Residents say police evoke fear of racism

_Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article stated that Calvin Miller was arrested Sunday evening. In fact, he was arrested early Monday morning. This article has been corrected._

Some Champaign residents angrily voiced their displeasure of the city’s handling of an alleged case of excessive force by Champaign police officers at Tuesday’s Champaign City Council meeting.

The study session was extended to include a public comment section to address the case of 18-year-old Calvin Miller, who was arrested on Sunday night and reportedly beaten and maced by police. This is yet another chapter in growing tensions between Champaign residents — particularly the African-American community — and Champaign Police.

Most residents in attendance wore signs reading “I stand with Calvin Miller.”

At 1:30 a.m. Monday, Champaign Police arrested Calvin Miller on the 200 block of Brookwood Drive for resisting arrest and obstructing officers.

According to a police report, he attempted to flee and elude police before he was arrested. Police said officers attempted to stop his vehicle for several traffic-related violations. The driver reportedly fled from officers, wrecked the vehicle and fled on foot. Miller was in attendance at the meeting, as was his father Martel Miller.

Councilman Will Kyles, District 1, called for a motion to suspend the council meeting and allow for public comment on the issue at hand.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard said the council was very concerned about the situation but added they couldn’t discuss the item at hand because it could possibly violate the Open Meetings Act. The Illinois Open Meetings Act requires that notice be given in advance of cancelled meetings.

Martel Miller interrupted the meeting and voiced his opinion once again. With his son seated next to him, he said these incidents had to be dealt with immediately or else this situation could repeat itself. After an outburst from those in attendance, Gerard called for a quick recess, angering some in attendance.

Gerard came back and announced public comment would be available at the conclusion of the agenda. Gerard said they could not suspend the agenda or allow public comments during the study session. He added that the council would not interact with the audience during the public comment section for fear of legal ramifications due to violations of the Open Meetings Act. He did not specify how this would violate the act.

Public comment soon followed after about two hours of the council’s study session. Calvin Miller was the first to speak, with his father on his side. His only comment was that he did not resist arrest. His father spoke right after.

Martel Miller said this isn’t the first time such an incident has occurred to his family. Miller said another one of his sons and his daughter have been involved in police-related incidents.

He said the council needs to address the reports of rogue officers or else children may grow up fearing the officers they are supposed to look up to.

“Our kids should not be scared of the police,” Miller said.

Many in the public who spoke brought up various issues, including reports of racism in the police department. One of the speakers said he had never felt more discriminated than he has in Champaign, even more so than in visits to southern states. The Kiwane Carrington case and its aftermath were also brought up — Carrington was shot and killed by a Champaign police officer in the fall of 2009.

Another issue was the city council’s response to this latest incident. H.D. Burnett, an Army veteran who served for twenty years, said what this situation needs is leadership and professionalism. Burnett said the council needs to be leaders and to be accountable for what the local government is doing.

“You need to be responsible for everything that happens under your watch,” Burnett said.