City Council Report: Historic monument land transfers approved amid modern racial anxieties


During its July 9 Committee of the Whole meeting, the City of Springfield advanced multiple amendments relating to the 1908 Springfield Race Riots monument project, formally surrendering reversionary rights on property designated for the federal government for the memorial site and further preparing designated land to be donated.

Many members of the City Council stressed the importance of the memorial project, reiterating the historical significance of the 1908 race riots, which burnt down the homes of thousands of members of Springfield’s Black community multiple lives and prompted the formation of the pivotal National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Alderman Jim Donelan, Ward 9, proposed the entire Council make a gesture of support for the project by adding their names collectively as sponsors on the ordinances before the City that evening.

“This was an important event that [all our citizens] need to be continually reminded of,” said Donelan.

The Council wholly agreed.

Yet these historic ordinances passed in a sobering context of modern violence, with the circumstances of Springfield resident Sonya Massey’s death last Saturday inevitably coming up repeatedly in Council business. 

Ward 2 Alderman Shawn Gregory opened the meeting as Committee Chair by leading the alderpeople in a moment of silence for the late Massey.

With the County Sheriff’s office having declined to release any footage of the incident – which remains under Illinois State Police independent investigation – members of the public have expressed anxiety about the police.

“We were out in the park this past weekend,” recalled Alderwoman Lakeisha Purchase of Ward 5. “A family approached us, and showed us a video of our officers and a young lady in handcuffs […] The video I’ve seen — there was just a lot of aggression, even though it’s just a female and she’s tinier than me, so there’s not a lot she can do.”

In contrast to the silence from the County Sheriff about the death of Massey, Springfield Police Department Chief Ken Scarlette assured Alderwoman Purchase that de-escalation is the exact priority of his force.

“I believe we’re a professional organization,” said Scarlette, “one of the most highly trained organizations — our equipment is state of the art, top-notch. We have less lethal options; we have body cams. We work tirelessly every day to make sure that stuff like that doesn’t happen in our community.”

Chief Scarlette’s stated pride in his force was thereafter tested when Mr. A. Hampton, a Springfield resident, stood before the City to plea for some form of relief for his son, who was hospitalized after a traffic stop by an SPD unit purportedly ended with him brutalized by officers who, Mr. Hampton claims, are singling out his son as a target.

“I’m very disturbed by the video – yes, I have the video,” an exasperated Hampton told the Council. “And yes, my wife has been waiting on a call from the Lieutenant… we have received not one call from Internal Affairs. We have not received a call from the Lieutenant. My son cried last night, and he said, ‘Dad, I can’t go nowhere without being pulled over.’

“I’m not going to sit there and watch someone kill my child,” he continued. “We have watched it over and over. I like [Chief Scarlette], I think the Chief is a fine man. Not everybody on the force are bad people — but I think you all have got some rotten apples in there that you need to weed out.”

The inciting activity behind that incident, according to Hampton, was that his son was driving a vehicle with tinted windows. Ward 3 Alderman Roy Williams Jr. observed that his own vehicle came straight out of a local dealer’s lot with tinted windows.

To get to the bottom of that particular incident, Scarlette did consult directly with Hampton after the Committee adjourned. But Williams, as well as other alderpeople, noted they had witnessed elevated aggression from the SPD in recent months.

In the midst of all this, a smaller detail which was addressed by Springfield’s Office of Public Works was the removal of the honorary street signage for “BLM-SPI Way”: since 2021 those two signs had remained up as an alternative name for the pedestrian-only section of Jackson Street in front of the Governor’s mansion.

The City’s rules for honorary alternative street naming meant that those signs inevitably had to come down at some point; that point was early June, prior to Juneteenth celebrations in other parts of Springfield.

Disappointed at the signs’ removal, Alderman Gregory requested a draft for a resolution to re-install those signs in front of the Governor’s mansion.

Recommended Posts