Why was Kiwane killed?

October 20, 2009

Hundreds of outraged residents turned out for a vigil last week for Kiwane Carrington, an unarmed Black teenager who was killed by police, reports Brian Dolinar.

CHAMPAIGN, ILL., police say it will take a month for an investigation into the "officer-involved shooting" of Kiwane Carrington, an unarmed 15-year-old African American youth. There has been an outpouring of support for young Kiwane from friends and family who knew him. The community anxiously awaits an answer to what happened that rainy afternoon.

On Friday, October 9, Champaign police responded to a reported burglary at 906 W. Vine St. The first to arrive on the scene was Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney, who confronted two 15-year-olds in the backyard.

Classes in the Regional Educational Alternative for Developing Youth program that Kiwane attended were cancelled that day for teacher instruction. Kiwane, whose mother passed away last year from pancreatic cancer, was staying at his aunt's home. He had eaten breakfast there that morning. When he arrived home in the afternoon, the house was locked, and he had forgotten his key. It was raining outside, and the two were looking for shelter.

Hundreds of people attended a vigil for Kiwane Carrington on October 14
Hundreds of people attended a vigil for Kiwane Carrington on October 14

When Chief Finney arrived at approximately 1:20 p.m., he knew only that a neighbor had reported a burglary. Soon after, a witness reportedly heard police yelling out, "Get on the ground. Get on the ground." It had been raining for two days, and the ground was wet and muddy. When one of the young men tried to walk away, Finney grabbed him and a struggle ensued.

Another officer appeared on the scene--Daniel Norbits, a 14-year veteran of the force. Although neither of two boys had a weapon, Norbits apparently drew his gun, and, according to a press statement released by Champaign police, it "discharged, resulting in the fatal wounding of one of the subjects." An autopsy showed that the bullet went through Kiwane's left elbow and passed through his heart.

The News-Gazette reported that Norbits had previously been involved in the case of Greg Brown, a developmentally disabled man who died of a heart attack after he was beaten in an alley by Champaign police back in 2000. Witnesses said they heard Brown calling out for help that night.

What you can do

On Tuesday, October 20, join supporters of Kiwane Carrington and his family in calling for justice at 7 p.m. at the Champaign City Council.

On October 22, there will be a rally at the Champaign City Building, in downtown Champaign, as part of the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality. Wear black and meet at the Illinois Terminal at 4 p.m. for a march to Champaign police station. At 5 p.m., join activists for a speak-out at the Boys and Girls Club to record personal testimonies of police misconduct.

A memorial fund for Kiwane Carrington has been set up at Busey Bank for anyone who would like to contribute. Donations can be dropped off at any Busey Bank location or you can call 217-365-4544.

For video and audio of the press conference at the IMC, as well as up-to-date information, go to ucimc.org.

Virtually no other information has been provided by the Champaign police about Kiwane's death; they claim they don't want to impede the investigation being headed by the Illinois State Police.

Yet Chief Finney was on the scene and saw everything that happened. Did Norbits follow policy as practiced by the Champaign Police Department? Is it police policy to pull guns on youth? Or is this just the way that Champaign police treat Black youth? Chief Finney must reveal the truth of what occurred that day. To remain silent only fuels suspicion. For Kiwane's family, it adds insult to injury.

Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ) held a press conference on October 12 at the Independent Media Center. Present were Kenesha Williams, the legal guardian and older sister of Kiwane; Christine Williams, his grandmother; Rhonda, his aunt; Deborah Thomas, owner of the house where the incident occurred; Laura Manning, mother of the other youth involved; Aaron Ammons, co-founder of CUCPJ; Terry Townsend, longtime community activist; Seon Williams, owner of The Whip barbershop; and Dr. Evelyn Underwood, president of the Ministerial Alliance.

Behind them was a line of Kiwane's friends holding signs that read, "We want answers." One of the young people stepped up to address the cameras:

All the police are real slick with their badges. You see this on cameras, but you don't see what we see every day. You don't see how they come harass us every day on the block. It's to the point that I get harassed by my first name. I come outside, they follow me to the gas station. That's not cool for anybody to live their life. Every boy behind me has been harassed by "Champaign's finest."

THE STORY of Kiwane's death at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center was receiving 1,000 hits per day after the incident. Some of those who knew him left messages. One of them wrote, "God bless you Kiwane and your mother. May both of you rest in peace together."

On Wednesday, October 14, a vigil was held at the house where the shooting occurred. Several hundred youth, neighborhood residents and community members came to pay their respects to Kiwane's memory.

After the vigil, the crowd marched up Prospect Avenue, with many of the youth spilling into the street. Champaign County sheriff's deputies were there to direct traffic (Champaign police were nowhere to be seen). The crowd was managed by several members of the Nation of Islam, who had come from Chicago and throughout the region to serve as security for the event.

Many people filled the congregation hall at New Hope Church of God to hear state senator and vice president of Operation Push, Rev. James Meeks, give a rousing speech. Meeks lamented the death of young Kiwane. "This is what it sounds like," he preached, "when blood cries." He insisted that the community seek answers: "Put the police department on notice that we aren't going to accept open season on Negro people."

Meeks called for an independent police review board, which Urbana has established, but Champaign has refused to accept. "The worst thing in the world," Meeks said, "is to have the police police the police." He also demanded more Black officers be hired for the police force.

The other 15-year-old involved in the incident has been released from juvenile detention. Although a charge of burglary has been dropped, State's Attorney Julia Rietz has decided to prosecute him for aggravated resisting a police officer--a felony that carries a possible three-year sentence. His next court date is November 12.

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