Speaking to scores attending the Illinois State University Black Student Union meeting on Monday at the university’s Multicultural Center in Normal, Illinois, Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and the mother of 25- year-old Jelani Day, Carmen Bolden Day, disagrees with the LaSalle County coroner’s report that the cause of death was by drowning.
The coroner’s report was released a day before Reverend Jackson’s scheduled march and rally on the Peru Police Department and the Illinois Valley YMCA where Jelani Day’s car was found more than a mile from where his body was discovered in the Illinois River.
When told of the reward offer, Mrs. Day said, “I am so very grateful.” Other than a GoFundMe account, Day said there was no reward money. She is using those funds to pay for her own investigations and a third autopsy.
With students, like Heaven Moore, president of ISU’s Black Student Union, ready to march and demand a more accurate cause of death for their fellow student, LaSalle County Coroner Richard Ploch’s cause of death due to drowning was not believed by Reverend Jackson, Jelani Day’s mother or the student body.
“According to the autopsy, Jelani drowned. The report’s narrative goes on to say he did something to himself which is not true,” Mrs. Day said. “We just need answers how he ended up in that river, so we can find out who did this to Jelani.”
Wiping away tears, Mrs. Day, denied the coroner’s report. “My son didn’t drown. He didn’t commit suicide,” she told the Illinois State University Black Student Union students.
Receiving a round of applause from the students, Reverend Jackson began his speech by his “I Am Somebody” mantra, then told the students he wants the FBI to take over the case, along with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul and the Department of Justice, because he doesn’t trust local authorities. He went on to say they will march until the killer or killers are found. “The killer is loose.”
Also speaking was Reverend Courtney Carson, who was one of the Decatur Seven students Reverend Jackson saved from jail after the Eisenhower school board suspended him and six other students for two years for engaging in a “17-second silly football fight.”
At the urging of Reverend Jackson, who was arrested for his fight against the school’s “zero-tolerance” policy, Carson went back to school, graduated from college, became a minister and now is a member of the Eisenhower school board.
“Justice for Jelani,” chanted Reverend Carson. “Jelani Day wasn’t a thug. He was the son of a beautiful Black mother and father. Jelani Day was not a hoodlum. He was an honorable student. Jelani wasn’t a gangster. He was a young Black man living in America. Doesn’t Jelani Day’s life matter?”
Jelani Day was reported missing on August 24, 2021. His body was found faced down in the Illinois River in Peru, Illinois and on September 23, 2021, Day’s remains were identified.
Reverend Carson said when you google “missing people found,” “We see little white girls and little white boys. Doesn’t Jelani Day matter? Doesn’t Jelani Day’s life matter? We’re going in Peru. We’re going to take the little sundown town until the sun goes down and then we’re going to stand there until the sun comes back up. I’ll be there because we are not satisfied. Somebody’s got some answers.
“We are asking for a criminal investigation because somebody got some nerve” for saying that Jelani Day’s case was a suicide. You must stand with us for a peaceful demonstration. Yes, we are outraged. We are not satisfied with what we’ve been receiving. We want answers. Justice for Jelani,” he chanted as the students chimed in.
Reverend Cameron Barnes, national youth director for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition introduced Reverend Jackson who said, “When these types of lynchings take place, crucifixions take place, God has resurrection power.” Saying Jelani Day’s spirit is alive, Reverend Jackson said, “Jelani brought us together tonight. We will march on the rest of our lives because Jelani came our way.” Reverend Jackson spoke about Rosa Parks and how she was arrested for being Black on a bus for refusing to give up her seat to a white person. He mentioned the murder of Emmitt Till, who was murdered in Money, Mississippi after he allegedly whistled at the wife of a white storeowner. In 1955, Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, held an open casket funeral “so that America could see the ugly face of racism,” she told the media at that time.
Reverend Jackson told the students, “There is life beyond the grave. If I live right, I’ll keep on living until I die.”
Heaven Moore, president of the ISU’s Black Student Union, said the mother of Jelani Day has had to pay for her own investigation, autopsies and that now “it is our time to support…all hands on deck….Let’s seize the moment. We are behind Jelani until justice is served. This is what community does. That is what community is about.”
The students presented Reverend Jackson with gifts and dinner.