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Emanuel urges Chicagoans not to retreat into corners after Dallas

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said taking sides for or against police will not resolve the issues raised by the shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas. |Lou Foglia/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday urged Chicagoans not to retreat into the corners after a tumultuous week that started with police shootings of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota and ended with a lone black gunman’s Dallas ambush of five white police officers.

“It’s false to make it a false choice [or say] either you’re for those activists in the community who are advocating for respect or you’re for police. That’s not how you build trust. That’s not how you build community relations. The example of what happened in Dallas tells you this is not a binary choice,” Emanuel said.

“People have a right — almost a responsibility — to express their First Amendment right. Police are there to ensure that you have the capacity to do that. I don’t ascribe to what’s kind of a dominant argument which is that this is a binary choice. I don’t think that. I would like and hope that people would see what happened in Dallas in that sense. People were protesting the police. When there was gunfire, the police came to their rescue and did their job of protection.”

Emanuel is trying desperately to restore public trust in the Chicago Police Department shattered by his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

He is struggling to build a new system of police accountability — after the appropriate amount of public input — and simultaneously trying to coax Chicago Police officers out of a defensive crouch blamed, in part, for the 49 percent surge in homicides and shootings and the dramatic decline in police stops. They’re concerned about being captured on the next YouTube video.

The timing of last week’s events could not have come at a more difficult time. With nerves already raw, Black Lives Matter protesters took to the streets over the weekend. They entered Taste of Chicago and disrupted traffic on major streets. They threw bottles at Chicago Police officers, triggering a scuffle and about 20 arrests. Among those arrested was well-known activist Ja’Mal Green. Bond was set at $350,000 Monday for Green, 20, who was charged with two felony counts each of aggravated battery to a peace officer and aggravated battery in a public place, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. He also faces one felony count of attempting to disarm a peace officer and two misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest.

On Monday, a group of black teenage girls led a few hundred demonstrators in a silent sit-in at Millennium Park to protest police brutality and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Sophia Byrd, 17, and other organizers distributed strips of black tape for demonstrators to cover their mouths.

“This is a peaceful protest,” Byrd said. “We don’t want anyone to yell at the police or each other, and we want everyone to remain calm because that is the best way to combat violence.”

About 4 p.m., the organizers led the group as they began marching to Federal Plaza to join the Black Lives Matter Chicago protest at 4:30 p.m. Chants of “hands up, don’t shoot,” “black lives matter,” and “black power” echoed throughout the city streets. Police officers blocked traffic so the group could march in the streets. Organizers urged protesters to remain peaceful.

GalleryAfter a quick stop in Federal Plaza, the group continued its trek throughout the city’s streets. The crowd quickly multiplied beyond several hundred demonstrators.

After a lap around the block, the protesters reconvened at Federal Plaza, where the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, Black Lives Matter Chicago, and Trinity United Church of Christ led a press conference with the teenage organizers from earlier.

“Make sure you are safe today. So many people have been marginalized and disenfranchised for years,” said Kofi Ademola, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago. “We understand the violence that has [occurred], but we won’t let them take our message, and we won’t let them take our narrative.”

After the press conference, protesters continued to the intersection of State Street and Wacker Drive, where police barricaded an entrance to a nearby bridge while protesters shut down the intersection with another sit-in, holding up traffic.

A few altercations arose as protesters tried to push past police officers, some of whom pushed protesters back.

“Stop, it’s not worth it,” shouted many protesters, trying to restrain those who were attempting to push past police.

After about 15 minutes, protesters gave up on trying to push past the police and the crowd of several hundred people sat down, filling the intersection with chants of “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”

Angela Turnbow, 47, stood along the police barricades, thanking them for their service and advising them that “it’s the bad officers who we are protesting.”

After about half an hour, police stopped barricading the bridge and protesters marched toward Millennium Park, where the protests began, the group had grown in size to at least a thousand people. Protesters gathered inside the plaza for another short sit-in.

As much of the crowd and several protest marshals and organizers left Millennium Park, organizers advised protesters that “this is the round when people will start getting arrested [or] roughed up.” They promised to shut down the streets before meeting later at 2650 S. California Ave. to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter organizer Ja’Mal Green.

On Monday, the mayor made his first public comment about the gut-wrenching events of the last week that rubbed raw decades-long racial wounds.

He talked about his weekend visits to the Wentworth, Gresham and Chicago Lawn police districts to pat officers on the back at a time when morale has hit rock bottom.

“They are doing an incredibly good job of allowing people whether you went to Taste or you wanted to express yourself about relationships between the police and the community under very difficult circumstances. And we need to hold up those officers as examples of building that trust,” the mayor said.

“If an officer in any way violates that, we’re gonna hold `em accountable. But do not forget all of the officers who dutifully do their job. So my point to everybody is, we want to build trust . . . . This is not a binary choice. You don’t have to pick sides to want good policing, safety and good community relations. We’re all on the same side.”

Although the Chicago demonstrations had some tense moments, Emanuel noted that a gorgeous summer weekend was generally peaceful thanks to the police.

“People could enjoy the weekend throughout the city — whether it was Taste, whether it was protests, whether it was going to the beach, whether it was hanging out in a park — and people did. And a lot of our ability to do that . . . was because we had the type of security from our officers who do an extraordinary job every day,” the mayor.

The mayor was asked whether the events of the last week “add urgency” to his efforts to abolish the Independent Police Review Authority and create a new system of police accountability that Chicagoans in general and African-Americans in particular can trust.

“Well, yes. Our work is not done,” he said. “But you don’t hit a point — it’s not like an equilibrium. If you work at it every day, every experience, every interaction between law enforcement and the community is a learning experience . . . for both parties . . . . [And] we have to be clear that violence is not acceptable anywhere any time to anybody by anybody. That is my principle and my guiding light.”

Contributing: Natalie Watts