10-27-2016  9:41 am      •     
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) -- Hundreds of people rallied in the streets Saturday to demand justice for a man killed by police in a shooting that ignited racial tension and brought federal mediators to their northern Illinois community.
Residents also used the rally to call for improved economic conditions in Rockford, a city heavily reliant on the manufacturing industry that has reported the state's highest unemployment rate each month for more than a year.
Mark Anthony Barmore, 23, who was Black, was fatally shot by two White police officers inside a church-run daycare last month. Police said Barmore had been involved in a domestic dispute and was shot during a struggle when confronted by officers. Witnesses said Barmore surrendered before he was shot and the shooting occurred in front of children.
Family members and activists have held numerous rallies and marches, but the tone shifted Saturday to demanding jobs in Rockford. The city, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago, is home to nearly 160,000 people. Its unemployment rate has topped 15 percent.
"I want to seek justice for my son," said Anthony Stevens, who wore a T-shirt with Barmore's picture on it. "But it doesn't just stop at my son."
Cynthia Witt, whose husband was recently laid off from his job at the nearby Chrysler plant in Belvidere, attended the rally. The 47-year-old held a sign that said "Keep Jobs in the USA," and said Barmore's death was an opportunity for people to pull together and improve Rockford.
"It took something like this to bring attention to what's going on," she said.
The crowd, which marched to the site of Barmore's killing, heard speeches from the national NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In the wake of Barmore's Aug. 24 death, the civil rights group placed Rockford among its top five areas of concern when it comes to police departments. It wants a full federal investigation and national standards for police use of force.
"It's a public safety crisis," Jealous said after the rally. "It's not simply a Black problem. It's literally happening everywhere."
He said to build trust with the police department, the community needs to be reassured that a similar situation won't happen again.
Department of Justice mediators have been sent to quell tensions in the community, and several federal officials were present Saturday to watch the rally. No problems were reported during Saturday's rally.
The two Rockford police officers involved in the shooting, Stan North and Oda Poole, have been placed on paid administrative leave, police officials said.
"Everyone should wait until the final investigation should come out and draw their conclusions," Tim O'Neil, an attorney representing the police department's union, said during a phone interview before the march.
The Rockford Police Department has asked an outside agency, the Illinois State Police, to conduct an investigation.
Rockford police spokeswoman Julia Scott-Valdez declined to elaborate Saturday, citing an ongoing investigation.
Many marchers remembered Barmore as a father of two who loved basketball and liked to rap.
"His death has meant a lot to the community," said marcher Kathleen Schelm, 34. "We want justice for him."

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