A 17-year-old Riverside-Brookfield High School senior is alleging that he was the victim of racism last week during a field trip to the Cook County Jail Boot Camp after a verbal confrontation with a boot camp instructor. The story was first reported on the Channel 2 news on Friday.
On Oct. 26 RBHS teacher Jan Goldberg took her urban studies class on a field trip to the Cook County Jail, something that she has been doing since 1998. Allante Hill, the only black student in the class, was near the front of the line as the students walked into enter the facility in Chicago.
Close by there was a line of boot camp graduates who were apparently there for probation check ins.
Someone began yelling at Hill to take off his earrings.
“I started unscrewing my earrings as we were walking in and someone yells out ‘He needs to be in the other line,'” Hill told the Landmark in a telephone interview Monday night.
The clear inference was that Hill belonged in the line of offenders.
“The other kids said, ‘Did you hear what he said?'” Hill said. “Ms. Goldberg was like ‘Someone said that? Oh my God, who said that?'” Hill said.
Then, Hill said, the drill instructor walked up, mocking Goldberg and the other students.
“The drill instructor was walking up from behind, saying ‘Someone said that? Oh my God, who just said that? Someone really said that? Oh wait, that was me,'” Hill said. “He said this in front of the whole class. … He walked past me as he said it. He was like, ‘You need to be in the other line’ or whatever.”
The verbal exchange continued.
“I’m like, man, you don’t know me, and he was like, ‘I call it like I see it,'” Hill said. “He’s like, ‘I see those earrings, and those earrings are usually what most of the kids come in with.’ And I’m like, look, I go to school, I go to work and I come home to my daughter every night.
“He cut me off. He was like, ‘Oh really, you go home to your daughter every night? So what kid are you on, your third or fourth?'”
Hill said that’s when he lost it and swore at the drill instructor.
“I said, look man you don’t know s— about me,” Hill said, who admitted directing another curse word at the drill instructor.
“He was like, ‘You’ll be in here in a couple years,” Hill said.
That’s when Hill was told he could not go on the tour with his classmates.
Hill began to walk out the door as the drill instructor allegedly told him he would be back in the jail soon enough.
Hill believes he was singled out for his race and not for his earrings.
“You do the math,” Hill said. “There’s 26 white kids, one black person. Now I could see it if he said anything to anyone else, but the line checking in, the inmates, I saw all African Americans and one Hispanic, so do you think he really picked me out because of my earrings?”
Hill waited in the bus while his classmates toured the boot camp.
“I’m black and I usually go to an all white school so I’ve felt the racism, but I ain’t never had it like that,” Hill said. “It hurt me.”
That day Goldberg wrote a hand-written note to Hill’s mother, part of which was seen and read in the Channel 2 report.
“I am sorry that your son Allante had to be subjected to extreme racism,” Goldberg wrote in the note she gave to Hill to give to his mother. “He did nothing wrong.”
Monday night Goldberg did not want to talk about the incident.
“I have no comment because there’s a pending investigation,” Goldberg said.
The sheriff’s department is investigating the incident, but spokesperson Frank Bilecki said that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart met with Goldberg and her class after the tour and no one mentioned the incident.
“I can tell you that the sheriff is beyond perplexed and a bit outraged at the allegations at this point,” Bilecki said. “He had met with the teacher, he had met with the students, asked them about their experience while they were over at the boot camp. Not one time did the teacher or any of the students bring up an incident.”
Bilecki said the drill instructor is a Hispanic male who has worked for the sheriff’s department for a little more than four years. He had led tours for Goldberg in the past and had a good relationship with her, Bilecki said.
According to Bilecki, the department’s Office of Professional Review is conducting an investigation, so the drill instructor would not be made available to comment.
“We’re going to let the Office of Professional Review, which is our inspector’s office, do their investigation, but I can tell you based off of what the sheriff saw over there and his conversations with those individuals that were there, there wasn’t one hint of any issue,” Bilecki said.