Shamar Betts is a talented young man who once had a bright future ahead of him. After the devastating loss of his mother at age 12, he encountered many more challenges in his life. It was as if the deck was stacked against him. Nevertheless, he persisted in obtaining his high school diploma, living mostly on his own, and secured his first job working with children as a camp counselor in Urbana, Illinois.
In direct reaction to George Floyd’s murder, Shamar made the most fateful decision of his young life: he put up a flyer on Facebook calling for people to rise up against police violence towards the black community. At the time, he had no idea the impact this post would have on his young life. Turns out, his post was shared hundreds of times, and on May 31, 2020, several hundred people gathered at the Marketplace Mall in Champaign, Illinois. Dozens of businesses were damaged, totaling almost $2.5 million. Yet there were only a few minor injuries caused that day, and no law enforcement officers were harmed.
Shortly after the events on May 31, 2020, 19-year-old Shamar was arrested pursuant to a federal warrant and placed in jail. He has been there since that day.
Shamar ultimately pled guilty to one count of inciting a riot and was sentenced in August of 2021 to 4 years in prison, restitution of $1.6 million, and 3 years of mandatory supervised release to follow his prison sentence. Even though Shamar had no prior record, prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office asked for the maximum possible sentence of 5 years in prison and total restitution of over $2.5 million.
Once an optimistic, nature-loving teenager who wanted to build a career helping youth, Shamar spent his 20th and 21st birthdays in jail and has barely gotten to see the light of day. He now struggles with his physical health and his diet. Despite all of the hardship that comes along with incarceration, Shamar managed to gain the respect of his correctional officers by treating others with respect, teaching the other inmates to play chess, and reading countless books. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December of 2023.