It’s been over a year since Black Lives Matter protests filled streets across the country in response to the police murder of George Floyd.
Naperville saw its fair share of rallies, which were often led by youth protesters.
“People Finally Opened Their Eyes”
Elijah Trannon, who was a sophomore at Naperville Central at the time, said last summer felt like a breakthrough.
“[Last] summer was the first time I really felt like people listened to the issues that we’ve been dealing with,” said Trannon. “No matter how small they are or large, in Naperville specifically, people finally opened their eyes and listened to us.”
Trannon said he was involved in 5-10 BLM protests last summer.
And though he did not help organize any of them, he often found himself in a leadership position in guiding protesters through mostly Downtown Naperville streets.
Encouraging the Youth at Protests
Another community member involved in the protests last year was Unity Partnership Founder and President Regina Brent.
She was heartened to see many young people protesting last year and encouraged them to sit down with lawmakers so change could happen.
“I told them it’s imperative that we stay safe, we wear masks, we stay socially distant, and that we be respectful to law enforcement as long as we were out there on the street,” said Brent. “But most of all it was imperative that they leave the boardwalk and get to the board rooms.”
Brent was also able to de-escalate a tense situation between protesters and police on the day of George Floyd’s funeral.
“I saw those children as my very own,” said Brent. “And I know that when adrenaline starts to flow you lose it. I can’t tell you why I did that or how I did that. I can only say that when I looked at the form of intimidation of those police officers out there in army gear, in those tank trucks, and up in the roofs with shotguns it reminded me of what could go wrong.”
The Night of June 1, 2020
Unfortunately things did go wrong the night of June 1, 2020.
After a peaceful protest in the afternoon, police say agitators joined the group at night and started creating chaos.
Things escalated when an explosion went off in the direction of police.
“So our goal was number one, to protect life and property,” said Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall. “Our officers were pelted with bricks, frozen water bottles and numerous items were thrown at them as well as 30-35 businesses were damaged, looted, and burglarized, again, by the group that infiltrated the lawful protesters.”
Marshall said around 80 officers were there that night, but unfortunately the damage had been done.
Hope the Next Morning
As dark as the night was, the next days were full of light and hope.
Hundreds of community members flooded Downtown Naperville in an effort to clean up the mess left from the night before.
In the days that followed, boarded-up businesses allowed murals and positive messages to be painted on their walls.
These messages of hope and perseverance kept the momentum going and behind them came major changes.
Legislative and Community Change
Laws like House Bill 3653, now called the SAFE-T Act, have been passed, which will require all police to wear body cameras by 2025 among many other reforms. Naperville City Council just approved hiring an IT employee to manage body camera footage
Naperville police also looked at ways they can improve their relationship with the community, at protests and in everyday policing.
“I really wanted to hear from the African-American community what their fears were and I learned a lot about their perspective on policing. And that allowed us continue to look at our policies, procedures, and training to make certain that we were treating all people fairly and equitably,” said Chief Bob Marshall of the Naperville Police Department.
Headed in the Right Direction
Trannon and Brent both said there’s still work that needs to be done, but Naperville is heading in the right direction, adding diversity, equity, and inclusion to school curriculum and the city hiring a D.E.I. manager.
“We’re not going to stop,” said Trannon. “Even if it got a little quieter around the Naperville streets we’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep fighting for change. It’s going to come one day. I’m going to bring my kids here one day and going to show them this is where we created the change.”
Naperville News 17’s Christian Canizal and Casey Krajewski report.