ROCKFORD, IL - Over 1,300 community residents in Rockford Ill. marched over the weekend for jobs, education and justice in response to the police killing of Mark Anthony Barmore. Barmore was was slain on August 24 in this economically hard hit city.
The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) along with other community groups and churches organized the march. Protesters carried signs calling for "community unity," in response to the killing and economic crisis that have inflamed tensions across communities.
Rev. Jesse Jackson of the National Rainbow PUSH Coalition and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous led the demonstration.
The killing of Barmore is the latest in a long string of acts of racism committed in Rockford, an old industrial city of 155,000 rocked by the highest unemployment rate in the state at 15%, and 30% in the construction trades. Unemployment is far higher in the city's African American community.
Two Rockford police approached Barmore, a 23 year-old African American, while he standing in front of the Kingdom Authority International Ministries (an African American church) after receiving a complaint. Unarmed, Barmore ran into the church followed by officers with guns drawn.
Barmore entered the church day care area with children present and into a small boiler room. Ordered by police to exit, Barmore slowly emerged with hands up. According to day care workers, police shot him unprovoked. Lying face down on the floor, he was shot three more times in the back.
Since the killing, racist elements have been whipping up a climate of hate including a local radio station. Supporters of the police are planning a march on September 19, which is expected to inflame the situation further.
The community affairs department of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is involved and a confidential pre-strategy meeting was held last Friday. The NAACP is requesting a criminal investigation from the DOJ.
One of the officers who shot Barmore has shot 3 other African American males in Rockford. Additionally, officers are reportedly using intimidation tactics against the witnesses such as sitting outside their homes.
In an effort to unite the city, Jackson called for a movement against the economic crisis. He met with the city's labor leadership where he called for a vigorous fight for jobs, including an additional stimulus plan from the federal government targeting cities like Rockford.
"Our problem today is not the fight in Rockford between the people that live in Rockford, our fight is a community together, fighting Washington and letting them know we need a stimulus package for Rockford to bring our manufacturing stimulus here," says Tom Dal Santo, Business Manager of Laborers Local 32.
"We're taking the focus off something we can't control right now and focus on the root of the problem which is lack of jobs and the ability to organize," says Brad Long, president of the Northwest Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council.
"It was wonderful watching so many diverse segments of our community come together to march for jobs, justice, education, healthcare, and an end to violence and poverty, said Fay Muhammad, a community activist and march organizer. "However, it's very sad to think it took a murder in a daycare center to sound the alarm for community unity."
The NAACP is renewing a push for federal standards on police use of force. "There are no national standards for the use of force (or) training for use of force," said Jealous.