On Sept 10, 2017, 19-year-old Kenneka Jenkins was found frozen to death inside the freezer of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Rosemont, Il following a party she attended there. As devastating as her death has been, it occurred under the most bizarre circumstances we’ve seen in quite a while. Although there has been much speculation about what happened to her (which won’t be covered today), the purpose of this article is to highlight the most extraordinary display of unity as people came together for a common cause – to seek answers.
Oftentimes, when blacks are reported in the media, it’s because they were killed by either law enforcement, gang violence, or other means. But this story wasn’t of much media interest because in the days after Kenneka Jenkin’s death, people came together to support her mother, Teresa Martin. Ms. Martin’s attempts to find out what happened to her daughter were initially met with indifference. She was eventually offered a viewing of videos that showed her daughter staggering (apparently intoxicated) down a hallway, then off an elevator, and finally into a kitchen. What the videos did not show was her child entering the freezer. She asked for that video and was again met with silence.
Several Chicago activists (Sheena M. James, Lamon Reccord, Jedidiah Brown, and Natorah El) stepped in to aid the grieving mother. As each day passed, the crowds became a little bigger—30 became a hundred, and so on. Facebook Live views for these activists were in the double-digits as thousands of people around the country (and the world) responded and tuned in. Monday through Thursday I tuned into various Facebook Live feeds of the protests. They chanted “No justice no peace, this hotel won’t get no sleep’, ‘Justice for Kenneka’, ’21 hours and a coverup’, ‘If we don’t get it (tapes), SHUT IT DOWN’, etc. They blew whistles and banged on pots and pans. They were there to stay.
It was organized and efficient. After viewing the live feeds each day, it was hard not to see the camaraderie and cohesiveness of the protesters gain momentum. Each day they began with a pre-protest update of the previous night’s events and let people know what was accomplished as well as the problems that arose. In the evening, several people recorded live feeds of the protest in front of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Eventually (as with many protests) people were arrested. A “jail fund” was set up to aid them which, led to the last daily update taking place at the police station as they informed us who had been arrested (staying there until they bailed them out). The comments and encouragement sparked a movement- whose togetherness morphed into an event unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was the passion and commitment to the mother that literally moved people all over the country to action.
Facebook consistently shut down some of the feeds and suspended Ms. Martin’s (the mother) and Mr. Brown’s access to their pages (Ms. Martin’s was later restored). Each night, the protests were peaceful and orderly. To keep streets clear and traffic flowing, arrests were made of anyone who stepped onto the street. As the group of supporters sat in the Rosemont Police Department, they said that their motto was “We’re not leaving anyone behind.” On one of those nights an elderly white man named Jack was bailed out. The police injured Jack’s arm and he was taken to the hospital before the group could bail him out. When asked why he was there he said, “I’ve been doing this for over 50 years and I’ll never stop.” Then he said, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” Jack was there the next day- to the delight of the viewers who wrote in large letters “WE LOVE YOU JACK!!” Throughout all of this, the media was silent. I found it strange that hundreds of people protesting in upscale suburban Rosemont and against an upscale hotel was met with complete silence from the media. Black people weren’t looting and burning things so I guess it was a slow night. There was, however, a documentary photographer there (Jon Lowenstein) to capture events as they unfolded.
Toward the middle of the week Jedidiah Brown announced that on Friday they expected a large group – people coming from around the country- to support Ms. Martin’s quest for the complete videos of her daughter entering the freezer. Friday arrived and something amazing happened — people from all over the country really did gather in Rosemont Illinois. People of every race, age, and religion came to support Teresa Martin.
Ethan (a tall white gentle giant (who was later arrested) took a Greyhound bus from Georgia. There were people from Joliet, IL, Wisconsin, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Boston, and California. Among the crowd was a woman of short stature with her hair in a short afro wearing a purple tee-shirt with face of Kenneka Jenkins. She was giving a hug to every person she came in contact with- thanking them for coming. Teresa Martin has been a bulwark during her personal tragic loss. Having just undergone a double-mastectomy just days before her daughter Kenneka went missing, she has consistently been in Rosemont daily demanding the full and complete video footage of her daughter’s last minutes of life.
Also, on Friday as massive crowds of people (1800+) arrived and took to the streets, law enforcement became aggressive and violent. One protester was violently thrown to the ground and arrested. Activists went to the police station to check on his condition and to ask that the young man receive medical care. The officers -once polite/helpful – were now belligerent and aggressive and threatened Mr. Brown and the other activists with arrest for disturbing the peace.
To say the source of my initial unease (regarding Friday’s expected crowd) became a self-fulfilling prophesy is an understatement. I say that because anyone who knows that when massive amounts of money, power, and privilege are at stake, the outcomes for the average person is shaky at best. This was a different kind of ‘protest’. It wasn’t about race. It wasn’t an obvious murder (it’s officially a death investigation). It wasn’t even local(located in a Chicago suburb). This was about a Chicago mother whose daughter died in a sadly disturbing and as yet, unanswered way – and people all over the country responded by physically showing up. They donated time, air fare, places to stay, rides, food/drink, and their voices.
Sadly, whenever a demonstration moves to the highest (and peaceful) degree and, whenever there is such a strong, true/genuine cohesiveness of ‘the people’ (meaning ALL people), destruction is never far behind. It would take a book to go deep into the events that unfolded within the Martin camp but allegations were made against the activists by the mother via Facebook about the funds, the mother pulled away from their aid -leaving in her wake devastated men and women who stood with her just hours before. Why? Because within activism are pockets of division and within the black community itself breads negativity. To read the comments in some of these feeds was disheartening to say the least. Apparently another activist (who was not associated with this group) was responsible for creating the division that brought the movement to an end.
Friday was a pivotal day for Chicago and the country. People proved that it is possible to come together for a common cause. They went to Rosemont and shut it down- not an easy feat by any means. But sadly, by Saturday, there were clearly signs that something poisonous had entered the mix and by Sunday, it fell completely apart. All unfolding like a made-for-TV series on Facebook Live.
My heart breaks for the Teresa Martin’s unimaginable loss and it’s important to note that she has yet to bury her child and truly grieve. She did state that no one told her about the ‘jail fund” but in fairness I heard several activists mention it several times and they always stated that she personally OK’d it. It is said that whenever money involved, bad things can happen and in this case, it certainly did. At any rate, the allegations have left everyone with questions and confusion and, has caused a cavernous rift within the community of activists.
The movement is over and in it’s place is a standard protest (Jedidiah Brown and the others are no longer present). I checked Facebook today and there are only a handful of people there- seemingly less than the crowd last week when protests first began. It’s a huge step backwards.
I had no intention of writing about Kenneka Jenkins until all the facts were in. Yet, after seeing how the amazing cohesiveness of the protests evolved on Friday, I decided to write “When Community Bands Together, Amazing Things Happen” but by Sunday, I revised it to “When Community Bands Together (The Rise and Fall Thereof).” That was disappointing…
But the real question we should be asking is “Why did this happen on the day when the most true power of the movement was present?”
But like this case, we will have to wait and see what unfolds in the days ahead. Hopefully we’ll get a picture of what really happened to destroy what was becoming a movement representative of the strength, respect, love, support, and a quest for truth by ALL the people. How ironic is that?
****The mother chose a large venue for her daughter’s funeral so she could thank everyone for supporting her. Funeral arrangements as quoted by Teresa Martin’s Facebook page:
“HOUSE OF HOPE
KENNEKA JENKINS FUNERAL
THE COLORS ARE PURPLE AND WHITE
Rev T Meeks
752 E 114th st, Chicago, IL 60628 (correct address 😇)
ALL ARE WELCOME
IF YOU COME IN PEACE SO DEVIL YOUR NOT WELCOME HERE”