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Eye On Illinois: Undeterred by detractors, Jelani Day’s loved ones keep seeking answers

“Don’t any of these people work?”

So wrote a Twitter user responding to Shaw Media’s coverage of a demonstration Tuesday in Peru and La Salle. The intent was calling attention to the curious case of Jelani Day, an Illinois State University graduate student whose body was found Sept. 4 in the Illinois River near the Route 251 bridge, nine days after his car was found hidden in woods near the Illinois Valley YMCA.

Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, spoke in front of the Peru Police Department Tuesday morning, flanked by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and members of his Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

“You will see the location of where the car was, and how they said where the body was found, where they said the clothes were found, where they said the wallet was found, where they said the lanyard was found ... none of these are in the proper distance,” Day said. “None of these are anything Jelani would have purposely drove his car, took off his license plates, not have his phone, throw away his key, take off his clothes and go into a river.”

Organizers scheduled the demonstration last week, but it gained importance following Monday’s declaration from the La Salle County Coroner’s Office that Day died of drowning with no signs of struggle. Among the stated goals are to have the death investigation turned over to the FBI and Illinois Attorney General’s Office, rather than a handful of police departments and sheriff’s offices.

“Don’t any of these people work?”

The callous response would be stunning but for the fact it surfaced on social media, not exactly known as a source of compassion.

It is, of course, plainly obvious that people concerned about what happened to Jelani can hold full-time jobs and also take time off from those positions to try to force a change within the system that thus far has been unable to deliver satisfactory answers to this most pressing question.

It is similarly clear that whether any of the demonstrators are gainfully employed is irrelevant to their concern about the fate of a loved one – or even a stranger. Caring about others used to be widely accepted as a positive trait. It’s still presented as such in school settings, but seems to have gotten lost somewhere on many folks’ path to adulthood.

Day’s loved ones may never get answers. That’s just the unfortunate reality of death under such strange circumstances. The FBI can’t guarantee outcomes any more than a city cop.

But the hundreds at that demonstration are more than entitled to pursue their quest for truth and what they deem to be justice. They’re all working for something more important than detractors will ever understand.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.