What a difference a year makes.
Last November, just days after footage of Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting was made public, hundreds of activists marched and disrupted Black Friday shopping on the Magnificent Mile. They cried out demanding justice for McDonald, for police accountability, and for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign. Retailers saw sales dip 25 to 50 percent below their projections.
Although the crowds were smaller this year, the chants were just as fervent. A couple hundred protesters rallied at the Water Tower before marching in the streets. Many of them demanded an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council, which was outlined in a City Council ordinance that 35th Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa proposed in July.
Rally attendees shouted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rahm Emanuel’s got to go!” A year ago those same cries sounded more convincing. It seemed conceivable then that the mayor could indeed resign in the wake of the release of the video that showed McDonald being fatally shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. While weathering intense criticism of his abiding attitude toward the entrenched culture of Chicago Police Department misconduct, the mayor refused to leave office. Last December he apologized while pledging to “reform the system and the culture it breeds.”
But in the wake of Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, there’s a renewed sense of urgency among activists to ensure city and federal officials follow through on improvements.
“[I]n calling for and executing this Boycott Black Friday movement, we are confronting the corporate bosses of Chicago and this nation who have their hands on all the levers of power. This has been made even more profoundly true with the election of Donald Trump,” said the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), one of the organizers of the demonstration, in a press release. “It has been 365 days and still we are shouting ’16 shots and a cover up’ and still no justice and no concession whatsoever to our demands for community control of the police.”
The changes since the Black Friday protests a year ago, while not radical, have been incremental, spurred by continued demonstrations, including #BlackXmas boycotts. Following last year’s actions, Emanuel fired police superintendent Garry McCarthy, giving way to a months-long search for a replacement that led to the appointment of Eddie Johnson, a figure who has pledged to “uproot racism” in the department and restore trust between officers and civilians. The Department of Justice began investigating the practices of the Chicago Police Department, a move Emanuel initially called “misguided” but eventually said was “welcome” as he faced intense political pressure.
Well into the new year, protests were credited with tanking the re-election bid of Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who many saw as culpable in the alleged cover-up of McDonald’s killing. It cleared the way for the election earlier this month of Kim Foxx, a self-styled but unproven reformer, who will become the first African-American to hold that office. A scathing report published by the Police Accountability Task Force in April decried a culture of systemic racism within the CPD.
Emanuel also moved to disband the Independent Police Review Authority, which came under fire for its bias in favor of police, often thwarting accountability during formal reviews of complaints. The structure of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), which is scheduled to replace IPRA in 2017, has already been criticized by some politicians and activists as not going far enough to ensure the new body is truly community controlled, given that the mayor will likely retain considerable authority over its functions.
In a statement associated with the Black Friday boycott, activists with CAARPR called COPA “another mayor-appointed layer of bureaucracy designed to justify police crimes.”
“In spite of all the thousands of people demonstrating, and a majority of the people demanding [the Civilian Police Accountability Council] at all the public hearings convened by the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the COPA cop-out ordinance was passed,” CAARPR said on Twitter, calling for today’s boycott of Michigan Avenue stores. “The Mayor and his City Council may ignore the people, but they will not ignore the dollar.”
Some activists at the march also called for the state legislature to pass the Laquan McDonald Act, also known as the Laquan Law, which would establish a process for recalling Chicago’s mayor, aldermen, and the Cook County State’s Attorney.
— USPalestinianNetwork (@uspcn) November 25, 2016
Organizers of this year’s protests told participants not to enter stores. That didn’t stop bands of activists from forming human chains across entrances to retailers such as the Apple Store, Crate and Barrel, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret. Posts on social media have shown a few confrontations between protesters, holiday shoppers, and police officers. By the late morning, a few arrests were reported.
“No justice, no peace!” activists said in unison, their cries becoming part of the expected holiday-shopping atmosphere along with Salvation Army bell ringers. “No justice, no profits!”