Springfield Officials Express Pride Over Peaceful Protest, Discuss Racial Divide In City

Jun 3, 2020

At Tuesday’s Springfield City Council meeting, several officials praised protesters who took the streets in the capital city for being peaceful. A few amplified the message of speakers at the anti-police brutality protests.

A car procession organized by Black Lives Matter Springfield drew thousands of vehicles, which drove around downtown Sunday afternoon. Three high school students organized a protest Monday afternoon where more than a thousand people marched.

“I wanted to congratulate the citizens of Springfield,” said Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer. “And especially the people that have organized the two rallies downtown. They just showed Springfield does it right. And they did it right. And our police force did it right.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker deployed state police and National Guard troops to assist cities experiencing mass protests, some of which have erupted into violence. Leaders in Champaign, Rock Island and Chicago, among other cities have instituted curfews.

Springfield officials did not call an official curfew, but did encourage residents to stay home Sunday and Monday nights.

Mayor Jim Langfelder again addressed the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Floyd's neck. 

“If anybody thought that would have happened to a white person, they shouldn't be living in the hometown of Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “Because that would not have happened to a white person. That's a tragedy of all of this. And how do we move forward together? We have to learn from the mistakes.”

Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner said she understands the pain and outrage.

“When people die in the street for no reason other than they’re African American, and no one actually steps up and does anything, you can't expect people to continue to experience that and not feel some kind of outrage that's gonna bubble over,” she said.

Tuner said even though nothing like Floyd’s death has happened here, it could. She said there are problems within the police department that need to be addressed.

Police Chief Kenny Winslow defended his department, saying they do regular training in de-escalation.

“We have a good department. We're not perfect, we make mistakes,” he said. “We own up to it.”

Winslow said many of his officers are upset about Floyd’s death because it reflects poorly on all law enforcement and sets back the work Springfield police have been doing to improve relationships with community members.

The chief also apologized on behalf of the department to Turner and Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory after an officer disparaged them on social media recently.

The officer took issue with Gregory and Turner’s calling the police response to protests against the stay-at-home order unfair after officers broke up parties in their wards.

“He messed up. He shouldn't have said what he said,” Winslow said. The city sent out a release late last week saying the officer has been reassigned and is under an internal affairs investigation.

Gregory said he talked to the officer, and wants to put the situation behind him.

Gregory attended both protests, and called out his fellow officials for not being there. He said the city showed it’s wary of the black community as some police were in riot gear and city trucks blocked off the streets around city hall and the police station.

Winslow said those were part of an operations plan put in place after receiving reports of potential civil disorder.

At Monday’s event, Gregory joined others in laying on the ground in front of the state capitol, hands behind their backs, mimicking how Floyd died, to honor his death.

“Because what will change your life and change what this is all about?” he asked. “Getting down on the hot pavement for eight minutes with nobody on you, with your hands behind your back and see how that feels.”

This post will be updated.