Rockford rallies for justice

Rockford, IL – Rainy cool weather couldn’t dampen the outrage of hundreds of people demanding justice in the murder by two white police officers of unarmed 23 year-old African American Mark Anthony Barmore in a church day care center here August 24.

Barmore had run into the church in fear of the police who approached him about a domestic complaint. He was gunned down in full view of horrified witnesses and small children. An autopsy revealed he had been shot several times in the back.

The killing has sparked a series of rallies in Rockford, an old industrial city 75 miles from Chicago that has been devastated by plant closings. Several weeks ago, Rev. Jesse Jackson met with the city’s labor movement and led a multi-racial march calling for justice and jobs to rebuild the community.

Rockford currently has the highest unemployment rate in the state and has experienced a history of racial segregation and tension. The police killing is the most recent in a long list of grievances by this city’s African American community. A rally in support of the police a couple of weeks ago only heightened bitterness.

Speakers called for unity against the police violence and appealed to the youth to get involved. Protesters are demanding the establishment of the civilian complaint review board with subpoena power, a federal government investigation of the killing and national standards for the use of force by police.

The NAACP mobilized its chapters across the Midwest to participate. “No distance is long enough to fight for the cause of justice, said Pastor Steven Bland of Detroit. “As Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Even a worm will wiggle if you step on it. I came to Rockford to wiggle.”

Also attending were NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous and actor Nate Parker, star in the movie “The Great Debaters.” Both had come directly from the funeral of Darrien Albert, the 16 year-old honor student who was beaten to death in Chicago by fellow students.

Because of the rain, a planned march was cancelled and protesters packed the Kingdom Authorities International Ministries church, whose adjacent day care center was the site of the murder. The church is situated on the city’s west side, where most of the African American community lives.

The throng was welcomed by Pastor Melvin Brown, who said had Barmore run into a church on the city’s largely white East Side officers would have stopped and asked questions and not come in with guns drawn.

A city newspaper had condemned the rally as the instigation of “outsiders.” To many, this smacked of similar charges leveled by the racist power establishment in the Deep South during the Civil Rights movement when protests erupted against Jim Crow segregation.

Speakers noted the NAACP is celebrating its 100 anniversary. As Theresa Dear, President of the DuPage County NAACP branch said, “The NAACP didn’t just show up. We’ve been in Rockford for 75 years and we’re not going anywhere!”

Another speaker said the only thing different about Rockford and Milwaukee or Gary is the name of the city. The problems are the same.

Caprica Cooper of the National Council of Negro Women said the killing reminded her of the barbaric church bombing that killed four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. “The Black church and NAACP is all we have. No one should take this from us,” she said.

The crowd was peppered with signs saying, “I am human.” In his remarks Jealous said, “Everybody is made in God’s image. We are all human, and police officers need to treat us as human “

Jealous placed the issue of police violence in the larger context of severely under funded public education, growing mass joblessness without any prospects for employment and 46 million people without health care. He said a huge challenge in the 21st century is the mass incarceration in the US and today’s young generation is the most murdered and incarcerated ever.

“The incarceration has a disproportionate effect on the Black community but not only,” he said. “This is a national problem. The US has five percent of the world’s people and twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. Without all Black and Latino inmates, we would still lead the world in incarceration,” he said

“We come today and commit to a better day for our children,” said Jealous.

There were many other calls to continue to build the movement for justice. State Representative Charles Jefferson said people were joining together because they were sick and tired of the status quo. A spider may be small, but together they can tie up a lion, he said.

“It’s time for a change, Joyce Higgins of Chromelight II told the Peoples World. “This is just the beginning. People can accomplish a great deal if they come together.”

 

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CONTRIBUTOR

John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is national chair of the Communist Party USA. Previously he was Illinois organizer for the party, and is active in labor, peace and justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio and currently lives in Chicago.      

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