How Peoria families are impacted after losing loved ones during police-involved incidents

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — It’s hard to have a conversation about police-community relations in Central Illinois and not talk about the five police-involved deaths in Peoria since 2017.

The events, sparking debate, in the community about policing.

As we’ve seen, regardless of the circumstances, it impacts the community and the police. But it also impacts the families, who find themselves looking for answers and change.

Kendra Fluker and Anita Johnson, a sister, and mother of Peoria men who died in police-involved situations. Both clinging on to who they remember their loved one to be.

“He was a comedian and he was a family person. There was not a family event he was not a part of,” Anita Johnson, the mother of Eddie Russell Jr. said.

“He has an 11-year-old daughter. He didn’t miss a beat when it came to her. That was literally her best friend,” Keondra Fluker, the sister of David Smith, said.

But they are forced to grapple between who they knew and the circumstances surrounding their deaths as their stories play out in public.

“A nightmare, you know that you never wake up from.”

Johnson’s son, Eddie Russell Junior, shot and killed by police in September 2017, following an hours-long standoff at his mother’s home.

He was suspected of an armed robbery, earlier that day. Court records show Russell Junior had a history with mental illness and his mother said police knew that.

The coroner said David Smith died of a medical emergency while in police custody, last October.

“You wanna go to the hospital to get checked out?”

Video shows Smith unresponsive and incoherent police calling paramedics to check him out who then released him back to the officers. He too, accused of an armed robbery that day.

How do you justify seeing those images, those situations, those series of events, and saying as you are saying, my son, my brother, did not deserve to die in the way that he did?

They both had a right to face a judge, face a jury, to plea anything. They had a right to appear in court versus being sent to the morgue,” Fluker said.

Anita Johnson said, “We would have like to have the justice system work for us. We would have liked to see a trial. We would have liked to see them stand before their peers to be proven innocent or guilty. That’s what we would like to see.”

In June, The Peoria Police Chief and the union wrote a letter to the community denouncing the actions of the Minneapolis Police Officers involved in the death of George Floyd, saying they were “shocked and appalled.”

The letter, also acknowledging protests in Peoria over five police-involved deaths in recent years including Russell Jr. and Smith. Prosecutors ruling the officers did nothing wrong in both cases. The letter goes on to say, “No police officer comes to work and wants to be involved in a shooting or death. And the department is, “dedicated to protecting all members of the community.”

“I replay the day, every day. It never gets easier,” Fluker said.

Both Fluker and Johnson believe things could have been handled differently. Given their relatives’ physical and mental health. They say its tough seeing what people have to say about them for defending their loved one.

“I know personally when my brother passed away, and things hit the media, it was a lot of people bashing. It was a lot of – we had people that felt sorry. We had people that bashed a lot,” Fluker said.

They want to remind people it’s not easy to lose a loved one. And they say they’ll continue to be a voice, Even if people disagree.

“I am fighting for my son because I believe it’s the right thing to do,” Johnson said.

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