Danville leaders preach patience in wake of fatal shooting by police

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Danville leaders preach patience in wake of fatal shooting by police

DANVILLE — When Ed Butler woke around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, he instinctively reached for his cellphone. When he turned it on, he saw a missed call.

It came in the middle of the night.

And it was from Public Safety Director Larry Thomason.

"I knew it couldn't be good," said Butler, president of the local NAACP chapter.

His hunch was confirmed when he talked to Thomason. The director told him that while making a traffic stop on a man, who reportedly was armed with a gun and a suspect in a domestic disturbance, two police officers fired at him, and the man was dead.

"I thought, 'Lord, have mercy. Have mercy on the people who were involved and have mercy on our town,'" Butler said.

In the wake of high-profile, deadly officer-involved shootings around the country, Butler was concerned about how the public would react, especially after learning the officers were white and the man was black.

He was also concerned that once word spread, outsiders would take advantage of the grief, confusion and anger over DaNathe M. Gulliford's death to try to push their bias or agenda and to incite riots or other acts of violence among local residents.

"Some lady from Florida wrote (on Facebook), y'all need to burn Danville down," Butler said of a post he saw that night. "Another person wrote (he) knew one of those ... policemen (was) going to kill one of the blacks sooner or later. People like that just assume it's the police's fault from the beginning. They don't care about the facts. Everybody's trying to get their assumptions out there first."

"I think we all recognize the rumor mill is a big problem," Thomason added, saying it wasn't long before inaccurate statements started circulating on social media. "Anytime a group or individual calls for violence, that's a huge mistake. That doesn't solve the problem. It only creates more problems.

"That's why we wanted to get out front and make things known because we're not trying to hide anything," Thomason continued. "I understand people are upset. I understand they want answers. But we're still waiting to get all of the facts and information. That's all we can work with — the facts of the case. Not rumor, not suspicions."

At 7:30 that morning, Thomason and Mayor Scott Eisenhauer met with Butler and other black community leaders to tell them what happened. They joined the director at a news conference a few hours later, where he provided the same information:

At 1:54 a.m., a 911 dispatcher got a call for a domestic disturbance at a residence in the 600 block of Sherman Street. During the incident, a man — later identified as Mr. Gulliford, 34, of Danville — reportedly threatened a 39-year-old woman and 43-year-old man with a gun, and both received some type of non-life-threatening injury.

Two third-shift officers responding to the call — a veteran and a trainee — spotted Mr. Gulliford's vehicle a few streets away on Harmon Street and initiated a traffic stop. They repeatedly ordered him to exit his vehicle with his hands showing, but he didn't comply.

When Mr. Gulliford finally exited the vehicle, he was holding a gun. At some point, the officers fired upon him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Illinois State Police were called in to investigate. The officers, who weren't injured, were put on paid leave pending the outcome.

Butler urged community members to hold their judgment until the investigation runs its course and the facts are revealed, and to not let any outsiders influence their thoughts and actions.

'Why didn't they taze him?'

On Wednesday evening, about 50 people gathered in front of the Public Safety Building for a candlelight vigil for Mr. Gulliford, the father of several young children. Some held signs that said, "Justice for Dee," "Why my daddy?" and "Black lives matter."

Dean Williams said he and others wanted to remember his longtime friend and support his family, including Diane Carrington, Mr. Gulliford's former foster mother. They were also protesting his shooting, which they called unnecessary.

"I think it's crazy how the matter was handled," said Williams, who admits he wasn't there and didn't see what happened. "They had other solutions. They have tasers. Why didn't they taze him?"

"A trained officer should know how to disarm someone without murdering them," added Brandice Connor.

Some members of the gathering said they plan to continue speaking out.

"The community is really in an uproar," Williams said. "We come in peace, but we really want answers."

"We're going to remain peaceful," said Sharon Butler, Carrington's sister. She added that while people are upset, they're level-headed and don't subscribe to violence. "That's how Martin Luther King did it. He stood for equality, but not violence. We don't plan to get rowdy. That's not what we're here for."

The Champaign resident said her sister may have adopted Mr. Gulliford at some point. Regardless, Carrington considered him her son, and she considered him her nephew.

"He was good to his mother and good to his children," said Butler, who indicated her nephew had received bad news prior to the incident. "You never know what someone's going through. ... He was a human being, and he didn't deserve to die like that."

Butler said she was praying for her sister, but also for the officers and their families.

"It's going to affect them, too," she said.

'May take several weeks'

Eisenhauer said his thoughts also have been with Mr. Gulliford's family and the police officers who were involved during this challenging week.

While he's seen some Facebook posts by "individuals trying to stir things up," he believes "those sentiments are in the extreme minority."

Eisenhauer called on the community to remain patient.

"Some, I think, believe there should be answers to all the questions by now," he said. "But I impress upon them that this is not an episode of 'Law and Order' where the investigation is concluded in 60 minutes. In fact, an investigation of this matter, with the number of interviews to conduct, the evidence to analyze and the many pieces of the puzzle to assemble may take several weeks to conclude."

Eisenhauer said he doesn't want state police investigators to rush the process.

"We want them to work diligently, taking the time they need to completely evaluate all of the evidence, so in the end, their decision has been fully vetted, and they get it right."

Both the mayor and Thomason credited Butler and other "committed" community leaders — including the Revs. Tyson Parks and Steve Perkins, of Allen Chapel AME Church; Timothy Shaw, of Second Baptist Church; Thomas Miller, of New Life Church of Faith; Frank McCullough, of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church, and Nate "Bobo" Smalls — and their relationship with them for helping to keep residents calm.

Three years ago during some of the national unrest following deadly officer-involved shootings, Eisenhauer said he and Thomason began meeting with them to discuss what they would do in a similar situation.

"They were instrumental in outlining what steps we should take, what matters to consider and how to best communicate to the public," he said.

"We hoped that we'd never have to come together for this purpose, but we did," Thomason added.

Eisenhauer went on to say that Thomason has built strong relationships with many other community groups.

"There is no doubt that having these discussions well in advance were critically important as this event unfolded," he said. "There is also no doubt in my mind that without these relationships with our community leaders and having this incident plan in place, we likely would see much of the same post-incident activity, which has unfolded in other communities."

'We'll deal with it'

While tensions are high, Thomason said he believes no disturbances have occurred largely due to the work the ministers, Three Kings of Peace and others have made through their jobs and community activism.

For example, Miller, who is also a Danville school board member, has mentored high school students for years as a lunch room and Refocus Room (in-school suspension) monitor. Smalls and McCullough run the summer youth basketball league at Garfield Park, which has mentored hundreds of youths and kept them off the streets and out of trouble.

They, with Butler, also make up the Three Kings of Peace, which monitor and mentor South View Upper Elementary, North Ridge Middle School and Danville High students and partner with local organizations and churches to hold peace marches and block parties Saturday evenings in different neighborhoods.

"We know most of our kids in Danville, and they trust us," Butler said. "We tell them, 'Sit down and listen to your teacher.' We give them the rundown if they get out of line and say, 'This is what's going to happen to you if you don't straighten your butt up.'"

Last summer, Butler and his pastor, U. Pete Williams of Greater Shiloh Baptist Church, brought in East Moline pastor P. Wonder Harris, an ambassador with A Village of Thousand Elders, to put on a workshop meant to teach community members what to do if they are stopped by police so that the stops don't escalate.

"It was attended by about half the police, (Sheriff) Pat Hartshorn, Larry Thomason ... and at least 50 community members," Butler said. "I'm working with pastor Parks to put on another seminar by the end of this summer."

Butler said the relationship with city officials has been a two-way street.

"We've brought things to the chief (Thomason) and the mayor, and they've listened," he said. "They pulled in one officer who was trying to make a name for himself ... and being too belligerent and aggressive with people. I believe in doing things by the book. I've got confidence that our chief and mayor will do things by the book.

"If it turns out to be the policemen are in the wrong, we'll deal with it accordingly, and if the young man did have a gun in his hand, we'll deal with that accordingly. The important thing is whatever the outcome ... we have to keep order and peace and try to move forward and get stronger."

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