Man takes racial issues to council

By Patrick Wade

“If you have zero tolerance on the community, please tell the public what that is,” said Martel Miller as Champaign Mayor Gerald Schweighart personally escorted him out of the Champaign City Council Chambers Tuesday night.

Miller attended the city council meeting to speak on behalf of a 17-year-old black man who was arrested Friday night on charges of resisting arrest as he walked through Douglass Park after the park was closed.

Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney said pepper spray was used in the arrest, and community members are accusing the police of using excessive force.

Tempers flared at the usually docile weekly meeting as Miller expressed his disgust towards the police department and the council, accusing the two parties of racial profiling and not being “for the people.” Miller was asked to leave the meeting because he continually interrupted council members as they tried to speak and broke chamber rules, Schweighart said.

“I don’t understand why our city council doesn’t get on the job of setting up a police review board,” Miller said.

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The young man was also present at the meeting, but Miller said the young man had been directed by his attorney not to speak.

Councilmembers Gina Jackson of District 1, and Michael LaDue of District 2, were both present at the scene after the young man had been arrested. What they witnessed was an unpleasant event.

“I saw a young man that looked like he was devastated, on his knees and on the ground,” LaDue said. He added that emergency crews were trying to get the pepper spray off the young man’s face because the young man said he could not breath.

“Yes, there’s racial profiling,” Jackson said. “That’s nothing new.”

Jackson said that racial profiling has been a problem in Champaign for a while now, and those involved need to allow some time for questions to be answered before any progress can be made.

“I’m not saying the young man was wrong, and I’m not saying the officers were right,” Jackson said. “In the meantime, let the family and the police department work out their thing.”

Finney said the department is keeping in contact with the family to see if they want to file a complaint, and the police are reviewing if the right amount of force was used in the arrest.

“There is a terrible problem with the police department and the African-American community,” LaDue said.