Letter to the Editor | Black man working alone in Peoria at night confronted by men armed with military assault weapon

Editor’s Note: At the end of this letter is information from the police incident report, Gannett Corp. and the Rev. Marvin Hightower, president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

I am a 51-year-old African American man, and I have a paper route in Peoria Heights for the local daily newspaper. First let me share how difficult it was for me to write this letter to you. I did not know at the time of this incident what I wanted to see happen, but now I am clear on the action I would like to see.

As you know our country is in a crisis, due to the racial unrest from the killing of Mr. George Floyd. On Tuesday morning, June 4 at 3 a.m. while folding my newspapers on the street behind the shopping center at Junction City. I see someone walking around Junction City. As I always do, I minded my own business. I have had numerous problems in Peoria Heights with being stalked, followed, and questioned for just doing my job.

I got in my car and turn onto Prospect. At that point I see a guy walking parallel to me holding an AR-15 style rifle in front of him. The guy yells something at me, which scares the crap out of me. I continue driving to complete my route. I began delivering newspapers to the houses on a side street off of Prospect when I hear someone yell, “African American and up to no good.”

At this point I am trembling and really scared for my life. It is 3 a.m. in the morning, all I wanted to do is get my papers delivered and go home. I have my phone in my hand with the recorder on.

I call the police and asked the dispatcher to send a sergeant or a lieutenant, because I have not done anything wrong. I did not deserve to have some white dude, with that rifle and his white privilege acting like the police.
When the police arrive, they go and question the guys in the shopping center. The men deny everything. The dash cam on my car, nor my camera phone was able to pick up the yelling. The officer returned and tells me the men denied everything and that they were given permission to be there. I asked the officer; do they have the right to police across Prospect as well? The officer admitted that may not be a great idea and said they would stick around until I finished delivering my papers in that area.

It is my word against their word, at this point. But do I care, no because at that moment I just wanted to live. Never have I been so happy to see 4-5 squad cars in my life.

The change I want to see is for the state of Illinois to prohibit open carry after business hour, unless the individuals are certified and trained security personnel that are employed by the business. By allowing individuals to police or patrol a business without explicit contracts to do so is ripe for mistakes to happen. No piece of property is worth more than human life!

I will be reaching out to my state legislators to request this change in the state statute on open and carry by unlicensed or contracted people on private business property. We all know if that had been African American men on the southside of Peoria with AR15 rifles on rooftops it would have been an entirely different story.

Be safe brothers and sisters.

Mr. G.J. Landrum
Peoria, Illinois

Additional information

The Rev. Marvin Hightower, president of the Peoria NAACP, met with Peoria Police Chief Loren Marion about this incident.

“The man was just doing his job. A Black man and he’s nervous with all the heightened tension in the country. This situation could have quickly deteriorated,” Hightower said, noting it was fortunate the police were already in the area and responded quickly and stayed with the paper carrier for the rest of his route.

Hightower said according to the police chief and the state’s attorneys office, it was legal for the men to carry weapons to protect their property.

“It may be legal but that does not make it right. And it’s not legal for them to threaten and harass someone, but that’s hard to prove,” he said, adding that if another incident is reported a pattern begins to emerge. People can decide for themselves whether they will continue to patronize shops and restaurants in Junction City where the incident took place.

In response to an inquiry, Gannett, owner of the Peoria Journal Star, issued this response:

Home delivery of The Journal Star is handled by a distribution company and we, therefore, do not have a direct relationship with Mr. Landrum. We were very disheartened to hear about this incident and have reached out to the distribution company to offer support and to help ensure the safety of carriers. We also connected with the local police to voice our concerns over this incident.

Community Word will follow-up with Gannett about its discussion with the distribution company and what action is taken to ensure carrier safety.

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