Springfield designates BLM Solidarity Day

New resolution also requires anti-racism training for city employees

click to enlarge It was estimated several thousand people participated in the May 31 BLM procession which had drivers go along a route by the county building and jail and into the city's segregated east side. - PHOTO BY RACHEL OTWELL
Photo by Rachel Otwell
It was estimated several thousand people participated in the May 31 BLM procession which had drivers go along a route by the county building and jail and into the city's segregated east side.

The Springfield City Council approved an anti-racism, anti-violence and anti-hatred resolution that declares May 31 BLM Solidarity Day. That was the day thousands of people participated in a vehicle procession organized by Black Lives Matter Springfield in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

The resolution also requires anti-racism and cultural competency training for all city staff, commissioners and contractors. It encourages investment in wards 2 and 3, changes suggested by Ward 3 council member Doris Turner. "It's a great vehicle for us to move forward with that structural change and it will then codify or put into action and put into our policies and procedures, all of the nice words that were in the resolution," Turner told NPR Illinois.

Most city council members had signed on as cosponsors for the measure, which honored the area's chapter of Black Lives Matter as well as E.A.T., which is Education and Action Together. Both Springfield groups organized anti-police brutality rallies after Floyd's death at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The council voted in favor of the resolution with Turner's updates, deciding to forgo changes proposed by Mayor Jim Langfelder.

On Wednesday, Aug. 5, Langfelder proposed last-minute changes during a council meeting that would have included language to recognize the NAACP Springfield chapter and the city's 1908 Race Riot, which sparked the founding of the national organization for the rights of people of color.

However, the majority of city council members voted down the chance to include those changes, to Langfelder's frustration. "We can talk all we want about unity and working together, but this kind of flies in the face of it," he said. Ward 2 council member Shawn Gregory said he respects the NAACP, but argued for the resolution to stand without change. "It was created to include others who traditionally are not in this, despite the struggle for our community," he said, before voting "no" to discuss the amendment. "And I would like for them to continue to be in that and not be overshadowed by the NAACP."

In 2018, NAACP Illinois and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police developed 10 Shared Principles which promote values around areas such as community policing and diversity. Springfield previously adopted the principles, and Langfelder proposed reaffirming those principles in the weeks after anti-police brutality protests earlier this year. The council tabled that resolution, with some arguing the city needed to adopt policies that would put those principles into action before reaffirming the city's commitment to them.

Teresa Haley, head of Illinois and Springfield chapters of the NAACP, took issue with the civil rights group and history of the race riots being left out of the anti-racism resolution. The move was "divisive," she said. "We aren't trying to outshine anyone. We are trying to uphold the NAACP and our beliefs and improve race relations not only in Springfield, not only in Illinois, but throughout the whole country." Haley spoke at the end of the meeting, hours after the resolution had been approved. She said she felt the community should have been involved in developing the resolution.

The resolution commits the city to being a place where hatred, racism and violence are unwelcome and states, "Springfield will be a beacon for the inclusion, tolerance and respect for all," while also committing to work in partnership for "stronger cultures of kindness, compassion and understanding." It also promises engagement with the public through meetings with community groups and continual review and improvement of diversity training and policies.

Mary Hansen covers city government and other news for NPR Illinois, Springfield's public radio station.

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