Hundreds of people took to the streets the day after Thanksgiving along Chicago’s busiest shopping thoroughfare – the Magnificent Mile – to protest police brutality and demand accountability for police who violate the laws they’re supposed to uphold.
Dubbed the “day of defiance” by organizers, the demonstration targeted major retailers and shoppers on one of the busiest shopping days in America, at the beginning of the Christmas holiday season.
The City of Chicago has paid out more than $660 million in lawsuit settlements and related fees due to police misconduct, and has a long history of allegations against its police department of abuses – including torture – as well as several high profile killings of people of color by white officers, including Laquan McDonald. McDonald, a 17 year-old African American boy, was shot 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014 by Officer Jason Van Dyke, a white police officer.
The release of dashcam video that contradicted the official police narrative sparked waves of protests in the city, as well as calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to resign after allegations surfaced that the footage was potentially suppressed intentionally during an election season. Van Dyke has since been charged with first-degree murder.
“We’re sick and tired of this,” said Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression at a rally before demonstrators began marching along Michigan Avenue. “That’s why we’re saying ‘no justice, no profits.’ We’re sick and tired of people waxing fat off of our misery. Our community is suffering – from unemployment, bad healthcare services, housing, thousands of people homeless. We’re suffering. And the only solution the mayor can come up with is more police. We’re tired of them playing this game on us.”
“You can’t keep killing our kids and then walk around saying that you’re all serving and protecting,” said Dorothy Holmes, the mother of Ronald ‘Ronnieman’ Johnson, who was shot and killed by Chicago Police in October of 2014. “Who are you all serving and protecting when we have to go to the cemeteries for our kids on holidays?”
Officials say that Johnson’s death was justified based on allegations that he had a gun at the time, and the officer who shot him – George Hernandez – felt threatened. Johnson’s family, including Holmes, have disputed the official narrative that Johnson had a weapon and alleged that evidence in the case could have been planted and other details were covered up.
“My son left behind 5 kids that I have to raise now because of police misconduct,” said Holmes. “You can’t keep doing that and expect us to be okay with it. Rahm Emanuel has so much blood on his hands he needs to be locked up.”
Targeting major retail chains on ‘Black Friday’ isn’t new to activists and community groups in Chicago. Demonstrations have been held on the day for several successive years. By trying to shut down business and ask consumers to boycott spending money on that day, activists have hoped to both raise awareness of the issue and grind business as usual to a halt in order to put pressure on officials that often appear more concerned with wealthy residents and businesses than the majority of the community.
The demonstrations over the years have been effective. In 2015, several businesses along the Magnificent Mile told the Chicago Tribune that sales dropped between 25 and 50 percent due to the protests. While this year’s demonstration was smaller, it was no less boisterous, with demonstrators chanting “who do you protect, who do you serve,” and “16 shots and a cover up,” among others.
Among the reforms community groups involved in the protest are pushing is a city ordinance that would create an elected civilian police accountability council. The council – dubbed CPAC – would remove both the current police oversight office and the Police Board, a body appointed by the mayor, and replace them with an elected body made up of civilians. Additionally, the council would be would be put in charge of hiring a police superintendent and investigating and prosecuting misconduct and shootings.
“Why is our mayor, why are so many of my colleagues afraid of democracy,” Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a sponsor of the ordinance, asked the crowd. “If you are honest, if you are committed to ensuring we have a government that is truly of for and by the people, if you are committed to ensuring that we have police that are truly serving and protecting people, then you have nothing to fear when it comes to community control of the police.”
Though the city has made some reforms to its policing procedures, groups say that those are nowhere near enough.
“We need to understand that CPD is not fixed,” said William Calloway. “It’s not fixed until we say it’s fixed. It’s not fixed because we’ve got a black State’s attorney. It’s not fixed because we’ve got a black Superintendent. It’s not fixed because we’ve got more black officers around that don’t really care about us either, just like these racist white police officers. It’s not fixed until we say it’s fixed.”