When Reverend Jesse Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson issued a clarion call to protest the unsolved and mysterious murder of 25-year-old medical student Jelani Day, a diverse crowd responded to a “See-It-For- Yourself ” tour of Day’s last time in life but not without pushback from Peru, Illinois, police.
On Tuesday, October 26, a day after Jackson spoke to scores of Illinois State University Black Student Union members about the Day case, the Chicago media received a release from the Peru Police Department saying Jackson was not coming.
That turned out to be a lie because not only did Jackson appear but so did hundreds of Black, white and Hispanic protesters, including members of Day’s fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. Jelani Day graduated from Alabama A&M University where he was a member of the fraternity. His Alabama A&M fraternity has launched a petition calling for a federal investigation.
Representatives Danny K. Davis (D-7th) and Bobby Rush (D-1st) have also called on the FBI to enter the case.
When Day was reported missing on August 24, he was a graduate student at Illinois State University majoring in speech pathology.
Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, a U.S. Army veteran, took supporters and the media on a “See-It-For-Your- self ” tour, showing them where her son’s body was found and where his clothes were discovered by several white female students, who have “since lawyered up,” according to Mrs. Day.
She showed them where police said her son’s car mysteriously traveled off the road and through a number of trees without a scratch to the vehicle, then where he walked three miles through an all-white town to the Illinois River where he drowned with nothing on but his shorts and a T-shirt.
“That never happened,” Mrs. Day said. “My son was an avid swimmer, and he wouldn’t be taking off his clothes to jump in this nasty water.”
She became angry again when she received a text from a family member saying the Peru police were telling hundreds of supporters gathering not too far away, to go back home.
Mrs. Day stopped one of the officers and she, Jackson, Jonathan Jackson and Rainbow PUSH Coalition National Field Director Bishop Tavis Grant told the police not to turn them away, then headed in their direction.
The second Peru police diversion did not work, but it made Mrs. Day more determined to complete the “See-It-For-Yourself” media tour that she said would visually prove her son was murdered and that he did not drown as the autopsy stated.
When Jackson and his staff rode up to the area where Peru police had told the protesters to go back home and had denied several busloads of students the right to park, the diverse crowd began chanting, “Justice for Jelani.”
At that point two buses full of students from several universities including Northern Illinois University and Illinois State University rolled up. While earlier the Peru police had told the bus drivers there was no place to park and to turn back, officers could now be seen directing them to a parking area near the protest site.
One white protester who wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt bellowed, “Reverend Jackson is 80-years-old, a sick man, and he shouldn’t have to come out here to protest the killing of one of our own. Justice for Jelani. Black Lives Matter,” he called out. The turnout of protesters mirrored that of those responding to the fatal police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020.
Jackson and his son vowed to return within a week to challenge the LaSalle County and Bloomington police investigations into Jelani Day’s murder. “This isn’t over,” Jonathan Jackson said.
Reverend Courtney Carson, one of the seven Decatur students expelled for two years over a 17-second “silly” football game, is now a minister and a member of the school board of Eisenhower High School, the same school that kicked him out. He credits the mentorship of Reverend Jackson for his success.
Armed with a bullhorn Carson bellowed, “Justice for Jelani. Jelani wasn’t no thug, was he?” prompting the crowd to yell back, “No.” “Jelani wasn’t no gangster…hoodlum, was he?” The crowd screamed, “No.” “He was an honorable student. He was a young Black man living in America.
“He was a beautiful son of a beautiful Black mother and father. He was an honorable student. Peru, you got a lot of nerve suggesting he committed suicide. This was a homicide…. Justice for Jelani,” bellowed Carson.
Looking over the diverse crowd, Bishop Grant said, “This is what justice looks like. This is just the beginning because Peru doesn’t want any smoke. If you don’t give us what we want, you’re going to see some smoke because we aren’t going nowhere until we get justice for Jelani Day,” he told a cheering crowd.
“See-It-For-Yourself,” Bishop Grant said. “We went to all of the sites to the crime scene to see it for ourselves. It’s nothing to see what they said happened. We want the truth and nothing but the truth, and we want justice for Jelani Day.”
It was Jonathan Jackson who did the groundwork and organizing for the “See-It-For-Yourself ” tour. While thanking the protesters for coming, Jonathan Jackson said, “You’ve seen the evidence for yourself now. This is more information that has been divulged in the last 24 hours than the Day family has received in the last two months.
“When a parent cannot bury their child and doesn’t have any idea of what happened, when the university (Illinois State University from where Jelani Day graduated before entering medical school) is too silent when friends and colleagues are too silent when we have a police department (Peru police) that is moving too slow, too quietly through back channels, we want them to take the cover off and show the evidence that they know,” Jonathan Jackson said.
Referring to the contradictory statements made by Peru, Bloomington and LaSalle police departments about the Day case, Jonathan Jackson said there are different accounts as to where the car was, what Jelani Day was wearing and questions on how a Black man walking three miles from his car in an all-white “Sundown” town would not have been stopped by the police or anyone else.
“This case is older than Gabby Petito’s, and we’ve heard nothing about it.” He said the many discrepancies must be cleared up, such as why were Jelani’s license plates removed from the car.
Mrs. Day told reporters there were several witnesses who saw her son drop his wallet. “Why would Jelani park his car, walk three miles and end up coming in this direction (the Illinois River)? See-It-For-Yourself because it doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Mrs. Day said several white females decided they were bored and decided to come down to the Illinois River where they found her son’s clothes. “That was a mile away for where the body was found. Why didn’t the police find this? Why would my son come down here and take his clothes off? It doesn’t make sense.” She said the respective police departments did not do their jobs.
After leading the media to various areas allegedly traveled by Jelani Day including through the marsh and muddy roads, Jonathan Jackson demanded that Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul get to the “bottom of this, and because of each one of you, justice is beginning to roll.”
Thanking the diverse crowd for its support, Mrs. Day said, “You’ve touched my heart…. We demand justice for Jelani. I just wanted you to See-It-For-Yourself.”
She scoffed at the autopsy report that stated her son drowned and there was no trauma to his body. “Jelani never would have done any of this stuff,” she said tears welling in her eyes. “See-It-For-Yourself,” she said with the crowd repeating her chant.
Using a bullhorn, Reverend Jackson repeated his “I Am Somebody” litany. “We have the power to turn death to life.”