Peoria public housing: Concentration camp/safety

Indignation was heated over action the Peoria Housing Authority took at Taft Homes over the July Fourth weekend.

PHA implemented measures again this year similar to those followed for almost a decade, but this year advance notification inadvertently did not go out to residents.

Outside traffic was barred from entering and all gates except one were locked. Residents were directed to the one open gate. The goal was to keep outsiders from entering the complex but allow residents to enter and exit through a gate with security guards.

That lack of advance communication “was a mistake, but the measures were for the right reasons,” said Carl Cannon, chairman of the Peoria PHA.

People took to social media sites, calling the measures a “lockdown” and contending it created a “concentration camp” atmosphere.

One activist objecting to the measures said, “I had fireworks going off in my neighborhood until past midnight, but police didn’t come and lockdown the neighborhood.”

Cannon said the measures were taken for safety. In 2011, firefighters responding to a fire were targeted with commercial-grade fireworks. Other incidents happened the following year over the holiday.

“The goal was to keep non-residents out,” Cannon said.

Some afternoons, drug dealers from outside ran through the complex and hid between buildings, Cannon said.

“We have the gates for a reason. When drug dealers ran through the property at 2 in the afternoon, it was like the OK corral,” he said, noting an afternoon gun incident that left a homicide victim dead on the property with schoolchildren walking past the body.

Elaine Hopkins, president of the Peoria Area ACLU chapter, stated, “No other neighborhoods in Peoria have awakened to find police at the entrance to prevent non-residents from entering, even though fireworks were going off there at all hours. Some of our chapter board members are aware of Taft residents’ complaints and are concerned about this apparent violation of their civil liberties.”

Cannon expressed the belief that George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis has pushed the country into a new era with both Black and white people demanding change and justice.

“It’s going to take all of us working together,” he said.

Cannon is professionally dedicated to teaching Black youth about alternatives and opportunities for their futures. He is supervisor of youth outreach and intervention with the Peoria Park District and founded the ELITE Youth Program Corps. He has taken students to the DuSable Musuem of African American History in Chicago.

“I want kids to see some of their history. I don’t want to throw sticks and stones but this (new era) is a battle cry to fix the system,” he said.

The Peoria Chapter of the ACLU has looked into filing a complaint with the Chicago ACLU over the security measures at Taft but has not yet received a response from the Chicago office.

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