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Reopen Illinois protesters rally again, days before Pritzker’s next reopening phase

Officers ultimately shut down the rally because organizers and attendees “were not practicing social distancing or abiding by the public safety guidelines” outlined in the very order they were protesting, according to police.

Protesters boo Chicago police officers after multiple requests were given to organizers of the Reopen Illinois rally to disperse on Monday. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Protesters boo Chicago police officers after multiple requests were given to organizers of the Reopen Illinois rally to disperse on Monday. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Just days before businesses in Illinois will incrementally begin reopening, hundreds of protesters gathered in Grant Park on Memorial Day to hear speakers rail against the statewide stay-at-home order that has brought the economy to a screeching halt in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Some demonstrators hoisted signs that promoted conspiracy theories and many chose not to wear face coverings, flouting measures recommended by health experts to contain the deadly disease as they pressed closely together to hear the speakers yell into a megaphone.

The rally, which overshadowed a similar event outside the Thompson Center on Monday, was ultimately shut down by Chicago police officers enforcing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order.

State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, shakes hands and speaks to supporters at arReopen Illinois rally at Buckingham Fountain on Monday.
State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, shakes hands and speaks to supporters at a Reopen Illinois rally at Buckingham Fountain on Monday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

For hours, the crowd was whipped into a frenzy by a cast of Republican firebrands that included Darren Bailey, a state representative from downstate Xenia who’s locked in a court battle over Pritzker’s order; and Stephen Moore, a writer and television pundit who advised President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.

Bailey, who was ejected from the Illinois House last week for refusing to wear a mask, has emerged as the Legislature’s loudest critic of Pritzker’s order.

He had a simple message that was met with rousing applause: “Enough is enough.” Like other speakers at the rally, Bailey took shots at Chicago and its Democratic leaders from a makeshift bully pulpit adjacent to Buckingham Fountain.

“I love Chicago. It’s part of Illinois. But sometimes, when you raise a wayward child, you have to discipline that child,” Bailey said. “You say, ‘No more, and not from us.’ ”

Moore, who was nominated by Trump to serve as governor of the Federal Reserve after co-authoring a book touting the president’s economic policies, took it a step further and called for recalls of both Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, likening them to “the virus.”

“They are destroying our city and they are destroying our state,” said Moore, a native of the affluent North Shore, who decried emergency government spending that addresses the toll of the public health crisis.

Chicago police bicycle officers create a barricade with their bikes near Buckingham Fountain during a Reopen Illinois rally on Monday.
Chicago police bicycle officers create a barricade with their bikes near Buckingham Fountain during a Reopen Illinois rally on Monday.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

After hours of incendiary commentary, Chicago police put an end to the event.

“While we worked to ensure the First Amendment rights of those participating in today’s march, the organizers and participants were not practicing social distancing or abiding by the public safety guidelines outlined in the stay-at-home order,” police said in a statement. “Therefore, for the health and safety of the residents involved in the rally, the Chicago Police Department issued a dispersal of the crowd and ordered the organizers to shut down the event.”

Once that was made clear to the crowd, they began directing their vitriol toward the officers tasked with enforcing the very rules they were protesting.

“Hell no, we won’t go,” much of the crowd shouted at the officers before ultimately taking off without incident.

No arrests were made and no citations were issued, police said.

Most “non-essential” businesses will resume limited operations with precautions in place when the stay-at-home order expires Friday.