Chicago police and Illinois State Police troopers blocked protesters Saturday afternoon from marching onto the Dan Ryan Expressway before a second demonstration in the city’s downtown turned violent and led to dozens of arrests.
Police Supt. David Brown said the initial march, which started about noon at Robert Taylor Park in Bronzeville, “began peacefully on the South Side as our officers ensured that demonstrators were able to have the opportunity to exercise their First Amendment right.”
That was in contrast, Brown said, to the events downtown Saturday night, where the superintendent said one demonstrator struck an officer with a skateboard and others used pepper spray against police.
Brown said 24 people were arrested during the later march and 17 police officers were injured.
“It was not until later this afternoon, during a separate protest downtown where multiple agitators downtown hijacked this peaceful protest,” Brown said. “This group deployed large, black umbrellas, changed their appearance and began pushing our officers and eventually assaulting them.”
Brown said officers responded “proportionally” to “protect the peaceful protesters” and get the situation under control.
Altercation between police and protesters on Michigan and Wacker pic.twitter.com/CznXvUTC9W— Madeline Kenney (@madkenney) August 15, 2020
Those tactics included aggressively patrolling the crowd, including ripping umbrellas and bikes from the hands of demonstrators, spraying a chemical irritant of their own and rushing and striking protesters with batons.
About 4 p.m., the second, larger demonstration began forming in Millennium Park as marchers from the earlier demonstration were disbanding at Roosevelt Road and Michigan Avenue.
Organized by six youth-led organizations, including Good Kids Mad City, the second group marched to Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue where they chanted before one of many downtown bridges ordered raised by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, following unrest and looting that began last Sunday night.
Marchers moved on, but confrontations with police continued sporadically, leading to arrests when police ordered the demonstration to disperse.
Brown said police are seeking felony charges against four protesters for aggravated battery against a police officer.
Officers suffered injuries, which Brown described as mostly “bumps and bruises,” during the demonstration when protesters used pepper spray and threw objects, including “bottles and bicycles” at police. The superintendent said the department would also release video Sunday of a demonstrator hitting an officer in their protective helmet with a skateboard — an incident widely shared on social media before it was taken down by the poster.
“I stood with the men and women of this department as this event moved throughout the downtown area and I am so very proud of the professionalism and their patience during a very, very difficult and tenuous event,” Brown said.
Protesters criticized the department’s tactics, including the “kettling” of demonstrators — confining them in a small area and not allowing them to leave or continue to march. Activists accused police of randomly beating and shoving demonstrators and called the arrests made at the protest “illegal.”
“CPD rioted again tonight. They prove over and over that they do not keep us safe,” Black Lives Matter Chicago wrote on Twitter.
Brown said two protesters were treated downtown for injuries.
No arrests were made during the earlier march, which organizers planned to include a march on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Activist Michael Ben Yosef said state police officials told him the protest had to draw at least 2,200 supporters to go onto the Dan Ryan.
In the end, the rally was well below that amount.
Yosef, who works as a Rabbi, mainly online, said protesters shut down the Dan Ryan in spirit.
“It was not a defeat … It wasn’t a loss, it was a blessing,” said Yosef, who had hoped to draw about 3,000 demonstrators.
Instead, the protesters took their calls for police reform through the Bronzeville neighborhood along Indiana Avenue, with many carrying signs bearing the names of people killed in police custody.
“I don’t see no riot here, why you got that riot gear?” protesters chanted at body armor-clad officers.
Emotions ran high at times, including for Latoya Howell, whose son Justus was fatally shot by an officer in north suburban Zion in 2014.
“Every day is a struggle for me. Everyday I’m fighting for justice,” said Howell, who lost her civil case against the suburb in 2018. “I’m here because I need people to wake up. I’m tired of all these murders continuously happening and then there’s justified qualified immunity for every officer. We need them to be held accountable in every city, every state.
“This movement is not just about anger and bitterness, it’s routed from love — for the love of my child and for the love of yours,” Howell added.
As organizers called for the defunding Saturday afternoon, counter-protesters chimed in, claiming the demonstrators were contradicting their movement because they were helping police notch overtime pay.
“Stop coming into our neighborhood,” said Yashua Aton, a community activist who lives in Englewood. “This isn’t how you get justice.”
Aton said a Black business crawl had been planned for the afternoon, which was disrupted when streets were blocked by police due to the marchers.
Trez Pugh, owner of Sip and Savor coffee shop in Bronzeville, said he didn’t find the afternoon protest disrupted business.
“Usually people that walk come to my place,” Pugh said. “For some businesses, where people come get food and they’re traveling from some other places, it probably inconveniences them.”