WARNING: This story contains a mention of suicide.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump is calling for a federal investigation into the death of Jelani Day, marking nearly the 100th day since the Illinois State University graduate student’s body was found.
Day was reported missing in late August after his family hadn’t heard from him and he failed to show up for class. His body was found in the Illinois River on Sept. 4 and positively identified on Sept. 23, nearly three weeks later.
Crump called on the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a press conference in Chicago on Friday with Day’s family, Reverend Jesse Jackson and attorney B’Ivory LaMarr, who has been leading the efforts, standing at his side.
“Today is an important day. Today we stand in solidarity to increase our call for accountability,” LaMarr said. “Our mission today is simple, we can’t allow 100 days to become 100 months and 100 months to become 100 years, which results in the unresolved mystery of another missing person, of an African American.”
LaMarr said while it’s not “uncommon for things to not work out,” the Day family has given Chicago authorities more than enough time to provide answers or details regarding their loved one, adding that officials have become “less than transparent.”
Despite his death being deemed a suicide by drowning, LaMarr said factual findings demonstrate foul play and increase their homicide suspicions, but that “implicit bias” has led authorities to ignore the obvious.
“Let me make it very clear, stress does not make you take off your license plate, drive over an hour to a place you’ve never been before, in a town that is 95% white and has a Black population of only 0.4%,” he said.
LaMarr added that stress also doesn’t make you “take off your clothes in the car, leave other parts of the clothes other parts of that town, leave your wallet blocks away from where you left the car, jump in the Illinois River and drown, though you’re an average swimmer.”
LaMarr, like so many others, including Jelani’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, linked the situation to that of Gabby Petito. Petito was reported missing on Sept. 11, 10 days after her boyfriend Brian Laundrie returned to Florida alone—and around the same time as Day—after a cross-country journey the couple had documented on social media.
Her body was found near a campground in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park on Sept. 21 and positively identified two days later.
U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) has also called for a federal investigation into Day’s death and compared his circumstances to Petito, BNC previously reported. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Way, Rush also said the facts reminded him of past lynchings.
“As I learned the details of Day’s case, I was reminded of the lynching of Emmett Till, whose body was found floating in a river in 1955 and still, decades later, no one has been held legally accountable for his death,” Rush said in his letter. “The circumstances surrounding Day’s death are strikingly similar to past lynchings of Black Americans, both male and female.”
Rush expressed hope that prompt answers may bring comfort and closure to her family. Day’s family “deserves the same urgency as they continue to seek answers,” he said.
It’s unknown at this time how the FBI has responded to Crump and Rush’s requests, if they have at all.