Politicians, clergy march in ‘Spirit of King’ on West Side

Organizers’ demands go beyond policing; they also want better schools, improved housing, affordable health care and more economic development on the West Side and other parts of the city.

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Community activists and residents marched on the West Side calling for police reform, better schools, improved hosing, affordable health care and more economic development.

Community activists and residents marched on the West Side calling for police reform, better schools, improved hosing, affordable health care and more economic development.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Standing on the West Side, near where Martin Luther King Jr. once lived, the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a crowd of hundreds in chants calling for policy reforms to better the African-American community.

“I’m from Lawndale, I matter,” Jackson said, echoed by the crowd.

Jackson was among a group of faith leaders and politicians, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who marched for more than three hours Friday through Lawndale, invoking the spirit of King, who moved there for a time to draw attention to housing inequities in Chicago. The walk came roughly three weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Video of Floyd laying on the ground, gasping “I can’t breathe” as a police officer pressed a knee into his neck, set off protests around the world.

But organizers pointed to issues beyond policing — issues ranging from health disparities to economic opportunity — they said must be addressed, particularly in areas like Lawndale. Durbin told the crowd it was time to end racism not only in policing but in other aspects of life, such as education.

“Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King marched through these neighborhoods for justice. Today, in his memory and in the tradition of an America always seeking to better itself, we march these same streets in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, George Floyd, Laquan McDonald,” Durbin said.

The march began just south of the Eisenhower Expressway, along Independence Boulevard, but got off to a shaky start when the Rev. Michael Eaddy, of People’s Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ, addressed the crowd. Some did not want him leading the march because he serves on the Chicago Police Board.

“He can’t speak for us,” one man said, using a megaphone to drown out part of Eaddy’s remarks.

Still, the group continued south on Independence toward the area where King lived, with Eaddy leading the group. The site where King and his wife rented a flat is now home to the Dr. King Legacy Apartments, which opened in 2011.

The Rev. Ira Acree, of Greater St. John Bible Church, passionately described Chicago as a tale of two cities, with policing methods starkly different on the North and South sides. Acree pointed to the video U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush released this week that appears to show police officers lounging and eating popcorn in his South Side campaign office during the Floyd protests.

“It’s no wonder that our people on the West Side feel abandoned,” Acree said.

Standing amid the crowd, Acree called for the city to repent for the damage done to African American communities, urging the crowd to remember Bettie Jones and others who have died in police-involved shootings in Chicago.

“We must turn this pain into power,” Acree said.

As the crowd marched through Lawndale, residents came out of their greystone homes to watch. At 16th Street and Hamlin Avenue, Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson told the crowd the pain in the black community started long before Floyd’s death.

“We know that right here in the City of Chicago, that black men were tortured by the police, they were protected by the state’s attorney, that many false confessions were put forth that has criminalized our people,” Johnson said.

He argued elected officials behind the wrongdoings now want to keep officers in public schools. Johnson called for resources to be diverted to provide students with smaller classes, job training and restorative justice programs.

In recent weeks, activists protesting Floyd’s death have called for defunding police. But some speakers at Friday’s march called for a different approach. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis encouraged the crowd to join the police force to change it.

Ghian Foreman — who is also on the Police Board and has filed a complaint after being struck by an officer during protests in Kenwood this month — encouraged the crowd to attend Police Board meetings. Ephraim Eaddy, spokesman for the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, also encouraged the crowd to get involved with COPA, asking them to hold his office accountable in its investigations of police misconduct.

For Linda Fowler, Friday’s march was the first time she was able to participate in the protests because of her work schedule. Fowler, 58, said she felt it was important to support the group’s efforts; she’d like new laws to make changes in holding everyone accountable in Chicago.

“I believe we can only get together through love,” Fowler said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.

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