Saturday’s Bud Billiken Day Parade featured a verbal confrontation between co-grand marshal Vic Mensa and several Chicago police officers.
The celebrated rapper, who has been an outspoken critic of the police department, had concluded his duties leading the South Side’s premier back-to-school event before he circled back on his motorcycle to join activists carrying a “Convict Jason Van Dyke” banner. The group — and a swath of police officers accompanying them — stopped on King Drive near 51st Street and had a sometimes heated argument.
“You want to arrest me? You want to arrest me, and I’m the grand marshal of the parade?” Mensa said. “Go ahead, arrest me.”
“Police tried to cut us off because we have a ‘Convict Jason Van Dyke’ banner. So the police came and they threatened to arrest me,” Mensa said.
Mensa posted a video of this part of the confrontation to his Instagram account.
Mensa and some other members of the groups complained at various points that they were receiving contradictory directions from the police.
“What’s your decision? Would you like me to move, or would you like me to stay?” Mensa asked an officer.
“You’re not supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be at the front of the parade,” an officer told Mensa, eventually threatening to impound Mensa’s motorcycle if he didn’t listen to him.
So many police officers were escorting the group by the time it passed in front of the parade’s reviewing stand that the person announcing each group from the stand mistook them for a contingent representing the CPD in the parade.
“Look at our CPD! Look at our CPD in the house!” the announcer said.
By the time the parade reached the end of its route, tempers were flaring. Officers asked Mensa for his driver’s license, which he produced from his back pocket before continuing on the route.
Police officers at the scene declined to answer questions. CPD officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Aside from that dust-up, the focus of the Bud Billiken Day Parade remained — as it has been for 89 years — on education and the start of the school year. Mensa and co-grand marshal actor Deon Cole began the parade by handing out free book bags to spectators, and giveaways of school supplies.
Marching bands and children’s dance troupes outnumbered protesters and politicos.
Tony Johnson, a coach with the dance group Danceforce from Bellwood, who has been coming to the parade for years, said he appreciated the spotlight on education.
“With the things that have been going on in Chicago, we take pride . . . in standing together when it comes to going back to school, taking learning and education seriously,” Johnson said.
He said he hoped the dedication required to learn the routines exhibited by different dance groups in the parade would translate into the classroom. He also appreciated the atmosphere generated by the parade organizers.
“The kids felt safe, they were comfortable. They didn’t worry about the violence, the senseless violence going on in Chicago, because for this specific moment in time they were able to take their mind of those things and focus on something everybody can relate to: going back to school,” Johnson said.
Englewood resident Shon Scott said the parade was a yearly ritual with his niece and nephew. Scott said he appreciated, alongside the attractions for children, the space created to address adult concerns, including a job fair.
“It seemed like it was more family-oriented than it had been in the past. They really put it together to grab not only the kid’s attention but the adult’s attention too,” Scott said.
Two DJs performed on top of a float sponsored by the Chicago Transit Authority, dropping transit-positive lyrics like “We’ll take you there – Anywhere – Pay your fare – We’ll take you there.”
Activists with the group Good Kids Mad City and Mensa’s SaveMoneySaveLives foundation said they had lined up for the parade at Mensa’s invitation, chanting “Justice for Laquan McDonald.” Officer Jason Van Dyke is slated to go on trial for McDonald’s murder later this summer, and defense attorneys have cited Mensa’s track “16 Shots” in a request to have the trial moved to a different county.
Somewhere north of 50th Street, according to SaveMoneySaveLives executive director Laundi Keepseagle, police approached them and told them to leave the parade route. The group told them Mensa had invited them, and officers allowed them to continue along the route, Keepseagle said.
Mensa eventually joined the group before it reached 51st Street, tooling along in the middle on his motorcycle.
Members of the group, including Keepseagle and Good Kids Mad City adult mentor Kofi Ademola, said they had not planned to block the parade. Good Kids Mad City member Damayanti Wallace said they had planned to pause and demonstrate for just a few minutes, as other groups in the parade had done along the route.
“We had 73 shootings over the weekend, and people aren’t talking about it. We wanted to talk about that,” Wallace said.
The marchers shared the parade route with Illinois’s leading Democratic politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel and gubernatorial candidate JB Pritzker. At some points as they marched, protesters singled out the mayor, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go.”
“I brought this banner out here — Convict Van Dyke — because a lot of people might have faded in memory as regards Laquan McDonald but we, the City of Chicago, haven’t,” Mensa said. “The police are now surrounding us because of what we’re saying. We’re not being disruptive or violent or anything like that.”