Students' intentions were good; driver in difficult situation

Students' intentions were good; driver in difficult situation

CHAMPAIGN — The students who organized a "Black Lives Matter" protest at Centennial High School in December, which led to an altercation with a motorist outside of the school, "had good intentions" and the driver involved "found herself caught in a difficult situation."

That's the final outcome of the events that transpired Dec. 4 when a student-organized protest at Centennial got out of hand, a driver's windshield was damaged and at least one student was arrested, as determined by a group of 16 public officials, students and community members during a three-hour meeting Sunday.

The meeting, called a restorative circle, was the recommendation of State's Attorney Julia Rietz when she determined Jan. 27 nobody involved in the altercation would be charged with a crime.

"Restorative Circles use a facilitated dialogue to help parties involved in a conflict or painful event to increase mutual understanding and self-responsibility, eventually coming to agreed actions for moving forward," Rietz said.

The meeting was voluntary, according to Rietz, and the 16 participants included: Champaign Unit 4 Superintendant Judy Wiegand, Assistant Superintendant Laura Taylor, Centennial Principal Greg Johnson, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, Unit 4 school board President Laurie Bonnett, Rietz, community member and Sisternet Director Imani Bazzell, community member and Project Access Director Tracy Parsons, the driver of the vehicle and her significant other, three Centennial students who organized the original die-in protest inside the school, two parents and a student mentor.

The meeting was facilitated by University of Illinois faculty members Elaine Shpungin, director of the UI Psychological Services Center, and Mikhail Lyubansky, a professor in the UI Psychology Department. The pair interviewed nearly 30 individuals involved in the protest and invited them to participate in the meeting, including the students who were identified as being in the street when the car window was damaged. Those students did not agree to participate.

During the meeting, participants eventually "came to a shared understanding" of each other's actions before, during and after the incident.

"The goal was to give each individual the opportunity to express his or her view, for the others in the circle to gain an understanding of how the event affected that individual, and for that individual to understand how his or her actions affected others," Rietz said. "All the participants spoke openly. Without going into specifics, intentions and actions were explained and clarified, regrets were expressed, and apologies were made and accepted."

Rietz said the discussion helped provide closure, especially to the driver who had the opportunity to “express her concerns and let everybody know her perspective, which was compelling,” she said.
The goal of the meeting was to come up with plans moving forward. Since not all of the students involved in the incident attended, members discussed holding a similar restorative circle at the school.  
Participants also determined the driver should be compensated for the damage done to her vehicle when the student protest moved out into the street, the driver moved through the crowd and her car window was broken.
“The people involved in the incident would need to be present in order for a final decision to be made about compensations. Some of the things discussed were money coming from the school district or community members organizing a fundraiser so the students that were in the street could get involved in that process and donate money to the driver,” Rietz said. “Either way, we are committed to making sure she is compensated for her damages.”


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Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on April 01, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Let  the organizers  NOT the taxpayers pay for this teachable moment.   I  find  it  interesting  that  the  people  who  caused  the  damage  were  not  there.   Who  apologized  to  who?   There  was  no  acceptance  of  responsibility on  the  part  of  the  people  who  damaged  the  vehicle,  leaving  others,  who  were  not  there, to  apologize.

787 wrote on April 01, 2015 at 5:04 pm

This is yet another unfortunate example of weak leadership in the Unit 4 school district.  No one has been held responsible.

This seems to be the new standard at Unit 4.  Just ignore bad decisions, and maybe they'll just go away.

BruckJr wrote on April 01, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Why would the school district (taxpayer) cover the damages to the window?  Let Greg Johnson and his group of hoodlums pay the damages.

MahometMatt wrote on April 01, 2015 at 9:04 pm

That meeting involved a collective $2,000+ per hour of time for the professionals in the room, and with none of the offending students present.  

locavore wrote on April 01, 2015 at 10:04 pm

I support restorative circles in principle, but I don't blame the students for not showing up to this one – the smart money says that a condition of the driver's involvement was the barring of any conversation about a possible charge of reckless endangerment. Why would students – or anybody, for that matter – want to be involved in a discussion where their perspective about true blame and true accountability wouldn't be permitted air time?


Reitz and the N-G conveniently omit this part of the story, of course, because to include it would be to present the issue in a political light, worthy of debate and discussion, instead of the package the story was placed in from the start: just another act of vandalism for which someone should pay. And, oh yes, irresponsible education staff – let's not forget to press that button, too.


Committing an act of civil disobedience means you are willing to accept the consequences for your actions, on general principle, because you believe a greater moral argument is at work. The students clearly had a greater moral argument in mind when they chose to block the street. It was an act of civil disobedience, and if someone had charged them with a public nuisance violation, they should have accepted it.


However, no one is arguing that the driver – who with forethought and malice, drove her vehicle into a crowd of stationary pedestrians – was engaged in an act of civil disobedience. Her act was not civil; it was only disobedient. She placed people at great risk of bodily injury.


I would be interested to know what moral reasoning makes a cracked window worthy of heated public scorn, while someone deliberately endangering the lives of children does not even get a mention – not by Reitz, the N-G, or the online commenters. And, in case we lose sight of this fact, the window was only cracked when the driver chose to do something gravely illegal.


Civil disobedience is an essential part of the history of justice in the U.S. and around the world. That we are willing to toss that principle into the ditch and talk about a piece of busted glass instead portends deep moral confusion. Feels like the conversation about this has barely begun.

David Green wrote on April 02, 2015 at 9:04 am

Thank you for this excellent comment. It's sad but not surprising that even a restorative justice approach doesn't satisfy those who just can't stand the idea that anyone should challenge authority. But of course it's this nastiness, meanness, narrow-mindedness, and addiction-to-vengeance that defines the post-Ferguson moment among the local racist and law'n'order element.

Citizen1 wrote on April 02, 2015 at 6:04 am

All this taught the students who were in the street contrary to law and common sense is that there is no consequence for illegal and / or wrongful acts.  Worse many, many public employees, paid by the taxpayers, will defend such illegal / wrongful acts to cover their own mistakes.  From a bad situation to worse.  Only in Unit 4

Local Yocal wrote on April 02, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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The next time a bunch of football revelers or U of I students meander in front of my car, taking up too much of my time, I'll just drive at them to move them out of the way. I believe the Motor Vehicle code allows for driving at obstructing pedestrians- "safely" of course.

Chazman wrote on April 03, 2015 at 10:04 am
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Am I missing something here? When did this become a "student organized" protest? Original information published indicated that this was initiated by 3 Centennial staff members, got out of control, and spilled outside where it eventually ended up in the street. Student-exacerbated maybe, but I wouldn't say student-organized. What happened to the 3 school staff members involved? I find it amazing that there is no repercussions to anyone for any of this.

Champaignite wrote on April 04, 2015 at 8:04 am

Just because you are unaware that nothing was done in regards to staff members does not mean that that is true. I don't know either, but I do know that the school district (or likely any other employer) is not going to release discipline to employees publicly.  I would guarantee there were no "salary enhancements" and there probably was some sort of consequence; it just didn't involve some sort of public flogging that some of you seem to think would be appropriate.  The thing to keep in mind is, from what I have read and heard, that the indoor peaceful protest (which may or may not have been appropriate) was condoned by the school, the outdoor march was not and seemed to be a spontaneous event.  Now I do think the school should have been better prepared for things going off the script but there are a lot of comments here that seem to indicate the teachers were outside lining kids up to march or something.