PEORIA — During a news conference at the Peoria NAACP office Monday morning, local black leaders condemned the looting and destruction which has happened in Peoria in apparent protest to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
"You do not fight hatred and racism and injustice with destruction of property, violence and stealing," said the Rev. Marvin Hightower, president of NAACP. "And I am asking all the individuals who have been involved in criminal activity and the destruction of our city to please stop. This is not how we fight. This is not how we will win."
Protests have turned violent all across the U.S. since Floyd’s death at the hands of police on Monday. Peoria remained quiet until Saturday when a protest arranged by a group of young Peorians was attended by more than 1,000 people. The peaceful protest lasted several hours, and attendees dispersed without incident about mid-afternoon.
Later that evening, small crowds gathered at Walmart on North University Street and later at the Walmart in East Peoria, where police dispersed the crowd by firing pepper balls into the concrete parking lot. Overnight on Sunday, numerous businesses and some homes were reportedly damaged by protesters. Windows were broken, fires were set, and some stores were looted.
Sincere Williams, one of the organizers of the We Matter March, said during the news conference that his group had nothing to do with the looting and damage.
Carl Cannon, founder of Elite Youth Outreach, said he initially thought Peoria was reacting properly to Floyd's death.
"Our protest on Saturday was orderly. It got the point across. It honored the memory of Mr. George Floyd. But last night, Peoria started down a very dangerous and self-destructive path," he said.
Damaging local businesses is counterproductive, said Cannon.
"We are literally shooting ourselves in the foot with this mentality," he said. "We are destroying the very services that we need to survive. … You mad at the cops? I get it. But you gonna let four bad cops in Minneapolis drive you to destroying our neighborhoods? You think every cop is like that? Well, we all know better than that. I’m mad at those Minneapolis cops, too, but I’m not going to let that make me go out and do crazy, like destroy somebody’s home or business," he said.
"Sure, there are bad cops, but this does not give us the right to destroy our community. This gives us the chance to change a systematic wrong into an American right. Be part of the answer, not part of the problem," Cannon said.
Community activist Terry Burnside urged a more proactive approach to the continuing issue.
"Trying to bridge the gap between the community and the police department, that is one of my ultimate goals," he said. "My plea to the community is that we understand the frustration we are going through. A lot of people are tired, and I understand that. But what are we benefiting from looting, setting fires, and vandalism? So my position is, we’ve got to do better as a community. Stop the looting, stop the violence, and stop infringing on one another’s rights."
Hightower said he has not yet spoken with Mayor Jim Ardis and Peoria Police Chief Loren Marion over the issue, but is looking forward to the opportunity.
"The first thing I would tell the mayor is that he needs to speak up and say something about the injustice in Minnesota, before putting emphasis on what happened last night, and putting emphasis on the police department to treat us in the same manner as he or one of his family members would be treated," he said. "To the police chief and the mayor I would say ‘take a good look in the mirror and say if they would be OK if this happened to one of their family members,’ then to do something about it. It has to be a willing and a wanting on both sides of the equation.
"Everyone needs to take a good look in the mirror, to see what has happened over all these years, and to finally stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’"
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.