Little Village residents rally, march against pollution year after botched implosion
“I was terribly affected by it, and I wasn’t the only one,” Little Village resident Antonio Quinones said at the rally. “No one told us what was going to happen.”
One year after a botched demolition sent dust and dirt across the neighborhood, Little Village residents and activists Sunday told how the implosion affected their lives and decried city policies they say have flooded the community with pollution.
Chanting “el pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido,” (the people united, will never be defeated) the group walked through the neighborhood accompanied by a mariachi band playing “Cielito Lindo” and “De Colores” to protest environmental racism after a rally near the old Crawford power plant at 33rd and Pulaski.
The rally was organized by the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
“I was one of the people who was really, really affected by COVID-19, and I feel like it’s because of what happened at this site last year, because I’m still not well,” Little Village resident Antonia Quinones told the crowd in Spanish.
Lea este artículo en español en La Voz Chicago.
Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which is building a Target warehouse and distribution center on the former site of the power plant, used explosives to implode a 400-foot smokestack on the site last year. The area was blanketed in a cloud of dirt after the implosion.
“I was terribly affected by it, and I wasn’t the only one,” said Quinones, who added that the dust seeped into her home even after she closed her doors and windows. “No one told us what was going to happen.”
Months after the implosion, Hilco and its two contractors settled a $370,000 lawsuit brought by the state over air pollution violation.
Rafael Cervantes, of El Foro Del Pueblo, said organizers demanded “justice and serious investment into the community and not private corporations” from the city after the explosion but were met with lukewarm answers and even condemnation.
“What kind of message is this sending to our community, our young people?” Cervantes said. “The message is you are worth nothing, your father is worth nothing, your mother is worth nothing, your grandparents are worth nothing and life is worthless in Little Village.”
Activists cited the debacle as another case of the city ignoring the environmental concerns of the Southwest Side community and reiterated worries that the planned distribution center will bring hundreds of diesel-fueled trucks to the area, further contaminating the neighborhood.
The group wants Target to break the lease with Hilco and donate the site to the city for the development of large-scale indoor growing, a “mercado,” commercial kitchens and a solar workforce training site.
After the rally, marchers stopped for a vigil at the home of Fernando Cantu, a 78-year-old man who died shortly after the Hilco demolition. Organizers said Cantu had asthma and COPD, and it is possible that toxic particulate matter aggravated his respiratory system and precipitated his death.
On the way to Cantu’s home, the group held a moment of silence for Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy who was fatally shot by Chicago police outside of Gary Elementary, the school he had attended.
“We are here because we want you to know that Mr. Cantu is still with us, and we are going to keep fighting for him, keep fighting for Adam, and for all of those who have died from environmental and state-sponsored racism in our community,” Kim Wasserman, executive director of LVEJO, said to Cantu’s family at the vigil. “You are not alone.”