Jim Dey: Ammons a naysayer in first council vote

Jim Dey: Ammons a naysayer in first council vote

It ended with a whimper, not a bang.

"All those in favor of sending this ordinance to council with a recommendation for approval, please say 'aye,'" said Urbana Alderwoman Diane Marlin.

"Aye," said six members of the council, meeting as a committee of the whole Monday night.

"All those opposed?" asked Marlin.

"Nay," said new Alderman Aaron Ammons.

"The motion carries. No further business before the council, the meeting is adjourned," Marlin said.

Thus ended both the council's final review of a proposed ordinance that authorizes equipping a small number of police officers with Tasers to use only in limited circumstances that will be reviewed by the city's Police Review Board.

It also concluded the debut performance of Ammons, who turned his aldermanic wife's election to the Illinois House of Representatives — and a conveniently timed pardon of his felony police record from former Gov. Pat Quinn — into an appointment from Mayor Laurel Prussing to his wife's council seat.

Ammons was quick to take advantage of his new platform. He criticized the council's months-long review of the Taser issue as insufficient, complained that council members don't listen to the black community, characterized police-review board Chairman Tom Costello as "rude and disrespectful" and blasted police Chief Pat Connolly for showing insufficient deference to his views on law enforcement.

"I haven't been heard by (Connolly) in that (citizens' advisory group) meeting because he doesn't feel like I represent the community, because he doesn't want to hear from me. But now I guess I'll have a different opportunity to share some of those feelings," Ammons said.

But his main complaint was over the proposed Taser ordinance proposed months ago by Prussing at the behest of Connolly.

Neither the Urbana nor Champaign police department uses Tasers, the weapons law-enforcement officials across the country use to neutralize resisting suspects through a blast of electricity. Characterized as weapons of stunning power that leave no lasting damage, Tasers are considered to be safer alternatives than having officers fight with suspects or using batons or firearms to bring them under control.

That's not to say Tasers aren't being used in Urbana. Under certain circumstances, Urbana officers call for assistance from Taser-equipped county deputies or University of Illinois police.

But members of the Champaign County NAACP and the Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace & Justice have expressed adamant opposition to Tasers, arguing they will be used to harass minority citizens. They have repeatedly expressed their objections at council meetings over the past six months, at one session taking turns reading the names of people they say died as a result of being Tased.

Ammons' extended remarks to the council reflected his anger over what he characterized as council members' refusal to listen to him "as a representative of and as a voice for the African-American community."

But his real complaint was that, after an extended review and multiple revisions in the ordinance, the council doesn't share his position and is prepared to pass it into law.

"I've watched people come in and raise issues about parking, panhandling and all these other things, and they get the reprieves that they are asking for. But when we come in, when the black community comes and tells you that we are being profiled ... that we are going to be the ones who suffer the brunt of these — electrocutions is what I call them — it's ignored," he said.

Ammons complained that council members focused only on the ordinance regulating Taser use rather than holding special meetings devoted to soliciting complaints about police/citizen interactions.

"... Just to sit down and talk about the policy is the after-effect. We want to talk about the fact that we don't trust, at this particular point, the way we are being policed ... that is what we want to see happen," he said.

Ammons also leveled his guns at the police-review board as being as a weak body with a chairman — Costello — who is "an open advocate for the police department," the consequence being that "we do not have trust from our community" in either the review board or the police.

"... I was one of those people who carried a complaint all the way (to the review board). (Costello) was so rude and disrespectful to me that I didn't even want to continue my complaint," he said. "And so I know if he has that level of impact on me, I can imagine what he's having on the rest of the members of that board and anybody else who comes to that particular board."

Costello had little reaction to Ammons' comments, except to say that "I think we've worked very hard to give everyone the respect they've deserved" and that his job is to "make sure everybody gets a fair hearing."

Ammons made it very clear, however, that he resents what he considers council members' refusal to heed him and other like-minded people.

Ammons' comments generated gentle push-back from his colleagues.

Prussing said the difference between Taser use now and in the future is that "this ordinance puts it under our control."

"If we adopt this, a year from now, I think there's not going to be some huge dissatisfaction with it because it's only going to be used very carefully. And I think we'll have good documentation," she said.

Alderman Eric Jakobsson said he's convinced Tasers will "reduce the level of violence in encounters between police officers and citizens whom they encounter."

"If I thought the opposite was true, I certainly would not support it," he said.

Marlin rejected arguments that the council's review was insufficient.

"I can speak from personal experience. I've spent more time thinking, listening to people, researching this issue than any other single topic during my time here on the city council," she said.

They let Ammons have the last word on the subject, and he again upbraided council members for not listening. By then they had heard enough, and Marlin called the vote.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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Local Yocal wrote on January 29, 2015 at 10:01 am
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How dare that Aaron Ammons insist negroes are upset with policing. Why would he say such a thing?

Carol Ammons made mention that Aaron Ammons has walked the entire Ward 3 precinct 3 times, once for her when she ran for county board, another time when she ran for city council, and a third time when she ran for State Rep. The Ward 3 council seat is pretty much his for life if he wants it. 

Jim Dey will have his work cut out for him over the next several years to discredit Ammons when Ammons is wildly popular with his constituents who actually believe he does speak for them even if it offends White Supremist sensibilities. 

Local Yocal wrote on January 29, 2015 at 11:01 am
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As has been repeated over and over, it is not Aaron Ammons or a Local Yocal that make race an issue when it comes to law enforcement. It is law enforcement who make race an issue when they unequally apply surveillance and laws to the populace, and the data proves it year in, year out. The inequality comes from somewhere when you favor with lenient treatment white neighborhoods, white suspects, white drug users, white defendants and crush minority ones. If it looks like and acts like White Supremacy, it must be a duck. 

As for Aaron Ammons using race to further an agenda, the council meeting seen online contained no such charges of racism to the council or as Dey would like to insinuate. Ammons represented who he represents: local working poor and minority people. Ammons said it is they who have not been heard and it is they who don't care for how they are patrolled, targeted, and prosecuted. But nobody wants to deal with that because many people, particularly on this site, still want to believe negroes are an inferior race of violent, irresponsible criminals and the racial disparity outcomes of the criminal justice system are just.  


Sid Saltfork wrote on January 29, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Great choice Ms. Mayor !   Maybe, you can get James Kilgore to run against him in the next election if one is allowed.