Protest calls out white silence after Confederate flag towel displayed on Evanston beach

LaShandra Smith-Rayfield took a video confronting a man for hanging up his Confederate flag towel at Lighthouse Beach Wednesday. About 300 people gathered Friday to protest.

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People attend a racial justice rally at Lighthouse Beach in Evanston Friday after a group of white people displayed a Confederate flag at the beach earlier in the week.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Just as problematic as the Confederate flag towel at an Evanston beach Wednesday, LaShandra Smith-Rayfield said, were the beach-goers who didn’t speak up about it.

“Me speaking out against hatred does not make me anti-patriotic,” Smith-Rayfield said at a protest Friday. “It actually makes me patriotic. ... Every person on that beach walked past it. In my video, you can see people walk on past it. Why is it okay to walk on past it?”

Friday, more than 300 people circled around Smith-Rayfield, gathering at a protest outside Lighthouse Beach in North Evanston Friday. Smith-Rayfield and other organizers called out other people at the beach Wednesday who didn’t take action when a white man at the beach hung a Confederate flag towel on the fence, as well as people who stay silent in the face of racism.

LaShandra Smith-Rayfield tears up while speaking at a racial justice rally Friday afternoon July 31, 2020 after she confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

LaShandra Smith-Rayfield tears up while speaking at a racial justice rally Friday afternoon after she confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

On Wednesday, a beach goer set up camp at Lighthouse Beach and hung a towel displaying a Confederate flag on the fence. Photos of the towel hit social media, and when Smith-Rayfield saw, she got in her car, drove to the beach and called the man out, demanding he take down the Confederate flag. She streamed the encounter in a video on Facebook Live. The video also shows an African-American man who engaged in the argument and identified himself as a veteran.

The man, who asked to remain unnamed out of fear for his safety, told the Sun-Times he didn’t get to finish what he was saying in the video. He said he served in the military so people could have a “right to have a different opinion.” If the men with the flag would have started attacking Smith-Rayfield, the man said he would have defended her as well.

The man said he disagreed with the symbol and even intentionally sat next to the group with the Confederate flag, hoping to have a conversation with them about why the flag is wrong.

“I was going to do it discreetly,” he said. “All I did was defend their right to have a different idea.”

He said they eventually agreed to remove the flag at his request; one can be seen shaking his hand in the video.

Candice Shakur, her husband Abdel and their kids Lucille, Benjamin and Sunny attend a racial justice rally at Lighthouse Beach in Evanston Friday afternoon July 31, 2020 after LaShandra Smith-Rayfield confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Candice Shakur, her husband Abdel and their kids Lucille, Benjamin and Sunny attend a racial justice rally at Lighthouse Beach.

Smith-Rayfield deleted the video Thursday because of internet trolls calling her a terrorist and making threats, she told the Sun-Times Friday.

At the protest, Smith-Rayfield told white attendees they need to “be brave for thirty seconds” and call out racism when they see it.

“We’re all capable,” Smith-Rayfield told the Sun-Times. “I’m not different from anyone here.”

Smith-Rayfield, who’s been an educator for two decades, said she and others are preparing a curriculum to send out to better educate the community about racism and how to be anti-racist. In the year 2020, she said there shouldn’t be a “white beach” anymore, a reputation some say Lighthouse Beach has.

Khari Rayfield, 19 speaks at a racial justice rally Friday afternoon July 31, 2020 after her mother LaShandra Smith-Rayfield confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Khari Rayfield, 19 speaks at a racial justice rally Friday afternoon after her mother LaShandra Smith-Rayfield confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Khari Rayfield, 19, one of Smith-Rayfield’s four children, spoke at the protest, calling out the unjust deaths of Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police. Rayfield said these people all “fit the description” simply because of the color of their skin. So do her brothers, sister, mother, father, cousins, Rayfield said.

“I fit the description,” Rayfield said. “I don’t want to be the next hashtag. I don’t want anyone over here to be the next hashtag.”

Atena Danner closed out the rally by singing “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, a civil rights activist. Danner told the Sun-Times that she chose the song because the racial injustice “suck the life and joy out of you.” With her song, Danner said she wants to help reenergize their joy. People then marched on the beach in groups of 50 in protest.

People attend a racial justice rally at Lighthouse Beach in Evanston Friday afternoon July 31, 2020 after LaShandra Smith-Rayfield confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

People march across Lighthouse Beach at the end of a racial justice rally Friday afternoon, after LaShandra Smith-Rayfield confronted a group of white people displaying a Confederate flag at the beach Wednesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, who came to the protest after it started after attending a pandemic task force meeting, first posted on social media calling the incident “fake news” before he saw Smith-Rayfield’s video and walked further down the beach to find her account to be true. He posted a second time apologizing and praising Smith-Rayfield’s bravery.

City lawyers are looking into ordinances that could prohibit displaying any sign of hate on public property, Hagerty told the Sun-Times.

“We don’t want to hinder speech,” Hagerty said. “But we don’t want hate speech on our public property.”

Jiana Belton, 45, has lived in Evanston for 23 years. As a Black mother, she attended Friday’s protest because there is still systemic division in the schools and neighborhoods, Belton said.

The racism goes farther than the beach, Belton said, manifesting in unequal punishment of students of color at schools and racism in policing.

“We’re exhausted,” Belton said. “We want the same thing white people want, for our families to be able to enjoy a day at the beach.”

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