PEORIA -- African-American teenagers were turned away from the high school basketball state tournament last Friday in Peoria while white students were admitted to the event at the Peoria Civic Center, a leader in Peoria's black community said on March 23.
Jackie Petty, who is an elected member of the Peoria Park District Board and an official in Peoria's NAACP chapter said the black students were in tears, as were the Civic Center workers who were ordered to keep them out.
The issue came up as part of a candidate forum sponsored by the NAACP and the African American Leadership Alliance. All the city council candidates attended the event, at the Ward Chapel AME Church.
Mayor Jim Ardis said police and Peoria District 150 Supt. Ken Hinton decided last week to require every four teenagers to be accompanied by an adult at the event. Teens were defined as age 18 and under. An accouncement was made at the schools, he said.
The decision was made because of youth trouble at the tournament the previous weekend, he said. He could not explain why this policy was not announced to the public via the news media.
As a result, many parents didn't learn of this policy, and they dropped their teens off at the event and planned to pick them up, Petty said. So teens appeared without parents, and black teenagers were refused admittance, even if they had tickets, she said, while white students without parents were allowed in.
"I do know white children dropped off got to go inside. One white was turned away because he was with black students," she said.
She also was told that a black teen was not allowed to enter, even though he was accompanied by an adult, because the adult was not a parent, she said.
Petty said she learned of the situation from civic center workers who were told to keep "gang bangers" out.
The candidates said this discrimination was unacceptable. But Ardis also said the council "has no authority over... the Civic Center." Afterward he promised to look into what occurred.
"It's easy to drop the kids off and hope they behave," Ardis said. "We've had problems with roving groups of kids."
"Black children were singled out in implementation of this policy," NAACP president Don Jackson said.
Others at the event complained of discrimination in city services. Barb Pendleton asked the candidates why trees were butchered in low income neighborhoods by Ameren/CILCO tree trimmers, and said that some neighborhoods also are not able to get city recycling services.
Incumbent 2nd District council member Barbara Van Auken said the recycling issue occurs in older neighborhoods because city contractor Waste Management does not have recycling trucks small enough to navigate alleys. The city is negotiating with WM on this issue, she said.
Trees are butchered in low income neighborhoods because people don't complain like they do in other neighborhoods, she said. The disfiguring saves Ameren money, she said. "I have complained."
Third District candidate Beth Akeson defended the city's trees and said "the city needs to have a conversation with Ameren. Trees are an important part of the public space. I can't imagine having to run the city by screaming and yelling" at Ameren, she said.
Fifth District candidate Gloria Fitzgerald said "I've seen these trees. Negotiate change."
Both Jackson and Earnestine Jackson complained about the city's lack of enforcement power in job discrimination involving small businesses. Every other city in Illinois has an ordinance to protect their residents except Peoria, they said. Peoria's was quietly dropped years ago and has not been reinstated despite requests.
Van Auken said the city didn't have enough complaints to justify someone to investigate them. But Jackson said people are coming to the NAACP. "We end up doing your job," he said.
Ardis said "it comes with a price" of "$100,000 per employee. Nobody wants their taxes raised."
Candidate for Mayor General Parker said the city spends money on studies and consultants, then shuts down commissions such as the Heart of Peoria Commission. "You can find money to do what you want when it needs to be done," he said.
He added that the mayor's race relations commission was established last year. "I can't think of one thing they have done."
Ardis said "I appointed that commission. I don't have all the answers. I do have an open mind. I've earned the opportunity for four more years."
-- Elaine Hopkins
COMMENT 3/24/09 by Ed Dentino: I was at the South Side Neighborhood Association meeting last Wednesday. Chief Settingsgaard spoke about the Peoria police internet site providing map information about crime reported. He also mentioned the problems teens were causing at public events in the past year including the current Civic Center tournament. The meeting was attended by fewer than 15 people.
I recall there was an article about the teen problems and the school announcements made to the students last week. If the parents did not get the information, and the students ignored the information, they were part of the problem - not part of the solution. It was not about racism, it was about behavior and responsibility including vandalism and intimidation.
Unfortunately, a large part of the teen population are not conforming to the responsibility to the community. They are largely responsible for the litter, vandalism, drug traffic, theft, intimidation that diminish life in the city for residents and those who attend events such as the river festival and basketball tournaments. Looking at those responsible and noticing that a disproportionate percentage of these people are black is not racism. It is the observation of behavior and attitude.
Sunday morning, I picked up litter at the Knoxville and Illinois intersection at Dunkin Donut. Going inside, I noticed a handgun sticking out of the back pocket of a young man who had walked in with two girls. They were in the line waiting. I went back to my van, called the police non-emergency number and waited until police arrived. The people had left and walked up Knoxville. Apparently, the officers saw them and apprehended the young man.. Presume he is charged with carrying a weapon, etc. He was a black person.
Dave Schaab, of Waste Management, participates on our Mayor's Litter Committee. He went to considerable effort to provide waste receptacles at the tournament that were enhanced with bank boards to entice litter disposal and reinforce the idea of litter disposal. The sign was damaged by vandals the first day and had to be replaced.
I understand that areas of the city are selected to try waste container and recycle stradegy. It is desired that the efforts prove successful and the services extended throughtout the city.
I would like Barb Pendelton and Gloria Fitzgerald to show me the problem trees that they considered damaged. My observation of the poor neighborhoods is that there is a considerable lack of grounds maintenance by property owners and a higher than normal number of trees left untrimmed that interfere with power wires. If anything, the tenancy of these neighborhoods to have wind and weather related tree damage that interrupts power service is higher than the north side areas of the city. I observe more tree shooters and uncut weed trees in the poor areas of the city than the north and west sides of the city. Also considerably more discretionary litter, bottles, food wrappers in the streets and alleys of these parts of the city. Apparently, the residents can afford designer tennis shoes, beer, and whiskey but not yard maintenance tools.. Kind of tells a story by itself.
I am familiar with a business that hired a series of black workers. The workers were not responsible and created theft problems. The owners now only hire non black workers. Too bad.
Like the Irish, Polish, Italian, and other nationals who came to the U.S. the black population has to endure some bias. They also have to overcome the bias on merit, honesty, and responsibility. The discrimination arguments and protective arguments being made are logically indefensible. The people of diverse race and religion, that I know will say: race and religion are no excuse for the lack of responsibility of the problem people. Accepting race and religion does not mean accepting misconduct.
The NAACP feels that people are being targeted by race, and makes an argument that there is not a problem when it is shown that there is a problem by age and race that is clear and demonstrable. The rules are not race specific. The actions and reactions may very well be. The NAACP could be leading and inspiring the population they represent and improve that side. Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, Tiger Woods, Gwen Ifil, and Bill Cosby have made the point. It should be the high banner of change for ethnic improvement. -30-
COMMENT 3/24/09 by Elaine Hopkins: If an announcement was made of this policy for the kids at the tourney, I totally missed it, and I'm probably not the only one.
Surely something could be done to allow these teens to enter. The problems came afterward, and police could control them if necessary. This looks like blatant discrimination against black teens, not fair even if some have behaved badly in the past. No wonder that as a group they are alienated.
On the trees: I have seen these trees, and did stories on them when I was at the PJStar. They're awful. Ameren ruins these trees. Many then die, and the rest look terrible. They're all over the lower income areas of Peoria, not in the higher incomes, including my middle class street. In fact, my street had a wire actually rubbing on a tree limb and Ameren wouldn't do anything about it.
Isn't it odd that the telephone company long ago buried its wires so it wouldn't have these issues. Why wern't the electric wires buried along with them? Stupid planning.
Oh, and only black workers steal? Come on. Last time I looked Bernie Madoff was white!