Activists, Educators, And Artists Reflect On Northern Illinois Protests 'One Year Later'
It’s been just over a year since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. During that time, northern Illinois protests mirrored national calls against police brutality and racial injustice. In Rockford, some protesters found themselves behind bars for their actions. At the statehouse, the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus drafted measures to increase cultural sensitivity in schools among other overhauls involving police. Meanwhile, artists found the events of the past year forever shaped their work.
WNIJ reporters present “One Year Later” this week during Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
One year ago this week, JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco started his new role at WNIJ covering police and community relations. It was a position created months before the death of George Floyd. It just happens that the job began during a national reckoning on race and police brutality.
May 30, 2020 was the day when several Rockford activists were arrested after protests following the death of George Floyd. Now a year later, those cases are still winding their way through the court system. Ramirez-Franco says tracking progress on policing overhauls depends on perspective.
“For example,” Ramirez-Franco said, “City administrators might say, ‘Look, we've spent over $3 million on police body cams. This is progress.’ On the other hand, protesters might say, ‘Well, what good are body cams if the city won't release the footage?’"
Protests were also held in DeKalb and Sycamore.
Listen: Voices of the Protests in Northern Illinois
Protests continued in Rockford months after Floyd's death.
Planned protests are likely to continue this summer in Rockford as well.
Susan Stephens recently sat down with Rockford Register-Star photographer Scott P. Yates who was in the middle of these protests. He reflected that it was a defining moment for the city where he lives and works.
“I was quite frankly shocked to see hundreds of people at the same time, in unison, take a knee, drop to the pavement and just lay there,” Yates shared with Stephens.
View a slideshow of the May 30 protests in Rockford
Stephens reported Yates has a unique perspective because he covered the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“So he was tuned into the possibility of violence breaking out at any moment,” Stephens said. “I wanted to know more about the images that he sought out to represent these [Rockford] events and how they affected him as a journalist, but also as a person living and working in Rockford.”
In the past year, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a number of measures crafted by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus intended to increase cultural sensitivity. Among them, how teachers approach the subject in schools. Peter Medlin says they represent a series of benchmarks at the state and local level.
"This is for teachers in training to make sure they are prepared to teach students of any ethnic background, any nationality, any language, and make sure that they're attuned to those students needs and also have a greater knowledge of their cultural experience and their cultural background to better reach those students,” Medlin said.
For artists, the protests sparked by Floyd’s death deeply affected their creations. Yvonne Boose said she reached out to Rockford poet and activist Christopher D. Sims, “Leaux” of FourPoets, OneMic in DeKalb, Margo Anderson, and Bilaal Muhammad, a Georgia police officer who writes poetry.
“[Bilaal Muhammad] says he's always written about these things,” Boose said. “He's been a police [officer] for 25 years. He said what people don't understand is when you talk about defunding the police, one of the first things that go is the training,” Boose said.
Together, these interviews are intended to shed light on how northern Illinois has been affected by a national reckoning with race over the past year. You can hear the segments during Morning Edition this week at 5:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. as well as during All Things Considered at 3:45 p.m.