Evanston resident Gigi Giles remembers decades ago when Jacob Blake’s grandfather marched through the North Shore city calling for an end to segregation.
Even though she was disgusted when she saw the video depicting the shooting of the younger Jacob Blake, she is hopeful it will spur change for the Black community. She’s thought back to the marches the Rev. Jacob S. Blake led which did eventually lead to Evanston desegregating.
“I know in my heart that this happened for a reason,” Giles said. “Something good is going to come out of this.”
Giles, 61, was among a large crowd that gathered Sunday in a parking lot within walking distance from the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Evanston, which Jacob Blake’s grandfather once led.
The community service led by local religious leaders came one week after Blake, 29, was shot in the back repeatedly by Kenosha police in Wisconsin. A video of the shooting spurred daily protests that at one point turned into a violent clash between Black Lives Matter supporters and a militia group.
Rabbi Andrea London, of the Beth Emet The Free Synagogue, told the crowd that, “Jacob is the son of our community.” Many of the speakers Sunday told the crowd “enough is enough” while urging them to vote in the upcoming presidential election, saying it was one step toward tackling racism.
The Rev. Michael Nabors, of the Second Baptist Church, told the crowd gathered that their presence at the gathering was in defiance of racism.
“The hopes of our ancestors who worked for a better day shall not be destroyed,” Nabors said. “The dreams of those of good will who marched together, went to jail together and suffered together only a generation ago, those dreams will not disappear for there is a righteousness, there is a justice in this universe that has forever shown that good is more powerful than wrong. Love is more powerful than hate. And unity is more powerful than division.”
Many in the crowd brought lawn chairs to sit in while listening to the service, which at times included religious music. Some brought signs stating, “Black Lives Matters.” Participants wore masks and organizers encouraged people to raise their fist in the air instead of hugging each other amid concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
When it was time for Evanston Police Chief Demitrous Cook to address the crowd, he paused as he appeared to get emotional.
“It’s time to do better,” Cook said, as the crowd clapped. “It’s time to get rid of the cops that don’t want to play ball our way.”
Cook, who said he remembers Jacob Blake as a child, said the community had some “serious healing” to do. He said his department planned to work with Northwestern University experts to review their use of force policies.
He also wants law enforcement to address the trauma inflicted on children who witness situations involving the police.
Laquisha Booker, Blake’s partner, previously told NBC’s Milwaukee affiliate, WTMJ-TV, that the couple’s three children were in the back seat of the SUV when police shot Blake.
Kelly Terrell, 52, of Evanston, said the Evanston community is tight-knit. She’s known many of Blake’s relatives since she was a child, and she remembers Blake. She wanted the family to know the community cares about them.
“Now he’s a hashtag which is absolutely terrible,” Terrell said after the service.
The Rev. Deborah Scott, of the Ebenezer A.M.E. Church, said she’s thought back to the speech Henry McNeal Turner gave in 1868 to the Georgia legislature when rules were created to exclude him from office. He then questioned if they viewed him as a man. Over the decades and in recent months, Scott said she continues to hear that call for dignity among the Black community over and over again.
“It’s good that we are here,” Scott said to the crowd. “Not only have we been called to grieve, called to lament but we have also been called into action.”
Blake remained hospitalized Saturday and his family believes the shooting has left him paralyzed from the waist down. On Saturday, Blake’s family, including his father and sister, led a peaceful march through Kenosha, Wisconsin, to decry police violence.
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from the Chicago Community Trust.