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Cops used pepper spray to subdue activists who allegedly hurled bricks while pushing to abolish Northwestern’s police force

“The police were very much the one who came and attacked us and sprayed us,” one Northwestern student told the Sun-Times.

One activist was arrested and a police officer was injured Saturday night during a chaotic protest in downtown Evanston.
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A protest in north suburban Evanston turned violent Saturday when officers pepper-sprayed demonstrators who allegedly hurled bricks and set off fireworks as they demanded Northwestern University abolish its private police force.

Northwestern students were among a group of roughly 150 activists who gathered on the school’s campus near the intersection of Sheridan Road and Clark Street, according to a statement from Evanston police.

As the crowd marched to the downtown area of the affluent suburb, some protesters began lobbing rocks and bricks at officers and lighting fireworks in their direction, police said. Some of the protesters also allegedly shined lasers into officers’ eyes and used umbrellas to “cover individuals” who tagged the area.

“When it was clear the event had transitioned from a peaceful protest to that of intentional destruction, officers deployed pepper spray to prevent injury to bystanders and police officers. Contrary to misinformation being circulated on social media, no tear gas was used,” police said, adding smoke seen in photos was from fireworks set off by demonstrators.

A female student from Northwestern was arrested after allegedly striking an officer, police said. The student’s name and the charges lodged against her weren’t immediately made available, though Northwestern spokesman Jon Yates said she was released from custody Sunday morning.

An officer with the Northern Illinois Police Alarm System, which was called to the protest to assist local police, sustained “an eye injury from a firework” and was taken to a hospital, police said. Police also said 18 claims of property damage had been made by Sunday afternoon.

One Northwestern student, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, contested the narrative put forth by the cops.

“The police were very much the one who came and attacked us and sprayed us. ... I personally didn’t see anything being thrown at police officers,” they told the Sun-Times.

“The idea that protesters could harm or hurt police officers is hard to comprehend because it’s a David and Goliath situation. We don’t have power. We are peacefully protesting. We are going about our business, and police officers provoked and harmed us.”

The calls to abolish the Northwestern University Police Department have roiled the campus for weeks. The student who attended Saturday’s protest said they’re part of a decentralized protest group called NU Community Not Cops, which has led the charge by holding daily demonstrations since Oct. 12.

On Sunday, Evanston Mayor Stephen Hagerty penned a letter to Northwestern President Morton Schapiro that served as a swift rebuke of the student protesters. As Hagerty acknowledged that he believes many residents “support a reexamination and reimagining of policing in America,” he also condemned the alleged tactics used at Saturday’s demonstration.

“My expectation is that your administration will remind these Northwestern organizers that officers also have families and their safety is as important as the safety of the protesters,” Hagerty wrote to Schapiro. “Our City will continue to arrest anyone who is seen harming or threatening harm to police officers, as well as damaging or defacing public property.”

In a statement, Yates offered a similar warning after noting that Northwestern’s police force pulled back from Saturday’s protest once marchers left the school’s jurisdiction.

“Northwestern protects the right to protest, but we do not condone breaking the law,” Yates said. “Should members of the Northwestern community be found in violation of university policies, state or federal laws, they will be held accountable through our processes.”

Amid pressure from students, Schapiro issued a statement last week noting the school is establishing a community safety oversight advisory board while an external review of its private police force is conducted. That statement came just over a week after Schapiro slammed the ongoing student protests in a letter to the school community.

“I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the overstepping of the protesters,” he wrote. “They have no right to menace members of our academic and surrounding communities. When students and other participants are vandalizing property, lighting fires and spray-painting phrases such as ‘kill the pigs,’ we have moved well past legitimate forms of free speech.”

The student activist who spoke to the Sun-Times offered a frank warning to school administrators while noting Schapiro has yet to keep his promise of meeting with the students involved in the protest group.

“Until President Schapiro meets with us [and] until Northwestern police is abolished, they can expect more protests. They can expect more organizing, and they can expect we will win.”