WEDNESDAY, APRIL 1, 2015
Students’ intentions were good; driver in difficult situation
CHAMPAIGN — The students who organized a “Black Lives Matter” protest at Centennial High School in December, which led to an altercation with a motorist outside of the school, “had good intentions” and the driver involved “found herself caught in a difficult situation.”
That’s the final outcome of the events that transpired Dec. 4 when a student-organized protest at Centennial got out of hand, a driver’s windshield was damaged and at least one student was arrested, as determined by a group of 16 public officials, students and community members during a three-hour meeting Sunday.
The meeting, called a Restorative Circle, was the recommendation of State’s Attorney Julia Rietz when she determined Jan. 27 nobody involved in the altercation would be charged with a crime.
“Restorative Circles use a facilitated dialogue to help parties involved in a conflict or painful event to increase mutual understanding and self-responsibility, eventually coming to agreed actions for moving forward,” Rietz said.
The meeting was voluntary, according to Rietz, and the 16 participants included: Champaign Unit 4 Superintendent Judy Wiegand, Assistant Superintendent Laura Taylor, Centennial Principal Greg Johnson, Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb, Unit 4 school board President Laurie Bonnett, Rietz, community member and Sisternet Director Imani Bazzell, community member and Project ACCESS Director Tracy Parsons, the driver of the vehicle and her significant other, three Centennial students who organized the original die-in protest inside the school, two parents and a student mentor.
The meeting was facilitated by University of Illinois faculty members Elaine Shpungin, director of the UI Psychological Services Center, and Mikhail Lyubansky, a professor in the UI Psychology Department. The pair interviewed nearly 30 individuals involved in the protest and invited them to participate in the meeting, including the students who were identified as being in the street when the car window was damaged. Those students did not agree to participate.
During the meeting, participants eventually “came to a shared understanding” of each other’s actions before, during and after the incident.
“The goal was to give each individual the opportunity to express his or her view, for the others in the circle to gain an understanding of how the event affected that individual, and for that individual to understand how his or her actions affected others,” Rietz said. “All the participants spoke openly. Without going into specifics, intentions and actions were explained and clarified, regrets were expressed, and apologies were made and accepted.”
Rietz said the discussion helped provide closure, especially to the driver who had the opportunity to “express her concerns and let everybody know her perspective, which was compelling,” she said.
The goal of the meeting was to come up with plans moving forward. Since not all of the students involved in the incident attended, members discussed holding a similar restorative circle at the school.
Participants also determined the driver should be compensated for the damage done to her vehicle when the student protest moved out into the street, the driver moved through the crowd and her car window was broken.
“The people involved in the incident would need to be present in order for a final decision to be made about compensations. Some of the things discussed were money coming from the school district or community members organizing a fundraiser so the students that were in the street could get involved in that process and donate money to the driver,” Rietz said. “Either way, we are committed to making sure she is compensated for her damages.”