By Patrick Forrest
Demonstrations protesting police brutality continued in Chicago Sunday afternoon June 7 as hundreds showed up in the Austin neighborhood to join religious leaders and elected officials in a show of unity.
The faith-based march and rally on the West Side that ended at the Chicago Police Department’s 15th District station at 5701 W. Madison had protestors peacefully march and gather in solidarity with protests which have taken place around the nation following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of local law enforcement.
Among religious leaders participating was Pastor Antoine Williams of Greater Way M.B. Church at Central and Harrison, who cited the need to participate in the march to set an example for his 15-year-old son.
“I have a son who walks these streets of Chicago and as he gets older he will only be out more,” Williams said. “I pray every day- always have, always will- I do believe in the power of prayer. But I also believe that I had been called to make another stand.”
Williams and the religious leaders throughout the Westside of the city were joined by elected officials including Representative Danny Davis, who took special note of the number of youth who were in attendance, clamoring for change.
“There are many great events taking place, fortunately all over America,” Davis said. “Including a large number of young people who were there, which made it even better.”
Davis took the time to plead with those young people to consider joining the police force and changing it from the inside, a strategy which was tried following the release of video in the death of LaQuan McDonald and the “Be the change” campaign, where a hiring push in Black and Latino neighborhoods listed salaries as high as $73,000 after an 18 month probationary period.
“I’d said to many of the young people who were there that I look forward to the day when you will be the policeman, you will be the individuals who are forcing the laws in our community. You will be the individuals to take charge,” Davis said. “I encourage young African Americans to look at law enforcement as a career, you make a decent salary, get good benefits. It’s worthwhile.”
Unlike some events which took place last weekend and events throughout the country, this march did not have any contentious standoffs with the police as some even thanked officers who stuck with protesters the entire way to the 15th District station.
“We had no trouble, no bad vibes,” Williams said.
Given the scope and widespread outrage coming out of this moment of activism and civil unrest, Congressman Davis, who is 78, took time to put the moment into perspective, comparing it to the outrage seen in 1968 following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
“I think what we are experiencing is in many ways, comparable to what really happened in 1968, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, that level of expression,” Davis said.
“Then the video that people were able to see in terms of the police action, and all of the years of concern that people have had about law enforcement, misconduct, police brutality, police treatment of African Americans, especially African American males came to the forefront.”
Elaborating, he noted the outrage occurred “at a time when we were all so experienced in the anxiety and frustration over the COVID-19 pandemic and millions of people in our country decided they had to say something, they had to do something.”
Although the Congressman did take time to commend many of the young people taking to the streets recently, he also expressed caution in their calls of defending or abolishing local police departments. He argued instead for increases in funding for preventative measures, and job programs that would lead to less crime and a lower need for the types of forceful interaction that have made international headlines.
“You can’t have a society without law enforcement,” Davis explained. “I think some of the individuals who are talking about defunding the police, what they’re really saying is let’s put money where it’s needed. Let’s put some of that money into CPS. Let’s put some of that money into measures that might help reduce the need to have as much law enforcement. But no, in general I’m not in favor of taking money out of having law enforcement.”
Davis joins Mayor Lori Lightfoot in that opinion as she has also come out against protesters’ calls for ridding the city of the police department. She recently announced a set of reforms that she has yet to make public but hopes that once seen, will put the city on the front lines of finding a solution to a problem that has long plagued the entire nation.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to announce soon some pretty monumental reforms that we pushed for and we’ve won, and to set the stage for what I know is going to be a long fight around police reform,” Lightfoot said.
“We’ve got to get unions to understand that they’ve got to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem.”