NORMAL — Civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday he doesn’t believe an autopsy report released Monday which indicated Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day drowned in the Illinois River with no signs of injury before his death.
Jackson disputed the report and called for state and federal authorities to take lead in the investigation of the 25-year-old’s death. Day’s badly decomposed body was found in the river in Peru, about an hour north of Bloomington-Normal, on Sept. 4. That was 10 days after he was reported missing.
“He was up to (a place) where he had never been before,” Jackson said while speaking to reporters and members of the Illinois State University Black Student Union. “It’s insane. We don’t believe that.”
Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition came to ISU to rally students ahead of the group’s planned “March for Jelani Day” planned in Peru on Tuesday.
Jackson tried to draw parallels between Day’s death and others involving Black men such as George Floyd, suggesting the criminal investigation in Floyd’s case didn’t go anywhere until the Minnesota attorney general got involved.
“Local investigators cannot be trusted with this,” Jackson said as he led the crowd in a series of chants. “We need the state attorney general (Kwame Raoul), a federal investigation, the FBI, the Department of Justice, (and) President Biden.”
Jelani’s mother Carmen Bolden Day pleaded with students to push for state authorities to get involved.
“I want you all to just pester the state of Illinois attorney general’s office until he gets tired of everybody calling him, until he gets tired of filtering emails, until he gets tired of people asking him (to get someone on the case) because there’s something he can do,” Day said. “I need you all to help us because I need justice for Jelani.”
The Peru police chief has said previously the FBI declined to take lead in the investigation.
Day also dismissed the autopsy report, saying it’s part of a narrative that suggests her son would harm himself.
“It’s amazing to me that all these Black men that get killed somehow get associated with them doing something to themselves,” Day said. “Jelani was strong.”
The autopsy findings, which the LaSalle County coroner released Monday, was one of the first public statements to come from authorities in this case, since the coroner confirmed Day’s identity on Sept. 23.
The absence of information from authorities has led to speculation on social media about the case, some of which Carmen Bolden Day has refuted.
ISU Black Student Union president Heaven Moore told the gathering Jelani Day’s death is a crisis and students need to respond “with urgency.”
“The Bolden Day family is suffering an excruciating pain, and the worst part about it is that they have not had the proper support during this time,” Moore said. “From organizing their own searches, hiring their own medical examiners, private investigators and lawyers and then having to bury their own son, brother, nephew, cousin and grandson — words can’t begin to express the pain they are feeling at this time.”
Jackson, who is 80, spoke to the students for over 30 minutes. He treated much of his talk as a history lesson on fighting injustices against people of color and tied it to current events, covering everything from the Emancipation Proclamation, to the 1963 March on Washington, to the U.S. Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
“Here we stand tonight looking at that treasonous situation. The good news is when we fight back we win. When we fight back across the lines of race, religion and gender, we have the power to change the course of our country,” Jackson said adding that students should get involved and vote where they go to school, not where they are from.
Jackson added the march on Tuesday will be “nonconfrontational.” Several students asked whether they should be concerned for their safety at the rally.