For a second consecutive year, activists delivered symbols of death to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s doorstep. But unlike November 2015, when protesters circled City Hall with caskets and calls for his resignation, this time they took the message directly to the mayor’s Ravenswood home.
On Wednesday evening, group of roughly 50 activists convened at the American Indian Center in Uptown, where a 90-minute teach-in featured speakers sharing their grievances and personal heartbreak about the more than 770 Chicagoans who were killed by gun violence in 2016. While participants, including family members of victims, expressed severe disappointment with elected officials en masse, they remained steadfast in focusing their grievances towards Emanuel before leading a march.
At the teach-in, a large projector in the auditorium cycled through the names of all those who lost their lives. Underneath, three black coffins stood on display, with messages painted in red to symbolize blood. All of the coffins read “R.I.P.” along with three practices they hold Emanuel responsible for: refusing to rebuild public housing, thwarting the elected civilian oversight of the police, and closing mental health clinics.
“It’s very hard to look at [the names on screen] . . . I am broken,” said Camiella Williams, a community activist who has lost 28 relatives and friends to gun violence in the last 12 years—including five this year. “Words cannot describe my pain.” During her remarks, Williams told the crowd that she had to walk away crying after seeing the first six names projected. “Our mayor has not done anything,” she said.
It’s not only gun violence and police killing people, attendees said—it’s also city policies. Speakers stressed the need for leaders to follow through on housing policies to help the homeless, including those living in Lawrence Avenue’s tent city, located under a viaduct at Lake Shore Drive. Others addressed the struggle to keep a number of mental health clinics open following a wave of closings between 2012 and 2015.
Brian Malone, executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, also expressed concern about a Sun-Times report that several south side public high schools could soon be closed and consolidated into a new high school in Englewood. The potential location not far from the recently opened Whole Foods, he said, raises suspicion that the project is part of an effort to gentrify the area.
“How can you close schools, send children in harm’s way, bring in a charter school behind it that does no better than the school that closed, and keep doing it all over again?” Malone asked. “[Emanuel] doesn’t want to see improved schools for our children. He doesn’t want to see us in this city.”
Attendees eventually acted as pallbearers in a street processional. They marched from the teach-in and carried the coffins to their not-so-final resting place. Upon arriving at Emanuel’s house, they were greeted by a group of police officers restricting access to the sidewalk. The activists laid the boxes on Emanuel’s snow-covered front lawn, and adorned them with candles and flowers. Police officers confiscated the makeshift coffins before the vigil ended.
“This hurts that I’ve gotta walk holding this [sign] right here,” said Arewa Karen Winters, who got choked up while talking about her great-nephew, 16-year-old Pierre Loury, who was killed in April by police officers in Lawndale. “It hurts because he should be here. They should all be here.”
Behind the first floor curtains of the mayor’s residence, the lights were on. But there was no telling whether he was home, or whether he’d seen the demonstration.
“Rahm Emanuel, I cannot wait until this election comes and your ass is out of there,” Winters said, in closing.