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Pekin Protesters Peacefully Call For Racial Justice

A couple hundred people peacefully protested for racial justice outside the Tazewell County Courthouse in Pekin on Saturday afternoon. The mostly white crowd gathered to call for justice for George Floyd and other African-Americans who died after encountering police brutality.

Brittany Wagley of Pekin was a co-organizer of the protest. She said there needs to be more accountability for police officers and citizens alike.

"This is the first action. This is the first step. Showing that the people in Pekin are aware of our problems and we want to fix it from the inside out," Wagley said. "And that's how we should focus on America. We should fix it from the inside out. In every community."

The city was once known as a "sundown town," where blacks weren't welcome after sunset. The city still carries some of that stigma to this day, despite more recent efforts to cultivate a more welcoming image.

"People of color are afraid to come to Pekin. But no, Pekin wants to stand up and show that we also don't stand for this," Wagley said.

A few hecklers passed by the protesters massed at the corner of Court and Capitol, but the vast majority of motorists honked their horns in support, held raised fists or thumbs-up out the windows, or touted Black Lives Matter signs.

Elise Rothfusz of Washington came out with her family to protest. She said there's been a lot of injustice and violence against African-Americans.

"A lot of us who live in communities where there are not a lot of people of color, we need to be aware of this issue. And ask ourselves, too, why we don't have more people of color in our community," she said.

Ezra Collom of Peoria said he's a proud black trans man.

"I think a lot of people from my community are afraid to come out here, and they don't realize that there's actually so many people out here already to support us, and support the cause, and end the violence peacefully," Collom said.

He also said the black trans community needs to be a larger part of the conversation.

"We're the most marginalized and attacked group ever," he said. Collom read the names of recent black trans victims of police brutality during a speech.

At 2 p.m., protesters who were physically able were asked to lay on the ground for eight minutes and 46 seconds - the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck.

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Credit Tim Shelley / WCBU
Protesters lay upon the ground outside the Tazewell County Courthouse along Court and Capitol streets for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd on June 6, 2020.