Protesters call for defunding of Cook County Jail
“We have pumped more and more money into mass incarceration and our communities are no safer,” said Tanya Watkins, executive director of South Siders Organizing for Unity and Liberation.
For a solid 40 minutes, a cacophony of car horns, drums, cowbells and trombones echoed along the strip of grass just beyond the coiled razor wire glistening in the sunlight.
A few onlookers peered from turret-like openings on the other side of the wire-topped wall to see what all the noise was all about.
“We love you!” the protesters yelled at the onlookers.
For the Chicago police and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department there was only scorn Thursday, as about 150 protesters on foot — as well as hundreds more in cars — demanded the defunding of the Cook County Jail.
“We have pumped more and more money into mass incarceration and our communities are no safer. So anyone who believes this is actually working, I would question their reasoning,” said Tanya Watkins, executive director of South Siders Organizing for Unity and Liberation.
The protesters outside the jail, at 2700 S California Ave., said money taken from the facility would be put to better use if it funded housing for the poor, mental health services and other social service needs.
Protesters held aloft signs that read, “Free them all” and “C.C.J. is a death trap.”
And Mayor Lori Lightfoot was the target of some of the sharpest criticism, even though the county, not the city, runs the jail.
Black Lives Matter Chicago activist blasted Lightfoot for caring, she said, more about police funding and luxury developers than improving impoverished schools.
“That’s not my mayor! That’s not my gay, black woman leader!” Atkins said. “We need to shut this jail down, we need to shut these prisons down. .... And we need to get that witch out of office because she’s not for us.”
Amanda Weaver, 33, of Rogers Park, came to the protest carting her two small boys in a stroller.
Weaver said recent reductions in the jail population haven’t been enough.
“We need to make big demands,” she said. “We can never say the prison population being down is enough. Any time there are people in cages in any of our systems, we have to be out of the street.”