Activists protest outside Champaign Police Department

By Gavin Good

In the hours following the Sept. 23 announcement that one of the three Louisville police officers that shot and killed Breonna Taylor would be indicted for wanton endangerment, several dozen protestors gathered at the Champaign Police Department.

Arriving around 7 p.m., protestors took up positions along the sidewalk outside of the department, stretching out by the intersection of First Street and University Avenue. Holding signs and listening to several speakers over the course of several hours, the protest drew many honks of support from cars passing through the intersection.

Rita Conerly, a Champaign resident who has been in recent protests and public discussion around social and racial justice, said she was moved into action after the murder of George Floyd in May.

“George Floyd, his calling for his mother, that kind of catapulted my move here with this movement for social and racial justice,” said Conerly.

While Floyd’s murder immediately drew much of the public attention, Black women are often the least protected segment of society by police, the government and other authorities, Conerly believes. The decision not to charge any of the officers who shot Taylor for her death — instead, charging just officer Brett Hankison for shots fired into neighboring apartments — was part of why Conerly and other protestors felt the need to take a public stand.

“I know how important it is with women not being protected, whether it be by their family or the police system,” said Conerly.

She feels particularly compelled to stand up for other Black women, especially as a survivor of domestic violence.

“As a survivor, I feel like it’s very important to speak out,” said Conerly. “We are underrepresented, we are not appreciated and we’re not protected. It’s important that as a community, we come together to voice the importance of protecting especially Black and Latina women.”

A protestor writes a message on the sidewalk outside the Champaign Police Department. Photo by Tatiania Perry.

As the night wore on, protestors wrote messages with chalk on the sidewalk, including one that said, “Breonna Taylor should still be here!” and another that said “people over property.”

There was a small police presence on the scene, including Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb and three other officers, though they kept watch from a distance.