By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The moment has arrived. Flowers have been sent while relatives and friends have flown in from across the country. What awaits now is the hardest part: the final goodbye.
An emotional farewell for Kenneka Jenkins whose mysterious death at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel and Conference Center in Rosemont set off weeks of protests, was held Saturday, September 30 at the House of Hope megachurch in the Pullman District. Rev. James Meeks presided over the service. Pain, anger and questions about what happened in the final moments of the 19-year-old’s life still remain.
Despite protests, national media coverage and much speculation, Jenkins’ family, friends and residents from Chicago and across the country have received no closure from hotel and police officials who continue to provide few answers as to how Jenkins ended up dead in a hotel freezer.
While the funeral service was final farewell to Jenkins, it hasn’t ended the questions and a storm of criticism the Crowne Plaza has received since Jenkins was found dead in one of the hotel’s walk-in freezers on Sept. 10. After repeated pleas from relatives to search for her in the hotel, she was found some 24 hours after disappearing during a party in one of the hotel’s guest rooms.
Police said Jenkins was among 30 people who attended a party on the hotel’s ninth floor. After Jenkins talked to her sister around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 9, her friends lost track of her and called Martin to say they were driving Jenkins’ car back to her.
Martin lives on the near West Side and arrived at the hotel around 5 a.m. She maintains that hotel and police officials were reluctant to help her find her daughter. Had there been immediate help, Martin and activists believe Jenkins might have been found alive and saved in time.
After numerous requests by the media, police released multiple hotel surveillance videos that show Jenkins in the hotel before she died. One video shows her stumbling through the hallway. Another shows her exiting an elevator. A third shows her stumbling through one of the hotel’s kitchens.
However, none of the videos actually shows Jenkins entering the walk-in freezer. Crowne Plaza officials say there is no such video, but activists don’t believe them. Dozens of them have speculated on Facebook about Jenkins’ death. Some have accused officials of editing the surveillance videos; those claims have not been proven.
There has also been criticism that the hotel released the tapes to the media and activist Andrew Holmes without allowing Martin to see them first.
Martin and activists say they won’t be satisfied until they see a video that shows Jenkins walking into the freezer. Unhappy with the way the case has been handled many suspect foul play was involved in Jenkins’ death. Protests have been held outside of the hotel’s front entrance ever since Jenkins’ body was discovered.
On Friday, Sept. 15 under sweltering temperatures, relatives and activists staged one the largest demonstrations since Jenkins’ death. About 500 people came out in full force and protested on the sidewalk on River Road, the main artery that runs through Rosemont’s bustling entertainment district packed with hotels, restaurants and retail shops.
As traffic began to build kicking off another busy weekend, activists held placards, beat drums, buckets, even frying pans to draw attention to their demands.
“No justice, no peace. This hotel won’t get no peace,” they chanted. “Release the tapes. The real tapes.”
Many of the protesters were from out of town. Antwan Wright, 44, said he drove from Cleveland to Rosemont with his sister and her friend.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this, but I just had to be here,” he told the Crusader. “There’s just a lot of inconsistencies with these stories. Somebody is trying to cover their tracks.”
Another protester, Tony Haynes, 46, said he flew in from Gulf Port, MS to join the demonstration.
“This whole story hurts my heart,” he said. “My heart goes out to that family. I believe there’s a cover-up here. I believe the responsible party is the hotel. Their neglect is the reason why that girl is not here today. “
The crowds were so large on the sidewalk, hotel guests and tourists were forced to walk in the streets to get to their destination. Crowds grew about ten-deep.
Eventually, about ten Rosemont police officers on bicycles arrived and formed a blockade after the crowds threatened to spill into the streets. Additional police officers guarded the hotel’s driveway and entrance.
Inside the lobby of the Crowne Plaza, three police officers guarded the stairway, the registration desk and the revolving front door. Four Rosemont police officers stood across the street at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.
Later, a large portion of the crowds marched to the south part of the hotel and demonstrated there as two people looked from a hotel room on the 11th floor.
Activists vowed to continue protesting until they see a videotape of Jenkins entering the freezer.
“I think someone did something to her,” said Michelle Jones, 39, of Chicago. “I didn’t like the way they treated the mom.”