Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is demanding that the FBI take full control over the investigation into the death of Jelani "J.J." Day.
"As we approach 100 days without any answers, we are demanding that the FBI investigate this matter as a hate crime," Crump said at a news conference on Friday. "The family is losing confidence in the local authorities — they want answers." Several state and local agencies as well as the FBI have been investigating the case.
Day, a graduate medical student at Illinois State University, went missing on Aug. 24. A month later, officials confirmed that the Black 25-year-old man had been found dead in the Illinois River. His death was ruled a drowning, but it remains unknown how Day ended up in the river.
"None of it adds up," said Crump said, who was joined in Chicago by co-counsel B'Ivory LaMarr; Day's mother, Carmen Bolden Day; and civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Two days after Day's disappearance, his car was found in Peru, Ill., a city located an hour north of where Day lived in Bloomington.
Day's family, who suspect homicide, have rejected suggestions that the cause of death was suicide.
"Jelani was not depressed, he was not burdened," Bolden Day said.
Crump joins Day's mother in pressing authorities to show the same urgency for Day's case that's been demonstrated in those focused on white people, such as that of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old woman who was reported missing in September. After her remains were found in a national park in Wyoming, the FBI later concluded she was murdered.
"Day's case has received significantly less attention, revealing a deeply concerning disparity in the way missing persons cases are treated and covered for people of color," Crump said in a statement.
An emotional Bolden Day explained the work she's done to investigate her son's death herself in the absence of resources that had been dedicated to Petito. "I didn't have all the drones, I didn't have all the police officers, I didn't have all that — I still don't have that," she said.
Crump has represented the families of several Black people in high-profile civil rights cases, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, both of whom were killed by police.