CHAMPAIGN — Ten years ago today, many members of the Champaign community were expressing feelings of anger and sadness following the death the day before of Kiwane Carrington, 15, in what was ultimately deemed an accidental shooting by Champaign police.
And while for some those feelings may remain, many Champaign Community Coalition members now see that traumatic incident as a “pivotal moment” in police-community relations. Dozens of the group’s members gathered Wednesday at the Champaign Holiday Inn conference center in remembrance of Carrington and to continue work that began as the Walk as One initiative.
The gathering began with break-out sessions focused on city issues. Attendees said they feel more local employers should be involved in the coalition; more investment should be made to expand local youth programs; and moving coalition meetings to the evening may improve attendance.
Such recommendations are already a step ahead of where the coalition was 10 years ago, coalition facilitator Tracy Parsons said, noting that when the group began meeting in 2009, following Carrington’s death, “there weren’t many people involved.”
“We were small but we knew we had to come together,” Parsons said. “We met in churches, community centers and anywhere that would have us. We rolled our sleeves up and got to work.”
Trauma-informed tactics, youth development, race relations and community cooperation just weren’t talked about back then, Parsons said.
But the coalition has grown “from mourning to movement,” he said.
Still, community members — including Carrington’s aunt, Rhonda Williams — said they feel there’s much yet to be done to engage local youth in initiatives such as Goal Getters. That program offers an opportunity for at-risk youth to make money through community-service work while learning about potential careers and job opportunities.
“I don’t see anything outside of these small groups for young black boys,” Williams said. “I’m in the streets with these people and it’s a war zone out there. We need to do more to get these kids involved. You have to go to them.”
Champaign NAACP President Minnie Pearson said the coalition ought to do more about community-police relations. She believes that though there has been progress made — especially through the shared principles adopted by the NAACP and local police departments — there is still much to be done to get rid of the “hurt and pain” that people still feel over Carrington’s death.
“The dust has not cleared up, and the hurt is very present, especially with his family and friends,” Pearson said. “We didn’t always have the solutions, but this started the talk and conversation. The coalition was like a flame that started to grow. And we’re making progress, but that may not be something we really see the results of until five years from now. We’re still working on this.”
John Paul Youakim, a Carle physician who participated in Wednesday’s break-out session on community violence, said the police ought to be more transparent about their training and approaches to dealing with crime.
“There’s a lot we could do better,” Youakim said. “You’re not just a police officer; you’re a psychologist and social workers. When you’re a police officer and look at yourself as a hammer and every problem as a nail, then you ignore that not everything is nails. I’m not sure what the trainings at police departments look like. We need to be more open about how police are trained.”