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Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2007 07:42 am

Parallels

Jena and Peoria aren’t all that different, civil rights leader says

Untitled Document On July 14, Rakiem Campbell tossed a concrete patio brick from an interstate overpass in Peoria, killing 26-year-old Katrina Kelley. Local prosecutors charged Campbell, 15, with first-degree murder.      One month later, Bradley University soccer player Danny Dahlquist was killed in a fire when four of his buddies ignited fireworks under his door. Daniel Cox, 20, David Crady, 19, Ryan Johnson, 22, and Nicholas Mentgen, 21, were each charged with one count of possessing of an explosive or incendiary device and two counts each of aggravated arson. Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons, explaining why he didn’t seek murder charges, characterized the incident as a prank.      Donald Jackson, a Peoria attorney and president of the Illinois state conference of the NAACP, criticizes the handling of the two cases: “The law requires parity. Either they’re both pranks or they’re both murders.”
     Jackson draws a parallel between the handling of the Peoria cases and one involving high school students in the Louisiana town of Jena, which has garnered national attention. Both, he says, show the criminal-justice system still isn’t colorblind.      The case of the “Jena 6” is complicated. A series of racially charged altercations between groups of teens in Jena, population 2,971, preceded the arrest of six black boys for allegedly beating up a white classmate.      Before that, several nooses, which symbolize the practice of lynching, were hung from a tree where African-Americans sat in defiance of a school tradition that only whites could sit underneath the shady tree.      All six involved in the fight were charged with attempted second-degree murder and expelled from school.      A march and rally, expected to draw participants from across the nation, is scheduled for today (Sept. 20) in Jena, and supporters have been asked to wear black clothing.      In Peoria, Jackson plans to hold a press conference and has encouraged leaders of local NAACP branches to make statements expressing support for the Jena 6.      Ken Page, president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, says he believes the students should be disciplined for their actions, just not thrown in prison. He adds that what happened in Jena could just as easily occur here in Springfield.      Jackson believes nowhere in Illinois is immune.      “Shoot yes,” Jackson says. “Can it happen in Peoria? Sure it can. Can it happen in Decatur or Springfield? Absolutely.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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