Dozens of activists gathered—and one was arrested—in the west side neighborhood of North Lawndale Wednesday evening during a series of #BlackLivesMatter events that included a rally, a community party, and a civil disobedience action.
In spite of the 84-degree heat and humidity, activists marched holding posters that read “Strong communities do not need police” and “Close prisons, open schools.” As activists walked from Douglas Park to CPD’s Homan Square facility, neighborhood residents sitting on their stoops and drivers passing by in their cars raised their fists in solidarity.
As more than 20 police officers stood by (the number of cops more than doubled over the course of the evening), activists gathered in front of the entrance to Homan Square.
“We are here because black people deserve to be free,” the protesters said over and over. “We are here because the police do not keep us safe. . . . We are here because we are all we need.”
In an act of civil disobedience organized by Black Youth Project 100, 13 activists bound themselves together using ladders, chains, and bike locks to block the intersection and the facility’s entrance. After issuing three warnings, police officers began handcuffing those in the street one by one.
Activists responded to warnings by chanting “It is our duty to win” and “We love you, North Lawndale”—to which one marcher, 61-year-old North Lawndale resident Charles Jenkins, responded, “North Lawndale loves you! Great job, young people!”
The last woman taken into custody, a BYP 100 member named Kush Thompson (who wore a “Fund Black Futures” T-shirt), refused to step down from the ladder she sat atop. A police van pulled up behind her as police surrounded the bottom of the ladder. Three SWAT officers climbed onto the van to pull her back, as nearby activists chanted “We love you.”
Of the 13 activists BYP 100 says were taken into custody, only one female protester was arrested. She was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, according to CPD News Affairs.
The rally was organized by the #LetUsBreathe Collective, a local artistic activist organization that formed in August 2014 as a fund-raising initiative to send medical supplies and water bottles to Ferguson activists protesting the death of Michael Brown.
Its mission has since grown to address systematic racial injustice in the U.S., including what it views as Chicago’s divestment from businesses, schools, mental health resources, and other services in black neighborhoods. (The group and its codirector, Kristiana Colon, were profiled in the Reader‘s April 6 cover story “Queer women are shaping Chicago’s Black Lives Matter movement.”)
“Chicago police claim nearly 40 percent of the city’s budget, while education and mental health are being divested from,” Colon says. “So we’re claiming that the city is broke, but we’re broke because we’re investing in a militarized police force.”
Along with pushing for investment in community resources, the collective held the rally to honor Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Deeniqua Dodds, a transgender woman who was found shot to death near her home in Washington, D.C., July 4; to stand in opposition to a proposed Chicago ordinance that would add police officers as to the classes protected under the city’s hate crimes law; and, perhaps most controversially, to demand the city’s divestment from the Chicago Police Department.
The collective asked activists to show their support online by using the hashtag #InAWorldWithoutPolice, since “police do not keep us safe,” says Colon. “We are here demanding an investment in the resources we believe do keep us safe: restorative justice, education, mental health, employment, fair housing.”
After the civil disobedience action, Let Us Breathe, BYP 100, and other activists migrated to a vacant lot across the street, where the collective set up its Freedom Square Block Party, a community engagement action with free barbecue, books, CDs, water bottles, and a poetry and spoken-word open mike.
“I’m trying very hard not to be scared, because there’s no space for fear in this activism,” said 17-year-old Kyndall Flowers, reflecting on the civil disobedience action and subsequent arrest. “And if I’m going to be doing this work, I need to be able to handle it.”