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Rev. Jesse Jackson invited to ISU student meeting ahead of Jelani Day march in Peru

The Rev. Jesse Jackson attended Jelani Day's burial in Danville on Oct. 19.
Ted Shaffrey
The Rev. Jesse Jackson attended Jelani Day's burial in Danville on Oct. 19.
Updated: October 25, 2021 at 5:39 PM CDT
This story was updated Monday night after the LaSalle County coroner released Day's cause of death: drowning.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson was scheduled to visit Illinois State University on Monday night as he looks to apply pressure on law enforcement investigating the death of Jelani Day.

Jackson was invited to speak Monday night at the Black Student Union’s meeting at the ISU Multicultural Center. Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition are then scheduled to lead the “March for Jelani Day” at noon Tuesday in Peru, where the ISU graduate student’s body was found. Several ISU student organizations plan to attend the march.

Rainbow PUSH most visibly entered the case on the day of his Day’s burial in Danville. Jackson attended the burial and said he believed Day was “brutally murdered in Peru,” though authorities have not yet disclosed any evidence of foul play. His cause of death was drowning, the LaSalle County coroner said Monday, just hours before Jackson’s ISU visit.

Jackson said it “smells like another Emmett Till case all over again,” a reference to Black teen who was killed in 1955 in Mississippi. That became a flash point in the civil rights movement.

However, Rainbow PUSH appears to be spreading information about the case that is untrue.

During an interview Friday, Rainbow PUSH national field director Bishop Tavis Grant told WGLT two pieces of information purportedly about Day’s death (including the state of his body) that other reporting has shown to be false. WGLT is not going to repeat them here. WGLT has reported previously on how the lack of updates early on in the investigation allowed the online rumor mill to go into overdrive. At times Day’s family has had to debunk false information.

Peru Police have reportedly already asked the FBI to take over lead on the case, but the FBI has reportedly declined. WGLT has requested a comment from the FBI.

Peru Police Chief Robert Pyszka on Monday declined to comment on reports that they've asked the FBI to take over. He said he plans to issue a statement Tuesday addressing that question.

Peru Police say they’ve been in contact with organizers about Tuesday’s “peaceful march.” In a statement Friday, Pyszka said his understanding is that it was "not a march on the City of Peru but in the City of Peru, and the purpose of this march is to give the Day family some sort of closure."

But Bishop Tavis Grant with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition said that's not possible right now.

"We cannot give closure, we cannot rest, and we cannot believe he's at rest, until the criminal dynamic of this is addressed," Grant told WGLT.

Grant said the march is meant to keep pressure on authorities and to put a spotlight on other missing person cases.

"We've heard from parents and family members around the country who have seen this story, and have been touched by it because they have missing loved ones," Grant said.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Kam Buckner, a Chicago Democrat, sent a letter to Peru’s police chief asking for State Police to be allowed to take over the investigation.

Buckner told WGLT his letter is not an indictment or criticism of the investigation thus far, although his letter points to "unsettling discrepancies and inconsistencies" in their investigative work.

"This is a case that obviously needs specialized attention, and a specialized skillset, and specialized resources," Buckner said, adding State Police can provide that.

"His mother, his family, has been vocal on the fact that she thinks foul play was involved. And none of these investigations so far have been able to say that's not the case," Buckner said.

WGLT has requested a comment from the State Police.

ISU students mobilize for Peru march

A group of ISU students and employees have called for the cancellation of classes on Tuesday to allow for people to attend the Peru march. In a response Monday afternoon, Provost Aondover Tarhule asked instructors to "please work with students who request to participate in the march to identify alternative arrangements.”

“It is not our goal to disrupt the learning environment, but rather to provide support to students who wish to participate in the March for Jelani Day. We recognize that our students as well as faculty and staff continue to experience the impact of the tragedy that faced our campus this fall with Jelani Day's untimely death,” Tarhule wrote.

Meanwhile, Bloomington-Normal musician V8 Vast Change (Dominique Stevenson) released a new music video for a song called "Waiting For Tomorrow" about Day's death. Parts of the video were filmed at the Uptown Normal location where a tribute to Day was removed by the Town of Normal.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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