“Black Lives Matter!”
That’s what people heard in the streets of Peoria as hundreds of students and staff from Illinois State University walked in unity Tuesday with Jelani Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, and longtime civil rights icon the Rev. Jesse Jackson to honor the deceased ISU graduate.
Jackson, who organized the march with his organization Rainbow Push Coalition, called on Peoria law enforcement to look further into Day’s disappearance.
Day was last seen on campus in late August, and his body was found in early September by the Illinois River and identified by Peru authorities later that month.
On Monday, the LaSalle County coroner declared Day’s death as a drowning, but Day’s family and protesters believe the autopsy report is not plausible.
“Jelani was an avid swimmer, and an avid swimmer doesn’t drown himself,” said Carmen Bolden Day. “[My son] did not have depression or mental issues. Those [symptoms] are indicative of someone who has suicidal thoughts. He was strong willed and strong minded. So, he ended up in that river against his will.”
The coroner stated that Day’s body was “suboptimal” due to the decomposition his body had gone through while underwater, but there was no evidence of an assault, gunshot wounds, strangulation or drug intoxication. Although the coroner ruled his cause of death a drowning, he is not sure how Day got in the river.
Jonathan Jackson, son of Jesse Jackson, said he expects another autopsy report to be unveiled to the public in the next week but says progress has not been made.
“How can the coroner reach findings that two organs have been dissolved in the water in 10 days?” he said.
Jesse Jackson visited Illinois State University last week to address Day’s death, and he, along with Day’s family, asked to federal agencies, including President Joe Biden, to take action.
Jackson compared Day’s death to the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year old African American teenage boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955.
“Smells like an Emmett Till case to me,” he said.