher, 13-year-old Carrie Liddell, of Kankakee, spoke to the audience at the conclusion of the march at the Bourbonnais Municipal Center.
Fighting back nerves and tears, she implored her fellow marchers to continue standing for what is right.
“We need to end this,” she said.
After stepping away from the make-shift podium, she broke down in tears.
She said she is not someone who normally stands up and addresses a crowd, but she felt she had to.
“I needed to speak. ... It’s not fair. It’s not nice,” she said of police abuses and discrimination.
At the event’s conclusion, Harris said no matter how many white friends he may have or the way he talks using perfect English, he will always be black and viewed by many as being not part of the establishment.
“This black doesn’t come off. I’m still black at the end of the day,” he said. “We will get no where if we are not together.”
He said racial injustices must be continually brought to the forefront in a way to end the practice.
“You will never understand our pain,” he said to the many non-black marchers. “But I thank you all.”
He concluded by noting the group did not loot one business nor harm any single person.
“Not one. We can do this peacefully. Black lives matter.”