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George Floyd rallies in Chicago: 30,000 protesters rally in Union Park, march through streets

With Mayor Lori Lightfoot limiting access to the Loop by raising most Chicago River bridges, the huge crowd of protesters marched through the near West and North sides.

A crowd of protesters that reached 30,000 Saturday march north on Ashland Avenue calling for police reform in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
A crowd of protesters that reached 30,000 Saturday march north on Ashland Avenue calling for police reform in the wake of the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

An estimated crowd of 30,000 peaceful protesters demanding police reform returned to Union Park Saturday, a week after the George Floyd protests and accompanying riots rattled the city.

Activists and groups from across Chicago gathered in the Near West Side park before heading north on Ashland Avenue and marching through West Town.

“Being out here, seeing all different races come together — we’re here, we’re making a difference, we’re making a change,” Savanah Wilbourn said. “I was shocked to see this many people here.

“People think you have to be black to support Black Lives Matter, and that’s not true at all,” said Wilbourn, who is black. “You just have to have the correct mindset to understand it.”

The massive crowd stretched nearly 20 blocks as protesters turned east on Division Street before reconvening at the the site of the former Cabrini Green public housing complex on the Near North Side.

A woman listens to speakers at a rally Saturday in Unions Park while wearing a face mask with Black Lives Matter written on it.
A woman listens to speakers at a rally Saturday in Unions Park while wearing a face mask with Black Lives Matter written on it.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

At both Union Park and Cabrini Green, organizers from the group Activate Chi addressed the crowd with poetry, songs, chants and speeches.

“You hope that people can gather the empathy on their own, but the only way to possess that empathy sometimes is to have someone of that color express it to you,” Activate Chi founder Dom Brown said. “The unity that we had with black and brown people speaking their perspectives is an eye-opening experience, especially when you’re gathered among so many people that share that same value.”

Getty Kasole, another Activate Chi organizer, said the protest was planned over four grueling days as the board recruited marketing, legal, medical and logistical teams to keep the enormous crowd safe and coordinated.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but the number of people that showed up has encouraged us to keep going,” Kasole said. “This is just the beginning. It’s invigorated us to keep marching until we get our demands met.”

Brown said he started Activate Chi during the 2016 presidential election and revived it recently when the nationwide Floyd protests reawakened his spirit of activism.

He concluded the sequence of speakers at Cabrini Green with a passionate speech encouraging protesters to make their voices heard again by voting later this year.

“It’s the most important thing to take away from this,” he said afterward. “All of this will be in vain if we do not show up at the polls.

“We have to beat these politicians up at the polls.”

Chicago police officers walk by a boarded-up business Saturday during a massive peaceful protest in Chicago calling for police reform.
Chicago police officers walk by a boarded-up business Saturday during a massive peaceful protest in Chicago calling for police reform.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

The march also attracted other outspoken protesters, including Jeremy Saxon, whose Statue of Liberty costume made him stand out among the masses.

Saxon said the purpose of his costume was to draw attention to the myth of the American Dream.

“The United States is the most violent, oppressive force in the world, and that extends to the police and the police brutality against its own citizens,” Saxon said. “But the evidence is clear: There are thousands of people demonstrating here, being heard and making sure that no other black life is lost as a result of police brutality, violence and murder.”

Thousands of people march north on Ashland Avenue Saturday during a peaceful protest for police reform in Chicago.
Thousands march north on Ashland Avenue Saturday during a peaceful protest for police reform in Chicago.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Weekend closures with more protests expected

The city is again limiting access to the Loop by raising most Chicago River bridges. The only ones accessible by foot on Saturday were at Lake Street, Wells Street, Washington Street and LaSalle Street.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Supt. David Brown are hoping to avoid a repeat of last weekend’s chaos, when a peaceful protest in Federal Plaza was followed by violent police clashes and widespread vandalism and looting.

Activate Chi organizers said Saturday police commanders cooperated with demands that officers maintain only a limited presence and not wear riot gear, and no arrests were made during their protest.

In anticipation of more demonstrations, however, on Saturday the city had shut down traffic on Lake Shore Drive from 31st Street to Fullerton Avenue. Exits on Interstate 90/94 are closed from 18th Street to Fullerton. The Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) is closed at Ida B. Wells Drive, and all I-55 traffic is being diverted onto I-90/94.

Lightfoot’s 9 p.m. curfew is still in effect, with Illinois National Guard soldiers enforcing street closures.

Protests march east on Division Street Saturday during a protest in Chicago to call for police reform in response to the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd.
Protests march east on Division Street Saturday during a protest in Chicago to call for police reform in response to the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times