In late May, a Flossmoor teen got money for his eighth-grade graduation from his father and other family. The budding photographer bought a $200 camera, a Canon PowerShot.
Soon after, George Floyd happened: a Black man killed under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. Protests followed. And looting. And destruction.
Days after, the 14-year-old’s father, who lives in South Shore, contemplated the aftermath, seeking creative ways to bond with his son in this strange new world of pandemic and protests.
“I’d noticed after the riots that graffiti artists started tagging the board-ups, and other artists were using them as canvasses,” said 47-year-old attorney Christopher Slaughter.
“So I said, Zach, you’ve got this camera, let’s go ride around and take a look at this stuff,” Slaughter said. “It was a chance to spend time together, talk about all that was going on.”
The result? “Boarded Up Chicago: Storefront Images Days After The George Floyd Riots,” a photo book by the father and son duo that contains more than 200 images of the beauty that artists created from trauma.
“I’m into art, so it was pretty cool to see all the different art styles across the different city neighborhoods and compare like the themes on the South Side vs. themes on the North Side,” said Zachary, a freshman at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. “It inspired me.”
Protests began after the cellphone-videoed killing of the handcuffed Floyd on Memorial Day. An officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until he died.
Protests that began peacefully grew violent as they unfurled across the nation, the incident again exposing racism that too often seeps into America’s policing. It has triggered a national reckoning on race.
It was the second weekend after the riots calmed that the father and son drove around the city. For 12 hours, they zig-zagged from South Side to North Side, East Side to West.
“When we’d see something, I’d let him get out, take a few pictures and get back in. And we’d keep looking. We drove until the camera’s battery died that night. I had no idea there was so much art out there. I’d only seen what was in my South Side area,” Slaughter said.
“And because we didn’t necessarily know where all the boarded-up businesses were in all these Chicago communities, a lot of our time was spent just driving.”
And a lot of time was spent talking, of police brutality, racism, of how and why peaceful protests devolve into anarchy.
“It’s pretty tragic how Black people are treated, especially since we built this country [on slave labor] and contribute a lot right now [as essential workers],” young Zachary opined.
“It’s not just about George Floyd. This happens pretty often to Black people. George Floyd was just the last straw, and people wanted to take action behind it,” the teen said.
“I feel like our voices need to be heard. Protest is good. But there are some bad protests, like what’s happening in Kenosha right now. Some people use protests to do wrong.”
The teen was of course referring to the Jacob Blake incident in Kenosha on Aug. 23.
Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer. Peaceful protests were followed by destruction and looting. Then two protesters were killed, allegedly by white 17-year-old vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse, who’s charged with murder.
“Boarded Up Chicago” is 218 pages of the vibrant, captivating artwork that sprouted on plywood boarding after that initial unrest in Chicago, which by no means has seen its end.
Reaching home and reviewing that night the more than 250 photos Zachary took, Slaughter realized he was looking at art that would disappear once the shops reopened. Fleeting pieces of history never to be seen again? They were too beautiful to let that happen.
“As Zach was taking them, we weren’t really looking too closely at them. So it wasn’t until I saw them in their entirety that I was like, ‘Wow, these are just so powerful. I sat and looked at them the whole rest of that night, thinking, ‘We’ve gotta do something with this,’” he said.
Having already dropped his son back home in Flossmoor, Slaughter found himself going back out on the same adventure alone to photograph areas of the city the two had missed.
While simple curated photography, their book is really the story of police brutality in the year 2020. Passionate, peaceful protests — that as Zachary articulated — are taken advantage of by violent interlopers and greedy criminals, whose goal is not to raise voice but to raise hell.
And as you flip through the poignant art spattered throughout Chicago neighborhoods familiar and unfamiliar, you realize it’s a Chicago story, yes. But it’s also the story of Minneapolis, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Louisville, Portland. The list goes on.
And in Kenosha, artists’ temporary contributions to healing a boarded-up city now sprout.