The Jan. 29 overdose death of Eric Lurry in Joliet police custody inspired another group of protesters to march in the city on Saturday.
Janet and Jennifer Martin, who are sisters from Orland Park, said they have helped organize Black Lives Matter protests in communities around the Chicago area, including suburbs where racial justice may not garner as much attention. They said they'd read news reports of Lurry's death and wanted to partner with Stringer Harris, an activist from Chicago, who has also organized protests calling for answers in the case.
"We want to be a part of this because this is something that is close to our hearts," Janet Martin said.
The sisters said they have also founded an organization called "Beauty and Brains" to provide educational resources and networking opportunities for young Black women to "bridge the gap of resources" they face. Jane Martin, 24, said she is in medical school at Southern Illinois University and Jennifer Martin, 20, said she is entering her junior year at Cornell University.
Janet Martin said they sometimes receive backlash from other communities where they have held protests, but they try to add a celebratory aspect to their non-violent marches. On Saturday, their demonstration featured a drum line setting the pace for marchers.
"Our protests are kind of like a parade," Janet Martin said. "They're like a celebration of the livelihood of Black people while also still shouting for our lives and marching through the streets for our lives."
The march attracted about 50 people on Saturday and the group walked around the Joliet Police Department and Joliet City Hall.
But the march also attracted a small group of about 10 counter demonstrators. One of the counter demonstrators, Pamela Hansen, 58, said she and some of her family members and friends from Joliet came out Saturday to "support the local police department."
"We wanted them to know they have support," Hansen said.
She said she didn't know anything about who organized the protest.
As the main marchers made their way around downtown Joliet, Hansen and her group followed them on motorcycles while maintaining a healthy distance. Joliet police officers also escorted the group of marchers.
At one point the marchers stopped near the intersection of Ottawa and Washington Streets to go down on one knee for a moment of silence for Lurry. Several yards away, the counter demonstrators on their motorcycles continued to play music and one even appeared to heckle the marchers, shouting, "Stand up!" when they took a knee.
Hansen explained that her group followed the marchers because they also "wanted to be heard."
The protesters eventually ended their march and gathered on Des Plaines Street near Joliet City Hall where speakers implored attendees to vote. They also prayed.
Meanwhile, the counter demonstrators continued to play music and some of the marchers appeared irritated.
At one point, the Martin sisters started walking toward the counter demonstrators. They said they were going to ask them to lower their music, but a Joliet police officer riding a bicycle quickly intercepted them and discouraged them from doing so. Janet Martin said she was intending to nicely make the request, but she and her sister listened to the offer and went back to their side of the street.
"I think our voices were heard the way they should," Janet Martin said. "I think the counter protesters were really rude today, but I feel like regardless our message was heard."
Hansen said she thought it was "great" that the police stopped the two young women from trying to ask them to turn down their music.
"We had just as much of a right to be heard as they did," she said.
She added that while she agreed that George Floyd's death in Minneapolis earlier this year was "unjust," she disagreed with protesters using him and others as "martyrs" and said the police do not treat Black people worse than White people who break the law.
Christian Perry, 30, who also helped organize the march, said the counter demonstration was "meant to distract" from the main focus of their protest.
"We're out here to get justice for a man's life that was lost unjustly," he said.
Lurry's widow, Nicole Lurry, said she thought it was great that her husband's case was garnering attention from some outside Joliet.
"It makes me feel good that people are actually coming out here trying to help me get justice," she said.
The Will County Coroner's Office ruled that Lurry's death was accidental and due to fatal intoxication from heroin, fentanyl and cocaine. Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow said Lurry's death "did not result directly from any action or inaction" by officers at the scene.
Nicole Lurry recently filed a lawsuit claiming that four Joliet police officers caused her husband's death. The lawsuit also claims that the officers or other police department employees attempted to destroy or conceal evidence of wrongdoing. Joliet Police Chief Al Roechner has condemned what he called a "false narrative" that video evidence was withheld or covered up.