Blame game for weekend downtown melee pits mayor and CPD against activists

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Sunday said “people have embedded themselves in these seemingly peaceful protests and come for a fight.” But some protesters said they were left “running for our lives” when officers apparently attempted to confine them in a small area Saturday night.

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Alycia Moaton speaks Sunday outside the police station at 51st and Wentworth about weekend protests that led to more than 20 arrests.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A day after a chaotic downtown protest led to 24 arrests, Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Sunday faulted agitators at the event for sparking the violence as activists and key elected officials put the blame squarely on police.

During an interview Sunday morning on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Lightfoot said “people have embedded themselves in these seemingly peaceful protests” and that “we are absolutely not going to tolerate people who come to these protests looking for a fight and are intending to injure our police officers — and injure innocent people who just come to be able to express their First Amendment rights.”

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Later Sunday, organizers of Saturday’s demonstration to defund the Chicago Police Department and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement held a series of news conferences at the Wentworth District police station in Fuller Park, where some activists arrested in Saturday’s melee were being held.

India Jackson, an organizer with Good Kids Mad City, explained that she and other protesters were left “running for our lives” when officers apparently attempted to confine the group in a small area using a tactic known as kettling.

“I was hit multiple times with a baton and I was tear-gassed all while trying to escape the area. . . . The officers claimed that they didn’t want us there, but as we tried to leave, they wouldn’t let us,” Jackson said. “We were specifically targeted while exercising our right to protest.”

Organizers for another group, Increase the Peace, also accused police of going too far.

“We were there peacefully protesting, and then they started attacking the protesters,” said Berto Aguayo, Increase the Peace’s co-founder and director. “And during the course of events, because of their sustained brutality, yeah, there were people who reacted because there were people getting beat up, they were fighting for their lives and that’s what you see on videos.

“This only happens in dictatorship countries.”

Apparently trying to blunt the criticism, police on Sunday released footage showing protesters donning ponchos, taking out umbrellas and moving collectively toward a police blockade at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.

The video then appears to show a protester lunging toward an officer, setting off violent clashes. At one point, a 25-year-old demonstrator appears to use a skateboard to strike an officer. That man was charged with a felony count of aggravated battery to a peace officer on Sunday, authorities said.

A second video of the same incident shows some officers swinging batons at protesters before spraying a chemical irritant into the crowd. And another video that was widely circulated on social media appears to show dozens of officers rushing toward a group of protesters.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said officers responded “proportionally” to “protect the peaceful protesters.” He added that 17 officers were hurt, mostly suffering “bumps and bruises,” when protesters broke out pepper spray and chucked objects, including “bottles and bicycles.”

Besides the 25-year-old man, two women, ages 18 and 24, also were charged with felonies, with one of the women accused of attempting steal a police bodycam that had been ripped off an officer. Another man, 24, was accused of hitting an officer in the face with a bullhorn and charged with two counts of resisting or obstructing officers.

In reference to the videos shared by the police, Aguayo defended protesters’ actions, saying cops have “created the atmosphere for that to happen.

“They initiated the attacks,” he continued. “And when people are fighting for their lives, people are going to do whatever they can to survive and that’s what they did.”

On Sunday, state Sens. Robert Peters and Celina Villanueva; state Rep. Theresa Mah and state Rep. candidate Lakesia Collins; Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez and Andre Vasquez; and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson released a joint letter criticizing the tactics used during what they called a police “crackdown.”

“We question the logic of spending police dollars on social media surveillance, pepper spray and riot gear to beat teenagers while the directives of the federal consent decree go unmet and the murder clearance rate remains abysmally low,” the group wrote. “We are wholeheartedly with the protesters who have taken to the streets to demand a future free of violence.”

Increase the Peace organizers haven’t filed any complaints about Saturday’s incidents. Instead, the important next step, they say, is for Brown and the mayor’s office to issue public apologies for “attacking the innocent citizens of the city and the youths.”

Ja’Mal Green, an activist and former mayoral candidate, went a step further and called for Brown’s resignation while speaking to reporters Sunday outside the Wentworth District station. Green said Lightfoot and Brown have responded to mounting calls to defund the department and take officers out of public schools “with force.”

“This is the same force that young people are fighting against,” Green said, adding that officers “grouped up [Saturday] like an army” to “protect the rich.”

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