Second Annual Unity March to be held Saturday

By Danielle Gaines

The Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice organization will host its second annual Unity March on Saturday beginning at 9:30 a.m.

The march aims to promote alternatives to jail expansion, as well as demand the formation of a citizen review board for police practices and spark an investigation into an Urbana police officer for alleged rape.

“The review board is important because the police department should not be policing themselves,” said Citizens for Peace and Justice Co-founder Aaron Ammons. “That is not the way America was intended to work.”

Ammons, organizer of the march, expects more than 500 citizens to participate in the event. The Urbana Police offered security services, but they will most likely not be needed, Ammons said.

There are plans to build a $20 million jail, while only $180,000 is being spent on prevention programs by the county, according to the organization. The group advocates “prevention instead of detention,” Ammons said.

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    Patricia Avery, executive director of the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, agrees with Ammons sentiments. The goal of the project is to reduce juvenile delinquency.

    “Any time we can march to reduce building facilities and to promote education, we are happy to get involved,” said Avery. “Reducing recidivism is cheaper to work for than building structures. The taxpayers really need to look at the price tag,” she added.

    The march will also address the need for a citizen review of police practices and will push for criminal charges against Urbana police officer, Kurt Hjort, for allegedly raping a woman while on duty. The officer has not been charged with the crime but has resigned while an investigation is pending.

    Citizens for Peace and Justice organized the march, with sponsors including the Anti-War, Anti-Racism Effort, the National Council of African American Men, the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, the University African American Cultural Studies Program and others.

    Nameka Bates, assistant director of the African American Studies Program, said the program was implemented to encourage students to speak out.

    “The Unity March is important because it is an opportunity for the campus and community to come together for one cause,” Bates said. “Often, the two are experiencing the same things, and this march makes that relationship visible.”

    Citizens will start the march from two locations, meeting at the Champaign County Courthouse.

    Residents who live north of University Avenue will meet at the Crystal Lake Pool Parking Lot, 1301 N. Broadway Ave., in Urbana. Residents south of University Avenue will meet at the south patio of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., in Urbana.

    There will be a reception afterwards at the Independent Media Center, 202 S. Broadway Ave., Room 100, Urbana, and a tour of the Books to Prisoners project.

    The Books to Prisoners program finds books that meet the needs of prisoner requests and then delivers the books to inmates with a personalized letter.

    Citizens stand to work to promote civic engagement, equitable law enforcement and education while incarcerated. The group was formed and held its first Unity March in 2004 to protest the purchase of Taser guns by the Champaign Police Department.

    “The goal is to bring awareness to the community, inspire others to get involved in any social change organization, and to challenge existing organizations to work together,” said Ammons. “Students should involve themselves in any social movement.”