"Justice for Our Children" March

By: Meghan Dwyer; Landon Cassman Email
By: Meghan Dwyer; Landon Cassman Email

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Chants of disdain for the police department could be heard throughout downtown Rockford today. This in light of the latest officer-involved shootings and what they're saying, although controversial is getting the city's attention.

Protestors accused Rockford police officers of being racist, even calling the shootings murder. You may remember in October police shot 18-year-old Logan Bell. He had a weapon, but it turned out to be a pellet gun. Then on November 1st, police shot and killed Demetrius Bennett. He allegedly charged at police with a knife during a domestic dispute. Protestors flooded city hall tonight asking for a federal investigation and urging the Rockford police chief to resign.

The Winnebago County Integrity Task Force is still investigating the shootings. Even though Rockford Police Officers are not allowed to take part in the investigation, protestors say they still don't trust that justice will be done.

A lot of harsh language was used at today's protests, and some feel these words have gone too far. Meanwhile, a local pastor is still fighting a legal battle over comments he allegedly made in the aftermath of the 2009 Mark Barmore shooting.

"I don't think those racist polices is doing their job. These polices are racist. And they got a thing they're trying to take out as many blacks as they can in Rockford,” said Pastor Melvin Brown.

They are words that could start a war between the people and the police department and they don't come without consequences. Just recently, Oda Poole and Stan North, the officers involved in the 2009 Mark Barmore incident filed court documents demanding Pastor Melvin Brown pay at least $75,000 for things he allegedly said after the Barmore incident. Things like:

"What happened to Mark Anthony was very tragic and I'm calling it murder. And I know what I'm saying. It was murder."

"Oda and Stan are murderers." "I'm not going to stand behind comments, I don't even remember if I made them or not."

But the lawsuit hasn't kept him from being very vocal about the most recent officer-involved shootings.

"People say I’m a troublemaker, I don't think you would feel like that if it was your family and it was your child laying in the grave,” Brown said.

The officers involved in the barmore incident can't talk to the media while the lawsuit is pending, but their wives stand firmly behind them. They both issued statements monday..reacting to the latest rounds of protests. Stan North's wife said, "This is not about black and white and never has been. This is about police and criminals and if you pull a weapon on an officer you'll likely get killed."

Oda Poole's wife says while she doesn't condone the pastor's statements, she says, "I do believe Police Chief Chet Epperson is dangerously incompetent. This is not the first time Chief Epperson has made inaccurate statements to the public about a critical incident involving Rockford officers, nor is it the first time Chief Epperson has exploited a grieving family who deserves truthful answers after such an incident."

The mayor wasn't at tonight's city council meeting, but his office released a statement saying the city is empathetic to the concerns voiced today and he supports the public's right to protest and march. He also applauds Rockford police chief Chet Epperson and his department for everything they have done in the last three years to make the police force more accountable.

The officer’s families encouraged the seven officers who are involved in these latest rounds of shootings to stay strong. They know how hard it can be to deal with all the public outrage.


ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Rockford Police used deadly force twice within the last month or so and today, dozens took to the streets to protest their actions.

Members of the protest say they want the mayor to seek a federal investigation into the Rockford Police Department and want police protocol to change on how they handle some dangerous situations. Protestors say police are targeting African American men.

About 50 people marched through the downtown area yelling out chants for justice. Leaders of the march say they want police chief Chet Epperson to publicly apologize to Demetrius Bennett's family. He's the man most recently shot and killed by police, after they say he charged at them with a knife. Police originally said he used children as a human shield. The next day, the Winnebago County Integrity Task Force stated that was not the case. Authorities still haven't clarified why they had conflicting information.

"We got officers that's on the Rockford Police force that are made commitments to take young black men out any time they get a chance to shoot one or kill one,” said Pastor Melvin Brown, the organizer of the march.

"The end game should be that the police chief resigns. The end game should be that there's a rebuilding so that the people understand that justice is not gunning down innocent people with no weapons, it should be to protect the individuals that are in the city,” said J. Allen Johnson, the Bennett Family’s attorney.

There is another march scheduled to begin at 5:30 this evening. There is some speculation that it will end at tonight's city council meeting.

The police have not said anything in response to these allegations, although they were aware the protest was happening. There were several police cars out monitoring the rally.


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