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Protesters call for justice for teen killed by police in Waukegan

Marcellis Stinnette was killed and his girlfriend, Tafara Williams, was wounded during a traffic stop late Tuesday.

Rayon Edwards leads a chant and march during rally and protest against police brutality Thursday after Marcellis Stinnettte, 19, was fatality shot by police in Waukegan.
Rayon Edwards leads a chant and march during rally and protest against police brutality Thursday after Marcellis Stinnettte, 19, was fatality shot by police in Waukegan.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

WAUKEGAN — About 100 protesters gathered outside a Waukegan police station Thursday and called for justice for Marcellis Stinnette, 19, who was fatally shot by police in the northern suburb.

“No justice, no peace,” the crowd chanted.

Stinnette’s girlfriend, Tafara Williams, was shot in the stomach and arm and underwent surgery Thursday, said her mother, Tina Johnson.

“Her last words to her boyfriend were, ‘Marcellis, you gonna be OK.’ And he said, ‘Babe you’ve been shot.’ And then he said, ‘I think I’m gonna die,’ and she said, ‘No you ain’t, babe, we got God by our side,’” Johnson said her daughter told her.

Johnson didn’t want to discuss what her daughter said about the moments before the shooting.

Relatives and demonstrators cast doubt on the Police Department’s version of what happened.

The incident began shortly before midnight Tuesday when an officer went to investigate a vehicle near Liberty and Oak streets, Waukegan police said in a statement. The car drove off from the officer but was found moments later by another officer. As that officer walked up to the car, the car reversed and the officer fired his pistol out of “fear for his safety,” police said.

No weapon was found in the car, police said.

“I want justice for her,” Johnson said of her daughter. “I want the police to stop killing. You opened fire ... for what? It’s not making sense to me. It’s not adding up,” she said.

Johnson told the crowd she just spoke to her daughter from her hospital bed.

“I told her we’re out here and justice will be served because they left you to speak for the ones who can’t speak. Black lives do matter and you live, and so by that you have to stand and speak for the ones that’s already gone,” she said.

Several people who live near the corner where the shooting happened said they heard Williams ask police, “Why’d you shoot me? Why’d you shoot me?”

Marcellis Stinnette
Marcellis Stinnette
Provided

Body camera and squad car video was turned over to the Illinois State Police, which is investigating the incident, Waukegan police Cmdr. Edgar Navarro said. State police will then present its findings to the Lake County state’s attorney’s office to determine if charges will be filed.

The officer, who is Hispanic and has five years on the force, was placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation, Navarro said.

“I think it’s a shame what’s going on, cops just trigger happy,” said Doug Graves, 59, of Gurnee.

“I just hope it won’t be like Kenosha,” he said, referencing the looting and widespread damage that happened after a police shooting in that Wisconsin city this summer. “We should all be able to get along, come together, stop all this nonsense.”

As he spoke, workers boarded windows of a building near the police station.

Clyde McLemore, head of the Lake County chapter of Black Lives Matter, said he didn’t trust the Illinois State Police to investigate the shooting and called for the Department of Justice to handle the probe.

Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham told the Sun-Times the tragedy is close to him personally.

Cunningham and his family are close friends with the elder generations of both victims’ families, and he is distantly related to Williams, who he referred to as a “cousin.”

Williams’ family hailed from the same small Alabama town his ancestors called home, he said.

“It’s horrific — I just never thought I would be here; however I am here and I have to lead through this,” he told the Sun-Times on Thursday.

Asked if he was concerned his Waukegan could potentially face similar unrest that was seen in Kenosha, Cunningham said, “Of course. That’s in the back of my mind, the police chief’s mind, the city’s mind, of course.”

But the Waukegan has a different narrative, “one of black kid who went to college and returned for a career in public service and became mayor,” he said.

“The sooner these families can get information from this investigation, the better everybody will be,” he said.

“The Stinnette family is one of the original African American families in Waukegan, there’s deep roots there, there’s a lot at stake...so we’ve got to get this right, our reputation is on the line here,” he said, emphasizing the need for transparency and integrity.

Cunningham said the facts of the case are of utmost importance. “I’ve even thought about having an independent investigative team take a look at this,” he said, though couldn’t provide details.

Cunningham said he’s aware of demonstrators’ calling for the FBI or Department of Justice to handle the investigation and said “those options are not closed.”

Cunningham said he and the families of both shooting victims are from “what we affectionately called the South Side of town,” an area with a large presence of African Americans.

Stinnette’s grandmother, Sherrellis Sheria Stinnette, said she forgave the officer who pulled the trigger but didn’t let him off the hook.

“I didn’t say what he did was right, because it’s not, but we all have to answer come judgment day,” she said.

Kimberly Handy-Jones, mother of Cordale Handy who was shot by police in St. Paul, speaks out against the injustice against young black men in their communities during a rally and protest against police brutality after Marcellis Stinnettte, 19, was fatality shot by police in Waukegan Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
Kimberly Handy-Jones, mother of Cordale Handy who was shot by police in St. Paul, Minnesota, speaks out against the injustice against young Black men.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times