Jon Arteaga isn’t looking for any praise by protesting at the corner of Main Street and Route 150 in St. Joseph.
Arteaga, a 2014 St. Joseph-Ogden graduate, said he hopes his peaceful protest against police brutality opens up conversations in town.
“I don’t want to be praised for this,” he said. “People should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. I just want to show my neighbors that they have someone to lean on. That I’ll always have their back. I am not doing this for attention nor to speak on behalf of any group. The focus should be on them. Listen to your brothers, sisters and siblings. They’ve been trying to tell us for so long. We need to listen.”
Arteaga said he attended the peaceful protest Monday that went from the Champaign County Courthouse in downtown Urbana to the Champaign Police Department and he found it inspiring. He wanted to show the St. Joseph community that protests can be peaceful.
“I felt so much love and such a large sense of community understanding that I felt it could spread farther than just larger cities,” he said. “I also wanted to let our black neighbors know that they are safe here. That they have allies. Being gay, I know how it feels wondering who I can and cannot trust in this town, and I wanted to reassure them that they have people in their corner.”
Arteaga said since St. Joseph is home to so many current and retired police officers he feels it is a good place to hold a protest and raise awareness of police brutality.
“I want them to know the problem doesn’t just end at work,” he said. “It’s a continuous fight for equality that they have to be a part of if we are going to change anything.”
While the response to Arteaga’s protest was positive on social media, he said there were some vocal detractors on Wednesday.
“We did receive some fairly vocal opinions on Wednesday and they were scary,” he said. “But the wave of love and support we got just swept all the fear away. And the thing is, it wasn’t just that people were supporting us that gave me courage. It was the complete and utter understanding that I was doing the right thing.”
Arteaga wasn’t alone during his protest. Over the course of five hours, seven people participated and more dropped off water and snacks. Arteaga knew several of the protestors, but didn’t personally ask them to join him.
“They came to stand with me out of their own accord,” he said, “and I was so proud of them for that.”
The 23-year-old, who has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Illinois State University, said while he will never truly understand what it means to be racially discriminated against, he is still listening and learning as much as he can so he can use his privilege to help bring others to the spotlight.
“The world is so much larger than this small town,” he said. “I’m hoping to expand that focus a little more.
Arteaga is helping lead another peaceful protest at 5 p.m. Friday at the four-way stop in St. Joseph. He said the positive feedback he received for the protest made him feel like people are ready to be open about their support and that the town is ready to recognize injustice and speak out against it.
“So many people wanted to participate but didn’t even know it was happening,” he said. “I felt like since I had created this spark of hope in the community from my tiny protest, I had a duty to light that fire in others and inspire them to get out and protest.”
Arteaga said he does understand why people may be hesitant to attend the protest on Friday, but encourages them participate in ways that they feel comfortable.
“I would recommend coming to see what it’s about,” he said. “Stay for a little bit and see if it’s something you want to do. If not, simply dropping off supplies, such as water and snacks or driving by and honking, goes a lot farther than you’d think.”
For more information visit the event page.