Editorial: The day Jesse Jackson came to town
When Mark Barmore, 23, was fatally shot at the House of Grace Daycare and Preschool Aug. 24 by two Rockford police officers, the racial divide in Rockford grew wider and more visible almost instantly.
Eye-witness accounts of the shooting conflicted with the Rockford Police Department’s public description of what transpired in the basement of the Kingdom Authority Church, 519 N. Court St., in front of the daycare owner, her teen-age daughter and an undetermined number of children.
The rain-soaked days that followed witnessed a police press conference where Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson referred to the officers’ accounts of the shooting as “facts,” a contentious City Hall meeting where residents sought answers and found none, and a protest march down State Street by more than 300 concerned citizens with stops at City Hall and the Public Safety building.
The protesters marched peacefully, carrying signs bent and wilted by the pouring rain, and chanted loudly: “No justice. No peace. No justice. No peace.” However, the rain broke at around 4 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28, and bathed the streets of downtown Rockford in an uneasy peace and an eerie silence.
Winnebago County State’s Attorney Joe Bruscato held a late-morning press conference Sunday, Aug. 30, where he stated the City of Rockford would hand over the investigation to an outside agency in response to pressure from local citizens wanting clear answers.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson arrived in Rockford Sunday, Aug. 30, beneath a cloud-free sky on an unusually cool, late-August morning to address the fatal shooting of Barmore and the growing racial tensions in Rockford.
Like many citizens of Rockford, I was informed of Jackson’s arrival when ABC interrupted the Little League World Series in the bottom of the third inning and took us to a live shot of Jackson standing beside Winnebago County Board Member George Ann Duckett (D-12) and several ministers inside the Kingdom Authority Church.
The cool, late afternoon backdrop for Jackson’s address inside the church in no way mirrored the dreary, deadly, contentious week that had preceded this unusually gorgeous day. The breaks in the clouds almost highlighted the satellite trucks parked in front of the church’s imposing brick facade and white entry way. Citizens were mulling around the church, awaiting a glimpse of Jackson as he finally emerged from inside.
One-by-one, families dressed in their “Sunday best,” marched with their shoulders and heads high as they left the splintered light of the church’s vestibule and reappeared on the sun-splashed double stairway leading to the sidewalk in front of the church. An older woman across the street cautiously clutched a brown designer purse, as fathers—with sons and daughters in their arms—returned to their cars and weaved their way through the clusters of separate conversations convened around the block.
Children were playing inconsequentially on the stone retaining wall and split staircase at the foot of the building, laughing indifferently. They are not yet old enough, and have not been trampled under foot by life and the world long enough, to fully comprehend what had happened inside the church Aug. 24.
Normal life can just go on for children. When we are young, reality has a way of loosening its grip just enough to allow for a little play and a trip to the park to unwind on the swings, before we ultimately lose that ability with the upcoming tide of years that somehow washes us into the world of adulthood. Our minds lose that flexibility, and we are left to confront the problems and issues without rest.
Perhaps more than anything, it is the futures of these laughing, playing children that are at stake in Rockford.
Jackson has done much to advance civil rights in his time, such as participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama in 1965, organized by James Bevell and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and organizing the Rainbow Coalition in 1984. He would likely be the first to admit he cannot solve our race relations problems in the Forest City. He can, at best, spend his time highlighting and identifying our various issues and problems, and suggesting means of lessening their impacts.
Some thing—not someone—has to speak to us individually, to change our perceptions, our tolerance and ultimately our beliefs. We must all look inward and possibly face some ugly personal truths while working diligently toward attaining a goal that is far past the finish line of our lifetimes.
The distance between the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Kings Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn., April 4, 1968, to today seems like centuries, but was really just yesterday in the grand scheme of things. And yet, the struggle continues.
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